About: 5 common sustainable fashion misconceptions

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Laura Switten

You want to live greener, reducing your environmental footprint, maybe even going zero waste. Stepping into a more sustainable wardrobe might be a great next step, but a few misconceptions might stand in your way. Let’s have a look at them to find out what is true and what is false.

Misconception 1: Sustainable fashion is expensive

Probably this is the most common misconception. It was also mine, about 10 years ago when I discovered a local boutique in Brussels with only sustainable fashion labels. Unfortunately their offer was not for me, dresses with a price tag of 300 euro just did not fit my budget.

Since then a lot has changed. Literary dozens of new sustainable labels were founded by inspired entrepreneurs, in different price ranges. Except for the rock-bottom low prices from high street “fast fashion” retailers. And there are good reasons for that.

Before we explore these reasons, let me ask you a question. What is expensive to you? Usually your perception of price is influenced by what you see around you. When you are used to shop high street, you will probably notice a massive price difference if you start to consider smaller, ethical fashion labels. But these fast fashion prices might just be too low. They are based on a business model of abundance, of fast consumption and disposability of clothes and accessories. Of course these big companies take advantage of economies of scale, allowing them to reduce costs. On the other hand, they produce with the cheapest materials, without considering quality and their impact on the environment and climate. Think of agricultural soils that are depleted by monocultures and the massive use of pesticides, toxic dyes that are discharged into rivers, the large CO2 emissions from the production of synthetic materials such as polyester, etcetera, etcetera.

In addition, there is the human aspect. The manufacturing of clothing has become a race-to-the-bottom, with brands putting pressure on their many subcontractors to operate as cheap as possible. Unfortunately it is common that workers do not earn a living wage and work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Since the COVID-19 crises started it even happened that big brands and retailers cancelled their orders, without paying for them. The workers and seamstresses will suffer from the impact.

Sustainable fashion proves that things can be done differently. The fabrics that are used, such as organic cotton, linen, lyocell, … have a lower environmental impact but are usually also more expensive. Even circularity is a concept that is commonly explored by new start-ups, ensuring the complete lifecycle of a garment is considered.

Seamstresses and textile workers deserve a fair wage. And actually this aspect does not have such a big impact. Even if their wages were to double, a t-shirt (made in a third world country) of 25 euros would then cost 26 euros (source: Dit Is Een Goede Gids, Marieke Eyskoot). Not much of a difference, right? 

Misconception 2: Sustainable fashion is just for those few idealists 

Sustainable clothing may remind you of stiff hemp clothing in bland colors and shapeless, boring pieces. You might think it is only there for those unworldly idealists who do not care about their looks at all. 

If that was ever the case, it’s no longer so in 2020. To start with, people who care about the world and who want to live more sustainably can be found everywhere, in all population groups and all ages. At the same time, sustainable clothing is there for everyone who is concerned about global warming, who wants to prevent microplastics, who wants to use raw materials more consciously and who believes that the seamstresses and cotton farmers deserve a fair wage.

There is sustainable clothing for everyone, that is to say, in every price range (see misconception 1) and in every style (see misconception 4!).

Misconception 3: Sustainable fashion is overrated

Allright. Consuming nothing at all is still the most sustainable. But we just want (and/or need) to wear clothes. Buying preloved clothes might be the second most sustainable option. However, as second-hand is not for everyone, sustainable fashion comes into the picture. 

And it makes a world of difference. The fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world! To make one outfit, a jeans and a t-shirt, 10,000 liter of water is needed. The impact in terms of CO2 emissions, on the environment and biodiversity, and the health and well-being of millions of workers in the clothing industry is enormous. So yes, sustainable fashion has an impact, and so does your choice. With every purchase you make, you make an impact.

Misconception 4: Sustainable fashion is not my style 

We have good news for you. The range of conscious clothing platforms, brands and shops is constantly increasing. And you will certainly not have to compromise on style!

But how do you find those nice sustainable labels that suit you? That seems more difficult than it is, but there are some good starting points. PLATFRM for starters. PLATFRM wants to bring together the most amazing sustainable brands, featuring the most cool and unique pieces. 

Misconception 5: I can also find sustainable clothing at high street shops

Indeed, the H&M’s and Zalando’s of this world also offer a range in the “sustainable” category. But what do they call sustainable? And is it really ecological, conscious and ethical?

We call these companies “Fast Fashion”. They want to encourage you to buy as much as possible. New collections land in store and online every week. Massive advertising budgets, free shipping and returns, and generally low prices make their offer hard to resist. It’s their business model that is not sustainable and it can never be sustainable. 

But still, it is a necessity that large corporates take up their responsibilities because even with a faulty business model they can still make an impact. And some are doing so. In the past, H&M regularly released a Conscious collection, which was certainly more sustainable in terms of material use, with organic cotton and recycled polyester. But their approach to all other areas of sustainability (production processes, packaging, working conditions, …) could be much better. Good On You is an organization that assesses brands. H&M scores ‘it’s a start’ … It is a start, but you cannot really call the brand sustainable.

In the case of Zalando, the situation is different, their platform offers different brands. There are certainly sustainable brands (for example Kings of Indigo) on offer, but also brands that are not there yet. These brands are often affiliated with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). BCI strives to make cotton production more sustainable by supporting cotton farmers. It is a complex system and is by no means the same as organic cotton. A step in the right direction, but not really sustainable either.

If you are unsure whether a brand is sustainable, Good On You has assessed thousands of brands! Or you can rely on our very own PLATFRM principles to judge at least the brands on this website! 

About the author

Laura is marketeer, blogger and owner of www.honesse.com, an online concept store dedicated to slow fashion basics: underwear, nightwear and other basics for women.