Sustainability in the Fashion Industry: Trends and Lasting Changes

Concerns about climate change, energy costs and corporate responsibility have spurred many companies in the fashion industry to pursue strategies of sustainability. Among these companies are famed and fashionable department store Macy’s, organic fashion outlet, Purity, and. Meanwhile, big name companies such as Nike, H&M, Levi Strauss and Patagonia have created the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) the coalition.

Their goals are to lessen the impact of fashion production on resources such as water, as well as consumption. They are also working on trying to create clothing that is longer lasting. For the companies involved in SAC, Sustainable fashion doesn’t just mean taking better care of the environment. It also means improving working conditions for people. The coalition plans to “adopt fair employment practices” and to create safer working climates for workers by ensuring that they are no longer exposed to harsh chemicals. But fashion companies that have made eco-fashion their entire focus have a head start on the road to sustainability.

Irish Rock star Bono of U2 helped cofound sustainable fashion company Edun, which features eco-fashion for men and women alike. Edun specializes in selling organic products. This means that workers and consumers involved in the Edun line are not exposed to toxic chemicals. But perhaps the most interesting thing about Edun is that it is “founded on a commitment to develop trade with Africa.” Profits from many of its sales go to school supplies and support for African children. Meanwhile, the profits from other sales go to Edun’s Conservation Cotton Initiative in Uganda (CCIU). Edun trains Ugandan farmers to develop sustainable businesses. The cotton farmed by these farmers is used to produce the apparel that Edun sells. (The conservation cotton initiative)

Many Scandinavian companies are also off to a head start in creating sustainable fashion. The Ecologist’s Ruth Styles said the following:

Stockholm and Copenhagen Fashion Weeks might not rank as highly as London, Paris or Milan on the international circuit, but they’re second-to-none in terms of eco design.

Sustainable companies featured in these shows include FIN Oslo, Nudie and Noir (Styles, 2011). FIN Oslo features sustainable products such as organic cotton, organic bamboo, wild non-violent silk, and milk and baby alpaca. They also claim to spin, dye and finish their yarn “according to ecological procedures”. It also subscribes to “fair trade” principles. Of fair trade, FIN Oslo’s web site says, “We require everyone who works with us to be concerned about wages, working hours, human rights and social accountability.” It required its suppliers to share this concern.

Nudie Jeans features organic cotton as well. The company brags that it is not interested in organic material as a “seasonal trend” but that it uses organic cotton consistently to promote sustainable solutions. It also encourages consumers to wear their jeans responsibly, to keep them from wearing out and to increase their lifespan. It also encourages consumers to repair their jeans, rather than discarding them.

Sustainable fashion is becoming trendy. But for many companies, it has become more than just a trend. Instead, it is a function of day to day business. For their consumers, it may be becoming a way of life. For many, such as Nudie Jeans and Edun, working towards sustainable solutions means working towards creating lasting changes.