Are Sustainable Clothes Really Sustainable ?

After spending a lot of time looking into sustainable clothing, I will give my answer to the question, Are Sustainable Clothes Really Sustainable ?

Influencing the overall sustainability are a number of key factors:

  • Social
  • Ethical
  • Environmental

I may write something later that looks into each of these key factors (and others) separately but for now I will try to keep this simple. I will try to give a good overall picture of my own view of current sustainable clothing based on my experience.

The degree to which something is sustainable is not always a simple, Yes/No answer. Firstly the phrase “Sustainable” is not always used equally in marketing. Many brands/shops will claim a level of sustainability that is not accurate.

Green fields and blue sky
Green Fields and Blue Sky

What does “Sustainable” mean for consumers ?

At a consumer level, customers should be able to believe the marketing they are told. Although product descriptions are more accurate now than they have ever been there is still a level of discrepancy. Some of this is an honest mistake. However, “Sustainable” has become a marketing buzz word for some businesses. I am not going to name and shame other people’s livelihoods but I will give credit where it is due.

Even with clear definition there is a certain amount of interpretation and difference of opinion. Furthermore, there are no regulations around use of the term “Sustainable” in marketing. In America you can not market a product as “made in America” when it was manufactured in China. However, there are no limits to claiming a product is sustainable although it contains single use plastic.

As a consumer, what do I need to do ?

As a customer you should take a sceptical approach to sustainable products. Don’t be afraid to challenge sellers about the claims they have made. If there is any substance behind the claims they should be able to back them up. If you want to be more responsible as a consumer, you do need to be wary. Try to educate yourself on materials and their impact. For every article you read claiming positive features there will be one claiming the opposite. Adopting a balanced, educated view and seeking better products is how we can address this issue.

Importantly as a consumer, the most critical thing you can do is buy less and make clothing last longer. Recycle your clothing, give it to charity. Utilising the clothing you buy for as long as possible and then giving it a second life will have great impact.

Sunrise - Force of Nature
Force of Nature – Sunrise

Is there not a perfect Sustainable Fabric ?

No. Every fabric has positive and negative features through mass manufacturing. Cotton is intensive to grow but requires little processing. Bamboo is easy to grow but hard to process. Polyester doesn’t require growing but is made from oil. Using all of these fabrics appropriately is the responsible solution for businesses. Seeking more recycled fabric over virgin fabric is key to reducing environmental impact. Recycling uses less energy and resources than initial production. If brands utilise recycling more then manufacturers will have to step up to meet demand. Likewise, If consumers demand more sustainable products, brands will have to adjust to meet demand.

When blending fabrics to create something better more issues are introduced. By blending a natural fabric with a man made fabric the result is often a single use, landfill destined product. Cotton is biodegradable, polyester is not. By combining the two to make polycotton the end fabric is not easily recyclable because it is impure and is no longer biodegradable.

Wool is a very good natural fabric. It has some very good qualities, it does require keeping livestock to shear for the wool which has some level of impact. Demand for real wool in the current market is very low. Most wool is destroyed because there is no demand. Being very labour intensive, wool is costly to produce but makes very long lasting products.

To answer the question…

Yes. Truly sustainable clothes with transparent, honest marketing are sustainable.

Sustainability is the bigger picture, the balanced approach. To evaluate the sustainability of a product as a consumer can be simple. The question to ask is “Will this still be in a landfill long after I am finished with it?”. If the answer is yes then the product is likely not sustainable.

Finally, when brands gloss over negative effects of their products, this is Greenwashing. The effect of greenwashing is that consumers are misled into buying products which are not sustainable under the belief of doing the right thing. Adopting a balanced view, based on accurate research is how we tackle greenwashing.

Leave me a comment if this was helpful. If you want to see how I balance the Grizzly Wears Clothing Range, have a look at my Website. Check out my Shop.

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