Can Fashion Be Sustainable?

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Though fashion and sustainability are often opposing, attempts have been made since the 1990s to combine the two trends. But, an "undercover expert" at Intelligent Life points out, "it is eco-hogwash to boast that something is better because it is made from natural or newnewable fibres." Even organic cotton, for example, doesn’t guarantee chemical-free production and "fair-trade cotton has lower environmental standards than organic." Also, she notes, synthetic fabrics require less ironing and tumble-drying than clothes made with "natural" materials. So, with a discerning eye, the Intelligent Life reporter examines the latest in sustainable fashion.


Where waste products are converted into products of higher value—is also taking off. Niche designers turn left-over salmon skins into swimwear, while on the British high street a collaboration between the upcycling designers From Somewhere and the supermarket chain Tesco has seen discarded fabric from roll-ends turned into a collection of dresses in very of-the-moment colour blocks.

Animal Skins that Actually Benefit the Environment

The truth is that the meat and leather trades are economically intertwined, and all the environmental issues that come with raising cattle for meat—such as habitat loss, emissions of greenhouse gases and resource use, not to mention the overuse of antibiotics—also apply to leather. So an alternative option is to look for skins that have a positive impact on habitat and wild-animal numbers....Look for a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) certificate with your purchase, as this is proof that the source is legal and sustainable.

The Same for Fur

For similar environmental reasons, there’s an argument for wearing wild beaver or muskrat fur. In Canada, these animals are abundant and managed sustainably—so though some animals die as a result of the trade, the larger population, and its habitat, benefits from it. Plus the skins are durable, long-lasting, and make the epitome of what’s known as “slow fashion”—items that cost more, but which can be repaired, repurposed, adapted or traded to give a longer life. Admittedly, none of these wild-animal products has solved the environmental downsides of tanning, dying and production—but that’s also true of similar products that don’t have such environmental upsides.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.