Sustainability is a word that gets tossed around a lot these days. But what does it mean for a company to be sustainable, really?
Companies with sustainable practices aim to create products via sustainable processes. This means everything from smart environmental procedures in the workplace to eco-friendly sourcing of materials in a company’s final product. While many companies used to fear the potential of higher costs necessary to implement socially responsible practices, a recent Harvard Business Review study reveals that “sustainability is a mother lode of organizational and technological innovations that yield both bottom-line and top-line returns.” In other words, not only are sustainable business practices good for the world, they are also good for business – and good for you.
One industry spearheading the movement towards sustainable innovation may come as a surprise: The fashion industry. Many of today’s hottest designers who are well aware of the need for plentiful materials are creating entire collections around the notion of sustainability -- but the term isn’t easy to define. Below, we have broken down the major features of the sustainable clothing coming off the runways, to help you make an informed and fashion-forward decision on your next shopping trip.
Sourcing and work practices
One thing to consider when making a clothing purchase decision is where and how the product is made. Like other products — food, gemstones, etc. — where the product came from can be a good indicator as to the ethics in which it was produced. Look to see if a brand is promoting trade in developing regions like Africa by sourcing materials and/or production there. Also check for “fair trade” policies on a brand’s website or in marketing information, which should indicate that a brand has fair employee treatment and high energy and waste efficiency standards at their clothing factories.
When it comes to sustainable materials, there are a few major things to consider. If a label claims that a garment is “organic,” you should expect that the piece has been made using pesticide-free materials during the production process. Anything that is labeled as “biodegradable” takes things one step further, as that is a non-toxic material designed to break down organically after use. Anything made with synthetic fibers, like polyester, spandex, nylon, and rayon, is not biodegradable, so be sure to check labels. Also expect that any plastic or hardware on the piece will not be biodegradable -- but is likely easily recycled.
With new fashion trends coming and going with the seasons, it makes perfect sense that fashion brands ought to consider the recyclability of their clothing materials. That said, clothing made from recycled or reclaimed materials, or brands that have comprehensive recycling and sustainability policies, is a relatively new phenomenon. Buying clothes made from recycled materials is a great way to reduce waste, while donating your old clothing to charities or recycling programs is another smart solution. If you want to learn more about a brand’s internal recycling policies, or to see if they offer recycling assistance for your old garments, check out their website (they will definitely want to communicate this with you).
Note, too, the inevitable long-term environmental benefits of splurging a little on high quality, timeless pieces that will last you for several years. Jeans, for example, are the perfect wardrobe staple to consider splurging on. Rather than buying a new pair every year, purchasing a great pair that is made to last is a great way to reduce waste in your fashion footprint. It is important to maintain the lifespan of your jeans by taking good care of them; with an Electrolux washer, your jeans will get the best care (and continue looking great) on the “Jeans Cycle” setting.
What it comes down to is this: more clothing brands today are making it easy to shop ethically without compromising. Purchasing sustainable clothing is a great way to feel good about what you’re wearing, while looking good, too.