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What Is Sustainable Fashion? And Why Does It Matter?

What Is Sustainable Fashion? And Why Does It Matter?

Sustainable fashion isn’t new.

The first Earth Day was in 1970, amidst the backdrop of political dissent and social movements like The Vietnam War and The Environmental Movement. American consumerism was booming at the time, and we were just becoming aware of our impact on the planet as a nation.

This lead to the rise in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) fashion and using recycled materials to make clothing and accessories.

Today, you’ll still hear debates about the future of sustainable fashion and whether manufacturing eco-friendly products is the best way to go. Using earth-friendly products sustains raw materials and protects our planet. While we all want to be responsible consumers, is recycled material really as strong and as quality as virgin material?

You might be surprised to know the answer is yes. There are plenty of ways to break down plastics to reuse as all kinds of durable, quality materials for future use.

Learn more about how to reduce your carbon footprint and keep the planet healthy through sustainable fashion.

What is Sustainable Fashion?

Sustainable fashion describes any process of a manufacturing cycle (think policymakers, brands, and consumers) that works to produce clothing in a carbon-neutral way. This often includes using recycled or post-consumer materials instead of new materials.

Some brands have risen to the occasion, like Patagonia’s Don’t Buy This Jacket initiative that challenged consumers to repair or recycle old clothing instead of buying new.

This began a chain reaction of brands stepping up to play their part in advocating for the environment and the usage of recycled materials.

What’s the History of Sustainable Fashion?

The 1950’s brought a new wave of postwar consumerism. Americans were presented “The American Dream” in the form of shiny new cars and kitchen appliances.

But as social movements of the 60’s rolled around, culture shifted its awareness to the environment.

The hippie fashion movement of the 1970’s brought counterculture to the forefront as young people rebelled against mass consumerism and capitalism. They also wore plenty of second-hand clothing and bell-bottoms with their own patchwork designs.

By the 1980’s, more and more brands were interested in improving conditions in garment factories and providing ethical shopping opportunities to consumers.

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) was created in 1989 to protect the livelihoods of farmers, textile workers, and laborers worldwide — all of which play large roles in the manufacturing of American clothing.

Next came a wave of more non-profit organizations looking to provide ethical and transparent fashion practices around the world. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) were among a few of the first to promote sustainable fashion practices along the global supply chain.

As the movement has grown in popularity, it’s caught the attention of policymakers and propelled sustainable fashion into legislation. For fashion brands to continue, they now must adhere to certain laws which protect the environment and the people working at all levels of manufacturing.

Why Is Sustainable Fashion Important?

"There is a lot of concern in sustainability circles that manufacturers are making things with shorter and shorter life spans,” says BerilToktay, a professor at Georgia Tech's Scheller College of Business.

This means that products are intentionally being made to not last as long so that you’ll replace them. Think of the latest iPhone upgrade and trying to keep your electronics from becoming obsolete as each new model comes out. 

When you re-use or re-purpose materials (like we do for our Open Your Eyes Collection), you help the planet in a couple different ways:

1. Create Less Waste

1 in 2 people throw away unwanted clothing. As a result, 64% of the 32 billion garments produced each year end up in a landfill.

Thrifting became a new habit for many consumers during the pandemic, with an expected 76% of buyers expected to increase their thrifting habits in the next 5 years.  This means less clothing clogging up landfills!

2. Ensure Fair Wages and Working Conditions

In April of 2013, tragedy struck a garment factory in Bangladesh. 1134 workers’ lives were lost in a deadly factory disaster that could have been prevented with humane working conditions.

This has led to foundations like Fashion Revolution, who work to create transparency in the supply chain of fashion and protect workers around the world.

3. Reduce CO2 and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Not surprisingly, the carbon emissions involved in producing a new clothing item are substantially more than a used item. Buying used instead of new offsets 17.4 pounds of CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases from entering the environment.

4. Save Water

Did you know it takes about 2,720 liters of water to make a single cotton shirt?

Nearly 20% of the world’s wastewater is produced by the fashion industry to manufacture new garments. When you use recycled materials, you cut out massive amounts of water usage for washing, dyeing, and the finishing process.

Brands are also getting innovative about using recycled water itself in garment production, as well as choosing organic textiles that require less water in the production phase.

5. Protect Animals

Leather belts, bags, and shoes are made from animals. The same goes for fur coats and items made of wool or feathers.

Sustainable fashion includes cruelty-free and vegan manufacturing, which keeps animals healthy and allows our entire ecosystem to thrive.

Recycled vs. Virgin Materials: What’s the Difference?

Some are still hesitant about using recycled materials to manufacture clothing, bags, and fashion accessories.

Things like post-consumer plastic (think: water bottles) must go through a process to become usable in other ways. But once the plastic is made into a fabric material, it does exactly the same job as would a never-used fabric.

And what about the recycled materials we use to make Sherpani products?

Our bags are made from durable post-consumer materials that are built to last, so you can keep your bag for years and not have to replace it and create more waste or hurt the environment.

Recycled plastic is so durable that it’s now being considered a cutting-edge construction material. You read that right: In the future we might have buildings made of recycled plastic!

Take Your Sustainable Fashion to the Next Level

If you didn’t know much about sustainable fashion before, you definitely do now. So how can you support sustainable fashion in your everyday life?

It starts with shopping ethically. Knowing that your favorite fashion accessories are made sustainably is the first step in living an eco-friendly life.

And there’s no better bag for environmental-lovers than our Treehugger design.

This colorway spans several styles of our bags that are made from 100% recycled fabric and hardware, so you can feel good about protecting earth’s precious resources while making a statement.

For women who want to keep nature preserved, this bag is durable and capable of keeping up with your active lifestyle.

Shop our sustainable purses and bags in plenty of colors and designs >

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