What is eco-fashion? You probably already heard the term but what is it exactly? Between green, conscious, environmentally friendly, natural, organic, slow, fair, ethical, recycled, up-cycled and sustainable fashion, how to tell the difference?
Eco-fashion is much more than being environmentally conscious with the way to produce and consume clothes. Eco-fashion regards all aspects of the production processes, supply chain, and consumption, up to the end of life-cycle of clothing.
But Eco-fashion doesn't necessarily mean bland, basic, unattractive, with colors such as grey, white, black, beige, or taupe.
There are now great stylish looks, cuts, and silhouettes from passionate brands and designers in eco-fashion.
Let's have a look at what eco-fashion really means and why it matters so much for our future on this planet.
What does eco-fashion mean
Eco refers to ecological, eco-friendly or environmentally friendly. Eco-fashion is also called sustainable fashion. It focuses on bettering the social and environmental impact of fashion with sustainable and ethical practices.
Eco-fashion involves materials made from renewable sources, sustainable management of resources and waste, recycling, renewable energy, carbon-neutral shipping, transparency, and fair working conditions.
"Clothing and other goods made from recycled materials or otherwise produced by methods that are not harmful to the environment."
- Oxford English Dictionary
Sustainable materials are environmentally friendly. Their fabrication doesn't require harsh chemicals, toxic dyes, hazardous fertilizers or pesticides.
Synthetic fibers such as recycled polyester or nylon, and natural fibers such as organic cotton, linen or hemp are great environmentally friendly materials for eco-fashion.
To learn more about sustainable materials in the fashion industry, read up our list of top 10 eco-friendly fabrics.
No animal should be harmed to make eco-fashion either.
"I want you to ask yourself if the fashion industry needs to kill billions of animals a year just for a pair of shoes. The animals will be happier and the planet will be safer."
- Stella Nina McCartney, English fashion designer and a firm supporter of animal rights
All farmers and workers in the supply chain should be able to work in safe conditions, paid a decent living wage, have access to healthcare, paid leaves, and other benefits.
"Eco-friendly is a term that’s thrown around these days, but it’s important to understand it spans from the fabric that your clothing is made from to the factories where your clothing is made."
- Helena Barbour, sportswear Vice President at Patagonia, as told to Teen Vogue
Just like slow fashion, eco-fashion is a sustainable alternative to fast fashion. It doesn't take the easy route of prioritizing profits over the well-being of people, animals, and the planet.
With eco-fashion, the creation of responsible, stylish clothing is a possibility. It harnesses the power of new green technologies, textile innovations, and progress in supply chain management.
If you want to look at a clear comparison between fast fashion and the alternative, read up our article on slow fashion vs fast fashion.
Take the time to give eco-fashion a chance if you haven't already. Find a designer or brand that you can love for its values, its conscious effort to do good with ecological and social processes.
"What really makes a fashion label eco-friendly is its commitment and motivation toward offering a collection of clothing or accessories that benefit as many beings as possible whilst treading on the earth as lightly as possible."
- Leena Oijala, Organic Authority writer and manager at Maya Yoga Studio
Using natural or recycled materials is a great idea for eco-fashion. But every fashion brand should also minimize how much energy and water they use for production, and how much carbon emissions they release into the atmosphere.
They should operate with fair trade and fair working conditions at all times without any child labor or forced labor.
The most sustainable practice when it comes to eco-fashion remains to buy less and higher quality. To become a conscious consumer, you have to see clothes as an investment and not as disposable as fast fashion brands want you to.
“Consumers, especially the young, are often confronted with the seemingly contradictory choice of wanting to help the planet and the hedonistic desire to buy the latest ‘must-have’ brands. [...] By working with the retail and fashion industry, we can help change attitudes towards consumption, and ultimately people’s actions.”
- Klaus Toepfer, United Nations Environment Programme former Executive Director
The introduction of renewable resources, sustainable materials, and socially responsible systems in the fashion industry is now a necessity to reduce its disastrous impact on humans, animals, and the Earth.
Why eco-fashion matters
Eco-fashion matters a lot for the future of fashion. It will allow the whole fashion industry to become more environmentally friendly with the use of renewable energy, sustainable resources, ecological materials, and ethical practices.
The fashion industry is the second-largest polluter worldwide. It is responsible for huge textile waste, hazardous chemicals, water, air, and soil pollution, deforestation, the destruction of ecosystems, the extinction of species, and greenhouse gas emissions.
80% of old clothes and textile waste from clothing manufacturing go to landfills to decompose or be incinerated, according to the Global Fashion Agenda report Pulse of the Fashion Industry, 2017.
95% of all textiles that end up in landfills each year could be recycled but are not, according to the Textile Recovery Initiative fact sheet, 2017. They are recycled at an actual rate of only 15%.
6% of all materials going to landfills or incinerators are clothing or textile products. In the United States, 2.3 million tons of used textiles and clothing are recovered to be recycled or reused annually. But 15 million tons are discarded to landfills or incinerators.
The fashion industry produces almost 20% of all wastewater annually worldwide, according to the U.N. Partnership on Sustainable Fashion, 2018.
Cotton is the most used material for fashion around the world. To make one single T-shirt or jeans, cotton farmers use about 20,000 liters of water to grow one kilogram of cotton, as reported by WWF, 2020.
Cotton farming is responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides globally, although it uses only 2.4% of the world's arable land, as reported by WWF Panda, 2000.
Luckily, more consumers are now shopping with environmental issues in mind. They make more responsible choices when it comes to fashion.
Some manufacturers, brands, and retailers are working to reduce their social and environmental impact.
Eco-fashion will play a key role as a driver for change. Sustainability is gaining traction as the green movement is booming. Celebrities like Meghan Markle, Olivia Wilde, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Emma Watson are supporting eco-fashion actively.
Eco-fashion is so much more than a new trend. It's a revolution.
Eco-fashion is necessary and an important step toward a more sustainable fashion future. Natural resources are limited and climate change is happening at an alarming rate.
Luckily, fashion brands and designers can now create stunning couture and styles minimizing the environmental and social impact of fashion.
The result is plenty of new environmentally friendly clothing to choose from and a more responsible wardrobe for us consumers.
Do you already have eco-fashion pieces in your closet?
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MSc) 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 four languages and holds two Master of Science in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.