The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines sustainable as “capable of being sustained, of, relating to or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” The English Language Learners’ definition of sustainable includes the meaning, “able to last or continue for a long time.”
How these definitions relate to sustainable fashion may be difficult to comprehend. How- ever, one thing is clear: Sustainable fashion is fashion that is here to stay — at least for a period of time, if not forever.
The best example that I can come up with is men’s suits. We look at drawings, photographs, artwork and portraits of world leaders and we see men in suits. The styles have shifted over the years, but they all have two pieces of cloth- ing: pants and a jacket. Suit fabrics may have changed from basic cotton and wool to silk, rayon and a multitude of manmade fabrics created in manufacturing facilities throughout the world, but the suit is certainly a sustainable fashion investment. Men’s suits are sustainable because they have been around for centuries and will probably be around for more centuries in the future.
When we look to the sustainability of women’s fashion, there are never-ending categories of apparel from classic dresses to countless variations of shorts, mini-skirts, formalwear, recreational apparel and many other categories that we see women wearing every day.
The sustainable “looks” have been preserved by specialty shops and department stores, but recently we have seen a new category of retailers, the “fast-fashion business.” These retailers make use of the manufacturing facilities to turn out new styles in minutes and get the latest innovations into retail stores overnight. It has become well-known to fast-fashion customers that if you see it and like it, buy it now because tomorrow it will not be there.
We have seen a new category of sustainability in fashion in the recycled or used clothing retailer — so many items of women’s clothing, for example, are worn once or twice and then stay hung in the closet forever. Another recent entry into the retailing industry is rental cloth- ing. Wedding dresses and other formalwear are prime candidates of this recent retail phenomenon — instead of paying thousands of dollars for the dress of her dreams, a bride will likely be able to find the latest bridal fashion trends at a wedding rental store.
In an article published on March 29, 2021 in Conscious Life and Style titled “What is Sustain- able Fashion and Why Does It Matter?” it was reported that the fashion industry was responsible for eight to 10% of global carbon emissions, and that fixing the fashion industry can mean “making significant progress on decarbonization and reaching global climate goals.”
The article advised that “[c]leaning up the fashion supply chain can also mean significantly reducing pollution in many communities through- out the world. Sourcing textiles for fashion from regenerative fiber systems can put us on a pathway to restoring the planet and our relationship to the land.” The article also estimated that roughly 430 million people work directly or indirectly for the fashion and textile industries and that “improving the supply chains of the fashion industry can mean significant improvements in the lives of many.”
On August 5, 2021, California Apparel News published an article written by Dorothy Crouch, titled “Carrying A Sustainable Message to DTLA [Downtown Los Angeles], Preface Hosts On- site Event.” Crouch wrote, “Returning to Los Angeles, the Preface show hosted its July 28– 29 event at the El Santee Building in the city’s downtown. Joining together under the mission of sustainability and circularity, textile manufacturers, printers, supply-chain services and garment businesses focused on green production methods were happy to finally meet within a space that afforded a tactile show experience.”
The article quoted Betsy Franjola, show found- er and BFF Studio owner, who said, “When it comes to fabric, especially sourcing, they want- ed to get to a place where they can touch and feel and talk about what they need with that face-to-face interaction. Normally I find that we have people who are really hungry for inspiration, and that is the main goal of our show, but this time I think it was paired with the desire to physically source and physically interact with mills that drove people to come.”
Crouch’s article continued, “Preface also hosted information sessions with industry leaders and an educational series that included dyeing and mending workshops. Preface’s commitment to sharing its trend forecasting with attendees is one of its most-anticipated offerings. All attendees receive a complimentary experience kit filled with an array of textile samples and the invaluable book containing Preface’s season- al trend report. A premium version filled with the aforementioned items — and an extended rundown on trending inspiration, in addition to handcrafted mood boards, a master palette of swatches, gifting and a remote webinar — is available for $500.
“‘There are trend companies that I love, but it’s $10,000 per person to use them. Here, for $500, you can at least find out what’s going to be coming up,’ said Marge Pietrera, founder of the Charleston, North Carolina Fashion Index apparel-sourcing directory. ‘It’s a lot more tangible, especially if you’re starting out.’”
As shown in the examples above, sustainability can be defined in a myriad of ways, all of which tell us that the fashion trend is here to stay — at least for a while.
Benjamin S. Seigel, Esq. is Of Counsel to G & B Law, LLP specializing in matters related to the textile and apparel industries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.