Sustainability and sustainable fashion

Dear sustainable fashion enthusiasts, let's discuss the true meaning of sustainability!

Sustainability means creating something without harming the environment. Unfortunately, the term has been subject to numerous definitions and misunderstandings, leading to its exploitation for commercial purposes and as a tool for "green-washing" [1]. Therefore, it is crucial to understand its true definition. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the most frequently quoted definition of sustainable development is: » Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs » [2].

 »Sustainable design is about reusing resources, reducing pollution and recycling. Next to this sustainability also deals with working conditions, making sure that people work in humane conditions, without child labour and earning a fair income«[3].

Sustainable fashion is all about life cycle thinking, which should be included in all phases; from design, manufacturing, logistics, retail, use to disposal. Special consideration should be taken into account for the use phase and the end of life phase of the product. In perfect case the product can be re-used as it is, following options such as re-design of the product or ability to recycle the materials. Many guidelines and instructions on how to approach sustainable fashion design have been created in the fashion world in recent years. Following is example of guideline for a sustainable fashion designer:

  • »reuse waste materials
  • recycle
  • upcycle
  • repair and remodel garments
  • recreate (e.g. existing design concepts)
  • reduce (use of resources and creation of waste)
  • use ecological materials
  • use mono materials
  • use new technologies
  • create longer lasting products
  • design multifunctional clothes
  • design for delight« [4].

Sustainable fashion is essentially based on values and ethics. Awareness, information, education, open collaborations, and understanding are crucial. Different standards, certification systems, and labels provide specific assurances about materials and products in the clothing industry. These approaches cover different parts of the value chain, from fiber production to the end-of-life phase of the final products, as shown in the figure below [5].

 Ecological and social quality standards, certification systems, and labels covering different life-cycle phases in the textile industry [5]:

Sustainable fashion is not just a trend but a necessity in today's world, where fast fashion has a significant environmental impact. By following the guidelines, sustainable fashion can become the norm rather than the exception.

In conclusion, it is essential not to be deceived by the label "sustainable," which has become a popular trend without any substantial foundation (and is often written in green font, which works wonders on our brains). Instead, it is crucial to be curious, investigate certifications, request additional information, and contribute to the much-needed transformation of the current fashion system.



[1]      J. Farrer, »Remediation: Discussing fashion textiles sustainability,« Shaping sustainable fashion: changing the way we make and use clothes, page 19 – 33, 2011.

[2]      International institute for sustainable development [web], Accessible: 

[3]      H. Matevosyan, The fashion system and the role of the sustainable designer [web],  Accessible: 

[4]      K. Niinimäki, »Tenents of sustainable fashion,« Sustainable fashion: New approaches, page 12 – 31, 2013.

[5]   E. G. Hansen, S. Schaltegger, »Mainstreaming of Sustainable Cotton in the German Clothing Industry,« Sustainable Fibres for Fashion Industry, Volume 1, page 39-58, 2016

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