Fashion trends tend to change quickly, which can lead to unsustainable manufacturing practices. With various industries moving toward innovation and sustainability, the world of shoes and apparel has begun exploring sustainable fashion. “Eco fashion” is defined as a growing cultural trend that aims to promote more sustainable, environmentally-friendly and ethical products. By being environmentally conscious, reducing their carbon footprint and buying locally produced raw materials, fashion consumers help support eco fashion.
However, consumer awareness of eco fashion has room for improvement. In a survey of designers, retailers and industry experts, as well as randomly selected students, only 27 percent of respondents knew about sustainable fashion. A true cultural shift will require much higher levels.
Part of the problem may be that awareness campaigns tend to focus on the negative. Consumers can be made to feel guilt over unsustainable manufacturing practices in the shoe and apparel industries, and the effect of these practices on the environment. While this may be effective with consumers who are already familiar with eco fashion, it is reinforcing what they already know, rather than making new strides. Mainstreaming eco fashion among people who are unfamiliar with the concept may require an alternative approach. Such an approach should highlight positive examples that would make consumers want to embrace a sustainable lifestyle.
Success stories of designers and retailers that embrace sustainability can serve as an inspiration that may alter cultural behavior. Shop Ethica, a retailer that specializes in selling the products of sustainable fashion designers, offers clothes with ethical qualities such as being locally made, vegan, handcrafted and sustainable.
A lasting, sustainable fashion culture will require buy-in among all stakeholders—manufacturers, designers, retailers and consumers. The move in 2011 by major apparel and footwear brands and retailers to commit to lead the industry toward zero discharge of hazardous chemicals (ZDHC) in their products by year 2020 was particularly inspiring.
In sustainable fashion, the motto is “less is more.” In this context, decreased clothing purchases translates to more efficient utilization of natural resources by the fashion industry. In turn, consumers will learn to buy clothes out of necessity rather than desire, and purchase from lines that are sustainably operating. Some say sustainable fashion is a passing fad. Let’s hope this one is here to stay.
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