Chapter 10: Fashion

Tai Munro

Key Ideas

In this chapter, you will learn about:

  • why fashion is a significant sustainability issue
  • opportunities for rethinking fashion from new and historical lenses

Sustainability and Fashion

Sustainability and fashion is a topic that has changed and evolved over time. At one point in history, available materials, costs, time, and culture meant that the clothes humans wore were sustainable. We didn’t have synthetic fabrics, so everything would biodegrade when it was disposed of. We didn’t have easy and convenient facilities to wash our clothes with, so they were washed less often and made more durably. Every scrap of fabric and other materials like buttons was considered important because you may be unable to access or afford any more. And you weren’t judged when you wore the same outfit multiple times. Even as times changed and fashion became more of a statement of who someone was, there have been measures that increased sustainability. For example, during the world wars, rationing resulted in distinct changes in clothing design, such as less use of buttons and snaps and less extra material, such as switching from double-breasted to single-breasted suits. Today, however, a global economy allows for the exploitation of both people and land, and consumerist culture privileges the newest trend. As a result, the fashion industry is a significant contributor to unsustainability. Carbon emissions, wastewater production, and human rights violations are all prevalent in the industry.

Watch the video (2:43) for an overview of the impacts of fashion and some of the current trends towards sustainability.

Reflection 10.1: Who Made Your Clothes?

#WhoMadeMyClothes was a social media movement launched following the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. It had the goal of encouraging consumers to learn about the brands that they purchased from and supported and how they treated workers and the environment. Learn more about the movement.

Consider what questions you ask about the brands you purchase. What are the criteria that you use to decide to purchase something or not? Are you interested in learning more about the brands you purchase?

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is an approach that focuses on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing. It generally replicates trends with low-quality materials and manufacturing to quickly bring large quantities of clothing items to the consumer. This approach has led to high levels of consumption and subsequent harm to garment workers and the environment.

Recommended Resource

To learn more about fast fashion, you can review:

Some companies have been working to build their reputation based on the ethical production of clothing. Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, has made headlines for their business choices on multiple occasions. Check out two examples:

Expanding Your Knowledge

Whether you are interested in fashion or not, the fashion industry’s sustainability affects all of us. In addition, fashion is connected to many other aspects of our lives, as seen in systems thinking. How do the activities you choose to do, or have to do, impact your clothing choices? How does culture impact the clothes that people expect you to wear? How do trends or customs impact the money we spend on clothes?

Activity 10.1: Expanding Your Knowledge

Conduct an online search for a resource that considers sustainability and fashion. Explore the resource and see how it might connect to the different areas in your personal or professional life. Some potential resources include:

Activity 10.2: Company Investigation

Choose a company you are interested in. You can choose either a clothing company or a retailer. Research the company policies regarding sustainability and corporate responsibility. Create a summary and reflection that includes responses to the following:

  • Does the company use fast fashion, not use fast fashion but not oppose it, or actively oppose fast fashion?
  • Are there any indications in the policies you found that the company is engaged with a systems perspective on sustainability (think about the models and definitions from the start of the course)? Are there any contradictions in their policies (for example, promoting living wages but using toxic chemicals without safety protocols)?
  • Can you find any reports/violations/fines on the company? What do these indicate?
  • Would you purchase clothing from this company in the future? Why or why not?





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Introduction to Sustainability Copyright © 2023 by Tai Munro is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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