Have you been hearing the phrase 'sustainable fashion' a lot lately? You're not the only one. 2018 has been the year of the conscience as the world wakes up to the reality of the global plastic pollution crisis and the damage that we are doing to the planet. This is your ultimate guide to sustainable fashion and will answer all your questions about this important growing trend.
What is ethical and sustainable fashion?
Shockingly, the fashion industry is the world's second largest pollutant behind only the oil industry. Isn't it incredible to think about the clothes you're wearing causing almost as much harm to the planet as the drilling of oil and emissions created by all the aeroplanes, buses, cars, and motorbikes in the entire world? Stop to really think about that for a moment.
If clothing companies do nothing to change their practises, the global plastic pollution crisis as well as greenhouse gases and other toxic results will take their toll on our planet and our health. That's where ethical and sustainable fashion comes in.
Sustainable fashion is that which is produced responsibly with low carbon emissions, ideally from recycled materials, and vows to treat everyone in the supply chain fairly and with respect. This means no more sweat shops, no more textile factory disasters, and significantly reduced pollution. Not only this, it aims to educate consumers on moving towards a 'zero waste' lifestyle by not buying cheap clothing only to wear it once (or never!) and then throw it away and it stay in landfill for years to come.
Which clothing companies are ethical?
Thankfully, the sustainable and eco living movement is gaining traction day on day and there are numerous environmentally friendly clothing companies out there which are fully sustainable and ethical. Even huge corporations like H&M are striving to change their ways and begin to adopt more ethical practises and become more eco conscious.
Zara Williams is a sustainability consultant to several large brands and companies. She explains, "In my role as a sustainability consultant I advise a number of different companies on how to manage their environmental and social risks. Projects include working to improve employment conditions throughout the supply chain and monitoring and managing energy and water consumption and waste management. As we work with lots of different companies on a range of projects no day is the same which is great as it means I'm constantly learning and it rarely gets boring."
Ethical activewear brand Sundried produces beautiful activewear from 100% recycled materials including plastic bottles and even coffee grounds! Every purchase includes a donation to partner charity Water For Kids and the supply chain is fully transparent from source to sale so you know that the people who made your clothes were treated fairly and with respect in good working conditions. This is a stellar example of a sustainable fashion brand.
What is the most eco friendly fabric?
When you think fabric, which do you think of? Cotton? Polyester? Denim? You'd be surprised at just how many different fabrics and fabric blends there are available these days. One type you may not have thought about is recycled fabrics. These ethically-sourced and super green eco materials are made in sustainable processes from raw materials like coffee grounds, bamboo, fruit, and even other materials like plastic.
Recycled fabrics are very eco friendly as they produce less than a quarter of the carbon emissions of polyester and a third of the emissions of cotton. Additionally, producing cotton and manufacturing it into the clothes you're wearing today uses a lot of resources such as water and energy. The production of recycled materials and eco friendly fabrics uses far less water and is all-round better for the environment.
The Sundried Olperer T-Shirt (pictured above) is made from 100% recycled coffee grounds, a super eco friendly fabric.
Why is sustainable fashion important?
There is a new phrase being thrown around the media at the moment which is 'circular economy'. When you think about a basic economy, we do three things: make, use, dispose. This is particularly prevalent in the fast fashion industry in which cheap clothing is mass produced and sold, bought at rock bottom prices by people who don't think anything of it, and then thrown in the bin and in turn taken to landfill. This is hugely damaging to the environment and is not sustainable, that is to say we cannot continue like this.
Alternatively, a circular economy is one which goes against this age-old practice by introducing a new method whereby we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. To apply this to ethical activewear, this would mean investing in a piece of high quality clothing like a running vest made from recycled materials, taking care of it by washing it carefully and not drying it in the extreme heat of a tumble dryer, and using it for several years without buying a new one.
Infographic courtesy of WRAP
Sustainable fashion is important because a non-circular economy cannot live on indefinitely and eventually we will run out of resources and find ourselves with an unmanageable amount of landfill and waste on our planet. In a circular economy and with the likes of sustainable fashion, it is possible to continue indefinitely in a manageable way that is not damaging to the environment or the health and well-being of people.
'Fast fashion' is a term that describes how quickly clothing is mass produced, marketed, and bought in the current market. Clothing retailers like Primark are currently under scrutiny for selling clothing so cheaply as this is said to fuel the fast fashion frenzy and encourage shoppers to buy lots of cheap items, not care for them, and then discard them after only a few wears.
Infographic courtesy of BBC
Why is fast fashion bad?
There is evidence to show that:
- British shoppers buy far more new clothes than any nation in Europe.
- People are buying twice as many items of clothing as they did a decade ago.
- Fish in the seas are eating synthetic fibres dislodged in the wash.
Cheap clothing encourages a 'throw away' society where everything is disposable. This is bad for the environment as landfills are filling up with rubbish and the oceans are filling up with plastic. The more we produce and consume, the more our planet suffers.
It is not only our environment that is suffering from fast fashion. Have you ever stopped to think about who exactly made those cheap t-shirts for sale in Primark? It's time for big brands and large clothing companies to be more transparent about their production chains and how their workers are treated.
This is why the slow fashion movement is so important and is also why the campaign 'who made my clothes' was created.
Image courtesy of Trusted Clothes sustainability blog
What is the slow fashion movement?
The 'slow fashion' movement is a new campaign that aims to educate consumers on their purchases and to question the ethics of the fashion they are buying.
Sustainable fashion is the future
The most influential part of modern life, whether we like it or not, is money. Until this changes, animals, humans and the environment will continue to be abused in the name of profit. Socially responsible companies aim to maximise long-term profits whilst balancing a respect for wider social issues.
It’s easy to think that just one person won’t make a difference.
The faster ethically responsible companies grow, the more pressure they will place on other companies, investors, and banks to move away from unethical practices. As irresponsible practices are being forced under the spotlight, public concern is growing over the treatment of animals, people and the environment, making companies involved in these areas less viable in the long term as we become more educated about how our products are made.
Socially responsible investments are now more widely recognised as safe long term investment strategies. The combination of consumer, investment and business pressure can bring about lasting change – change which will benefit people, animals and the environment.
The Ethical Consumer 2015 report found we’re starting to support ethical products: the value of the ethical market has grown from £35 billion to £38 billion.
Sustainable fashion market analysis
The fashion industry isn’t all doom and gloom. Ethical fashion is no longer just a niche sector; it’s becoming part of the mainstream fashion industry.
- 48% of US millennial consumers choose brands that actively support social causes (BCG, 2014)
- 50% of US adults identify as ‘green consumers’
- 13% identify as ‘super green’ meaning they purchase organic and sustainable products, are informed about the products they buy, and expect retailers to keep environmental damage to a minimum (Forrester, 2013)
Delivering premium style and technical function in an ethical way requires extensive research and extra time, but good things come to those who wait.
"Eco fashion is now a $5 billion per year industry, whereas just ten years ago it hadn’t even cracked $1 billion. This might still be a small share of global revenue, but its growth signals a major shift." - Ethea
Sustainability issues in the fashion industry
There are many varied sustainability issues in the fashion industry. These can be put into two main categories: environmental factors and social factors;
There are many environmental issues in the fashion industry: chemicals, waste, pollution, energy, and water.
There are also many social issues: working hours, modern slavery, child labour, regular employment, and healthy & safety.
It's very important to question the ethics of the brands you support and the clothing companies that you buy from. Question all of the above aspects and make these large corporations face the hard facts that this is not sustainable long term and something has to change, and change soon.
In this digital age, more and more people are turning to online retailers for their shopping needs. However, this does not come without its problems and there are lots of things to look out for when buying online. We guide you through the tricky process of buying activewear online.
One of the most important things to be careful of when buying women’s activewear online instead of from a sportswear store is sizing. You want your workout clothes to fit well and look good, which can be tough when you can’t try it on before you buy. Check that the retailer you’re looking to buy from has an activewear size guide, as gym wear from different brands can come up in different sizes; a size large for one brand might be completely different from a size large from another.
Not only is it important to check their activewear size guide, it’s also very useful to check a brand’s customer reviews. No one will be more honest than someone who has already purchased athletic wear from this particular retailer. See if there are any answered questions and comments about sizing, this will help you hugely when choosing your ladies gym wear.
There are so many different fabrics and materials available these days, so it’s useful to do your research first before making an investment in expensive gym clothes. With ethics and sustainable fashion being on the rise, there are lots of brands offering sportswear for women made from recycled materials. These responsibly-sourced and sustainable fabrics feature superior technology and are perfect for fitness clothing as they feature sweat-wicking, four-way stretch materials, and other benefits.
Here at Sundried, we live by the motto that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Nowadays, fast fashion is prevalent and if the activewear you're looking to buy is very cheap, it's likely that the people in the supply chain are being treated unfairly. On the other end of the spectrum, just because the activewear brand you're looking at is very expensive that doesn't mean you're getting what you pay for. It's good to find a middle ground, whereby the price is a little higher but you know you're getting exceptional quality.
Sundried believe in keeping our customers educated about the life-cycle of our clothing, so you can make your purchases responsibly.
What Is Ethical Activewear?
The fashion and sportswear industries see a lot of what we call 'fast fashion'. This is where large quantities of clothing are produced at a rapid rate and sold very cheaply. When this happens, the people making the clothing are often not treated or paid fairly and the way the clothing is made is not environmentally friendly.
Our ethical activewear can be traced right back to where it was made and at Sundried, we guarantee that all of our employees are treated fairly, from the supply chain to the Sundried HQ office.
The Sundried ethos starts at the very beginning with our materials. All our material choices are made with the mitigation of harmful substances, pollution and other environmental hazards associated with raw material extraction in mind.
Our EcoTech collection is made from 100% recycled materials, including plastic bottles and coffee grounds. These raw materials are sustainable and by recycling them into clothing, we are helping to reduce the global plastic pollution problem.
We believe you cannot be a health and fitness brand without promoting health throughout your company, from production to purpose. The fashion industry is the 2nd largest pollutant, widely known for terrible and dangerous working conditions and tragic disasters such as the collapse of The Rena Plaza factory which stole the lives of 1134 victims.
Sundried Low Emissions
Sundried produce our activewear in partnership with The Low Carbon Innovation fund, to ensure we have as little environmental impact as possible.
The Low Carbon Innovation Fund has strict policies and regulations which we must adhere to.
We minimise our carbon footprint throughout the full lifecycle of Sundried apparel through:
- Using materials that use little carbon in their manufacture, little energy in their maintenance and are recyclable.
- Carbon offsetting where a zero/low carbon choice isn’t currently viable
- Advising our products are “washed cool and sun dried” to minimise our footprint after purchase.
Our vision is to enable people to feel good inside and out before and after exercise through premium, exciting and ethical technical activewear which is stylish, smart and made with consciousness.
Ethical clothing is sweeping the nation and there is an ever-growing demand for more sustainable ways to produce fabric. With a rise in ‘fast fashion’ over the last few years, the mounting production of cheap clothing has meant that important values have been lost and not only does the environment suffer, but so too do the workers.
Sundried are proud to support ethical, sustainable activewear production with our range of apparel made from coffee. You’ve probably heard of fabric made from recycled water bottles, but coffee is the latest development in responsible sourcing.
First developed by a Taiwanese company in 2008, the use of coffee grounds to make clothes has been on the rise ever since. The fabric produced has a number of benefits, especially for activewear and gym clothing. It is fast-drying, sweat-wicking, and de-odorising, all benefits which are hugely important for performance clothing. Not only that, it does not require the high-temperature treatment that other materials require which reduces CO2 emissions leading to a greener planet.
How do recycled coffee grounds become clothing?
The fabric is made from the waste product that is created when making coffee. The used coffee grounds usually just end up in a landfill, so this recycling process is truly ethical and responsible. The coffee grounds are processed in a low-temperature, high-pressured environment to make them into yarn which is then woven into naturally high-tech fabric.
The clothing that is produced from used coffee grounds has fantastic benefits, including odour control, sweat-wicking, and it dries over 200 times faster than cotton. It is also naturally anti-bacterial.
Responsibly-sourced materials are the future and ethical brands like Sundried are leading the way to a brighter time ahead for our planet. Did you know that most polyester blends are made from the chemical reaction that occurs between coal and petroleum? Hardly what you'd want to be wearing to the gym when you think about it! The manufacture of fitness clothing from recycled materials has a significantly lower CO2 emission and therefore is kinder to the environment.
The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago.
Our planet can’t keep up with our obsession with 'fast fashion'. This is the trend of always having to keep up with the latest fashion and not daring to be seen in last season's outfits. With fast fashion speeding up trends and constantly pushing us into the next season, your clothing is most likely to be wardrobe waste before it’s even reached its first birthday.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) conducted research on the clothing industry in the UK and found that we waste £30 billion in the UK each year in unused clothes.
New research from WRAP has found that:
- The annual footprints of a household’s new and existing clothing are equivalent to the weight of over 100 pairs of jeans, the water needed to fill over 1,000 bathtubs, and the carbon emissions from driving an average modern car for 6,000 miles.
- The average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes – but around 30% of clothing in the average wardrobe has not been worn for at least a year, most commonly because it no longer fits.
- Extending the average life of clothes by just three months of active use per item would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the carbon, water and waste footprints
- Two-thirds of UK consumers buy or receive pre-owned (or second-hand) clothes, and there is a willingness to wear more, especially if a better range were available; and an estimated £140 million worth (350,000 tonnes) of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year.
- The carbon emissions generated by the clothing of the average household is equivalent to driving an average modern car 6,000 miles.
- Overall, clothing contributes around: 5% of the global carbon footprint of UK goods and services; and 6-8% of the global water footprint of UK products and household use.
- Global footprint Global footprint Household footprint of UK consumption per household equivalent to of clothing Carbon 38 million tonnes 1.5 tonnes of CO2e Driving a car CO2e emissions each year 6,000 miles Water 6,300 million m3 More than 200,000 Filling over 1,000 of water litres each year bathtubs to capacity Waste 1.8 million 70 kg each year Weight of over 100 tonnes of material pairs of jeans
Global footprint of UK consumption of clothing
Global Footprint per household
Household footprint equivalent to:
38 million tonnes CO2e
1.5 tonnes CO2e emissions each year
Driving a car 6,000 miles
63 million m3 of water
More than 200,000 litres each year
Filling over 1,000 bathtubs to capacity
1.8 million tonnes of material
70kg each year
Weight of over 1000 pairs of jeans
So what can we do to fix this vicious cycle?
Turning fast fashion into fair fashion
The research from WRAP indicates that a credible set of modest changes across the clothing life-cycle could reduce each of the carbon, water and waste footprints by as much as 10-20%. More ambitious changes could help reduce the cost of resources used to clothe the UK population by one-third, with greater savings still in the carbon and water footprints.
What makes ethical fashion sustainable?
In production: Reducing the carbon footprint of the production process by just 5% through cutting waste in production, dyeing and finishing could reduce our carbon footprint by 4%, our water usage by 8% and waste by 3%.
In quality: Creating quality garments which have an extended life expectancy could reduce carbon emissions by 7%, water by 10% and overall waste by 9%.
In the aftercare: Changing the way we launder our clothes, by washing on a cool heat and avoiding tumble drying could reduce our carbon footprint by 6%.
Once we’re finished with our clothes: Reusing and recycling by an extra 5% could reduce our carbon footprint by 3% and a 1% reduction in waste.
What makes Sundried ethical?
Sundried are audited by The Low Carbon Innovation Fund to ensure our products come to market with as ethical production as possible. This involves carefully selecting the materials we use, the factories we work with and the way we transport our goods.
All of our products use blends of premium fabrics to extend the life expectancy of our clothing.
Extending the life of clothing by an extra nine months of active use would reduce carbon, waste and water footprints by around 20-30% each and cut resource costs by around 20% (£5 billion); this is the single most significant intervention according to WRAPS research.
Through our aftercare:
Laundry creates around one-quarter of the carbon footprint of clothing or 3 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of clothing as a result of energy use. Throughout all our products, marketing, and aftercare labels we encourage you to ‘wash cool’ ensuring that our products are cleaned at low temperatures meaning we can minimise our footprint, furthered by our recommendation to ‘sun dry’, eliminating the extra waste from a tumble dryer.
Sundried offer a recycling programme for all our old garments.
Around half of clothing is reused at present and over two-thirds of this goes overseas. Increasing the reuse rate in the UK and for export would reduce the total waste each year. There is significant willingness to buy or receive pre-owned clothes – more than two-thirds of adults have done so in the past year. Some 30% of clothing has not been worn for the last year and four in five people own at least some clothes that have not been worn because they no longer fit or need altering. This indicates there may be a substantial volume of good quality clothing suitable for reuse.