Ethical fashion is gaining importance in the global apparel industry and for many good reasons. Socially conscious and responsible fashion is more important today than ever before.
Small and large clothing companies are turning to sustainable and eco-friendly products to stay competitive in the marketplace where consumers are becoming aware of many environmental and social issues.
Even large publications such as Forbes, The New York Times, and Vogue are covering sustainable and ethical fashion. Sustainability is one of the biggest challenges the industry is facing today.
The rising interest in clothing made according to sustainable and ethical principles creates new opportunities. And those that don't capitalize on these emerging fashion trends will be left behind.
1. Recycled plastic waste
Traditional technical apparel such as sportswear, outerwear, and swimwear is highly polluting, usually made from oil-derived materials such as polyester, nylon, and spandex.
Garments made of these fabrics have enormous environmental footprints: high energy consumption, carbon emissions, hazardous chemicals, and plastic waste.
Since oil is also a finite natural resource, it's crucial to move away from the conventional linear model "take-make-waste" as soon as possible. It's time to prioritize a more inclusive and regenerative circular economy.
Luckily, many apparel brands manufacture comfortable, affordable, quality, and sustainable clothing from recycled plastic waste such as PET water bottles.
Recycled polyester, such as Repreve by Unifi, is a more environmentally friendly alternative to the raw material from oil.
Repreve polyester creates up to 35% less waste and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 20%.
For each kilogram of Repreve material produced, up to 62% less energy and 99% less water are used compared to virgin polyester.
Read up my article on Repreve polyester for everything you need to know about this innovative and high-performance material.
2. Second-hand clothing boom
Buying second-hand clothing is becoming cool again. There are many benefits of shopping for used clothes, and many consumers are taking advantage of the growing market.
Thrifting helps your wallet but also the planet. It's a great way to deal with textile waste and save a little extra money. Second-hand clothes also help look amazing with unique pieces that nobody else is wearing.
The second-hand apparel market is valued at 32 billion USD in 2020 and is expected to reach 51 billion USD in 2023, according to recent research data on used fashion.
Many fashion brands, designers, entrepreneurs, and organizations are promoting second-hand clothing as a solution to the fashion industry's disastrous impact.
Even Walmart just partnered with ThredUp to offer second-hand clothing on its website. It's a fantastic step towards sustainable and ethical fashion.
Thrift shops are expected to double in the next five years. Some popular places to buy vintage clothing are second-hand stores, consignment shops, antique markets, garage sales, flea markets, auctions, and fashion fairs.
Read up my article on the 60 best online thrift stores for affordable fashion for a list of the best destinations to shop for second-hand fashion.
3. Clothing rental rising
Clothing rental is another solution to expensive sustainable fashion. It's an emerging and fast-growing market. More and more people resort to renting new clothes for special occasions or renewing their wardrobe.
Renting is a better option, especially to find maternity clothing, wedding dresses, kids' clothes, or even ball gowns. Some fashion rental companies also offer a subscription for customers wanting to refresh their clothes more regularly.
Renting new clothes to refresh your wardrobe instead of buying them can save you money, protect the environment and workers in the fashion supply chain.
Rental businesses and fashion libraries are opening up all over North America and Europe. Many designers partner with rental companies to offer consumers the possibility to wear their clothes for a fraction of the price.
Clothing rental is one of the most practical and sustainable solutions to ever-changing trends in the fashion world. Today, lots of options are available to suit each ethical fashion lover's needs.
Renting clothes is a more environmentally friendly alternative to buying into fast-moving fashion trends. It increases the number of times the average piece of clothing is worn before it becomes too old.
Read up my article on the 10 Rs of sustainable fashion for more ways to build a beautiful and functional wardrobe that also respects people and the environment.
4. Clothing giants betting on organic cotton
Gigantic clothing labels are betting on organic cotton to appeal to conscious consumers and regain their trust after implementing an exploitative fast-fashion business model.
Certified organic cotton has been in the center of sustainable practice in the global textile and apparel industry for a while. And giant fashion retailers are the largest buyers of organic cotton worldwide.
Organic cotton is much better than conventional cotton because it's non-GMO and grown organically, without the use of hazardous herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.
About 80% of all organic cotton is grown with water from rainfalls, which reduces pressure on local water sources.
Large retail chains, such as H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, and Gap, process the largest proportion of organic cotton worldwide. This ethical fashion trend is a major one in the industry and will likely stay so for a while.
Read up my article on why gigantic brands are betting on organic cotton to understand what is at stake.
5. Recycled cotton over organic cotton
Recycled cotton is an eco-friendly fabric and even more ethical and sustainable than regular cotton, better cotton, and organic cotton.
Organic cotton is costly, requires certifications that take time, effort, and money, and offers a lower yield overall, resulting in more resources consumed in some cases to produce the same amount of cotton.
Cotton fiber consists of cellulose extracted from the cotton plant. It's used in the global clothing industry to make apparel, footwear, and accessories.
Recycled cotton has similar qualities to conventional cotton but offers the advantage of converting post-industrial and post-consumer waste into new materials.
About 20,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton, the equivalent of one T-shirt, and one pair of jeans, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
And recycling one ton of cotton can save up to 765 cubic meters (202,000 US gal) of water. It minimizes the environmental impact of cotton production drastically.
Read up my article on everything you need to know about recycled cotton for more information.
6. Cruelty-free and vegan fashion
The global textile and apparel industry kills billions of animals every year for fashion. Animal pelts and skins are used to make clothing materials such as fur, wool, leather, down, and silk.
Fortunately, more and more conscious consumers choose to buy clothing that doesn't contain animal ingredients. They understand that fashion can be stylish, high-quality, affordable, and animal-free.
They shop for cruelty-free and vegan alternatives such as recycled fabrics, organic fibers, or semi-synthetic textiles made from natural resources.
Animal-derived materials are unethical and cause irreversible damage to the environment.
Apparel production has doubled over the last 15 years to meet consumers' demand. And it will increase five folds by 2050.
To meet the textile fiber and other needs of the Earth's growing population, fiber production must triple globally by the year 2050.
It's time to get rid of animal-derived materials in your wardrobe. Animal farming requires an enormous amount of resources, pollute the environment with toxic chemicals, and contributes massively to global warming.
One sheep alone can produce about 30 liters of methane each day, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, warming the planet as much as 80 times more than carbon dioxide.
Read up my easy guide to clothing NOT made from animals to discover the many ethical fashion alternatives.
7. Luxury solving fast fashion
Consumers all over the world turn to luxury fashion to move away from excessive consumerism. They buy from luxury brands as they offer many advantages, such as pieces designed and distributed for longevity.
Today, plenty of luxury fashion brands focus on sustainability, especially those with a strong online presence such as Selfridges, Browns, Matches Fashion, and Net-a-Porter.
More than 60% of customers want to shop sustainably, and 90% want to buy less, but better, according to Selfridges. 60% of shoppers at Matches Fashion are trying to live as sustainably as possible.
Prominent luxury fashion brands such as Chanel, Ralph Lauren, and Prada recently signed the Fashion Pact to stop global warming, restore biodiversity, and protect the oceans.
The Kering Group, the parent company of the global luxury brands Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, appointed Emma Watson as Chair of the Sustainability Committee of its Board of Directors.
Emma Watson has been a creative adviser for People Tree since 2009, a Fair Trade fashion brand, and was appointed a “United Nations Women Global Goodwill Ambassador” in 2014, an entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Luxury fashion brands can make a difference, address social, economic, and environmental concerns. And many fashion brands are taking their sustainability initiatives to the next level.
Read up my article on 5 epic ways luxury is solving fast fashion to understand its advantages over excessive consumerism.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.