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7 Pros & 6 Cons of Sustainable Fashion

pros and cons of sustainable fashion

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Sustainable fashion has undoubtedly many great benefits, both for the environment and for the garment makers. 

But are there negative sides to it?

In this article, you’ll find both the pros and cons of sustainable fashion, and I’ll try to provide a suggestion or solution for every ‘disadvantage’.

First, let’s quickly define sustainable fashion, and what differentiates it from fast fashion.

a top and skirt set from sustainable fashion brand alohas

Sustainable Fashion: 

Sustainable fashion is a movement aimed at minimizing the harmful impact of the fashion industry on both the environment and society. It’s about making fashion kinder to our planet and people. 

This involves practices focused on reducing pollution, conserving resources, and ensuring fair treatment of workers throughout the supply chain. 

Fast fashion, on the other hand, prioritizes rapid production, low-cost garments, and trend turnover, often at the expense of environmental sustainability and fair labor practices.

You can find more about the fast fashion disadvantages here, and read more about what sustainable fashion is and why it is important here.

pros and cons of sustainable fashion

Pros of Sustainable Fashion:


1. Environmental conservation: 

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, contributing 8% of all carbon emissions and 20% of all global wastewater. (1)

Additionally, the fashion industry produces over 92 million tonnes of waste per year and uses 79 trillion liters of water! (1, 2) The majority of clothes are made with synthetic fibers for which fossil fuel is needed.

Sustainable fashion significantly reduces the environmental impact by using eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton, hemp, and recycled fabrics, which require fewer pesticides, chemicals, and water. 

Besides, sustainable fashion brands prioritize responsible manufacturing processes, such as low-impact dyeing methods and energy-efficient production techniques, to minimize pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Related: 29 Fast Fashion Brands To Avoid

textile waste from fast fashion

2. Resource conservation:

Sustainable fashion promotes the efficient use of natural resources by maximizing resource efficiency throughout the supply chain. 

This involves adopting circular economy principles, where materials are recycled, upcycled, or reused to extend their lifespan and reduce the demand for virgin resources. 

Sustainable fashion brands also prioritize water and energy conservation, implementing strategies such as water recycling, renewable energy sources, and energy-efficient manufacturing processes.

3. Ethical labor practices: 

Sustainable fashion cares for the environment, but also for how the clothes are produced.

So, there is a priority for fair labor practices, to ensure the workers throughout the supply chain are treated ethically, paid fair wages, and provided with safe working conditions. 

This is especially important since most fast fashion brands produce their fashion lines in developing regions, taking advantage of the labor practices in those areas. (1

unethical fast fashion practices

4. Increases awareness: 

Current fashion-consumption practices result in large amounts of textile waste, most of which is incinerated, landfilled, or exported to developing countries. (1)

Sustainable fashion raises awareness about the environmental and social impacts of the fashion industry, empowering consumers to make more informed and responsible decisions. 

It provokes a shift towards conscious consumption habits and a greater appreciation for quality over quantity.

5. Innovation and creativity: 

Sustainable fashion drives innovation and creativity in design, materials, and production methods. 

It encourages experimentation with eco-friendly materials, innovative technologies, and circular economy solutions, leading to more innovative clothing options. Here are some great examples:

  • The North Face’s “Renewed” collection offers refurbished and repaired garments sourced from returned or defective items. 
  • Stella McCartney’s use of innovative materials like “sustainable viscose” derived from certified forests.
  • Desserto, a Mexican company, has developed fake leather made from cactus plants. This innovative “cactus leather” material offers a cruelty-free alternative to traditional leather while utilizing a sustainable and readily available resource.
sustainable fabrics

6. High-quality & durable items: 

While sustainable fashion is more expensive, it often results in higher-quality garments that last longer. 

Over time, investing in durable, timeless pieces can lead to long-term cost savings and reduced overall spending on clothing. The focus is on timeless styles and individual expression, less influenced by fleeting trends. 

7. Slow production:

Fashion brands are now producing almost twice the amount of clothing today compared with before the 2000s. (1)

In fast fashion, production cycles prioritize speed and rapid turnover, with new designs hitting stores every few weeks. This often sacrifices quality and ethical considerations.

Sustainable fashion takes a slower approach to production. Sustainable brands prioritize quality over quantity and focus on creating timeless designs that withstand trends and seasons.

Production cycles are longer and more deliberate, with careful attention paid to ethical sourcing, eco-friendly materials, and artisanal craftsmanship.

sustainable swimwear

Cons of Sustainable Fashion:

1. Higher price: 

Sustainable fashion does come with higher prices compared to fast fashion. The cost of eco-friendly materials, fair labor practices, and sustainable production methods contribute to higher retail prices, making sustainable fashion less accessible. 

Solution: 

You can still find more affordable brands that offer sustainable clothing, or you can always shop second-hand, which is probably the most sustainable choice. Find a list of affordable sustainable clothing brands & a list of online second-hand shops

2. Transparency issues: 

The truth is that there’s so much greenwashing out there and great marketing, that sometimes it’s really hard to truly know if a company is truly better. The complexity of sustainable fashion makes it challenging to navigate and understand. 

Lack of transparency in supply chains, greenwashing practices, and varying definitions of sustainability can lead to confusion, making it difficult to identify truly sustainable brands and products.

You can read more on how to spot and avoid greenwashing in my guide.

fast fashion factory

Solution: 

Seek out brands that prioritize transparency in their supply chains and have certifications by reputable organizations, such as:

  • B Corporation (B Corp) – social & environmental responsibility
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
  • Fair Trade Certified
  • Global Recycled Standard (GRS)
  • Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)
  • Fair Wear Foundation (FWF)
  • Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)

You can also research specific brands, and see if they have sustainable fashion certifications, and how openly they communicate about their practices & initiatives. Some great examples that do that are:

  • Kotn B Corp, GOTS, BCI & OEKO-TEX
  • Chnge – GOTS Certified, Climate Neutral Certified, OEKO-TEX 
  • Known SupplyB Corp, GOTS, Fair Trade Certified
  • TenTree – B Corp, Climate Neutral Certified
  • Wear Pact – Fair Trade USA, GOTS, Carbon Neutral
clothing from sustainable clothing brand tentree
Read my review of Tentree here

3. It is slow & not always trendy:  

Because sustainable fashion is slow and often focuses on timeless designs, you may not always be able to find the latest ‘trendy’ styles.

Since sustainable fashion also focuses on slow production, it can mean that new lines of clothes take much longer to make, and there are in general fewer options to choose from. 

Solution: 

Embrace the slow fashion philosophy and focus on timeless, versatile pieces. Invest in quality wardrobe staples that offer longevity and versatility, rather than chasing fleeting fashion trends. 

You can get creative, explore capsule wardrobes, and explore your personal style expression to create a wardrobe that reflects your individuality. 

4. Limited availability & sizes: 

Sustainable fashion options may be limited in availability, creating a challenge to finding sustainable clothing that meets your style, size, and budget.

Some sustainable fashion brands may have limited sizes, since some of them may create their designs ‘on-demand’, or just create less of them, to avoid possible waste in the end. 

Solution: 

Search for eco-brands that offer a diverse range of sizes and styles to cater to a wider audience. 

Size inclusive options: Girlfriend Collective, EILEEN FISHER, Big Bud Press, Loud Bodies, Known Supply, Mayamiko 

organic cotton

5. Lack of access: 

Sustainable brands and stores are generally less widespread, which means you have to put more effort into finding and purchasing items. 

Most sustainable fashion brands also focus on e-commerce, meaning you have to order the items without trying them out first, so you won’t be able to make sure if they fit well, and you like the look. There is also the risk of getting something that won’t fit, and then having to return it, or “tailor it”. 

However, tailoring can be expensive, and if buying more expensive clothing, it feels too much of a hassle to fix it and spend even more money for something to fit properly. In general, it can take a lot more effort. 

Solution: 

Look for local sustainable fashion brands, clothing swap events (or organize one yourself), and markets where you can discover and purchase eco-friendly clothing locally & in person.  

You can also support sustainable fashion brands that offer online shopping options with clear-size guides, user-friendly websites, and flexible return policies.

Lots of sustainable brands also use models with different body shapes, and provide information about the models in pictures such as their height, measurements, and what size they are wearing.

Some sustainable online clothing brands that do that: Indigo Luna, Fair Indigo, For Days, Fair Trade Winds.

second-hand online shopping

6. “Unsexy” looks

I was browsing through Reddit, in the ethical fashion subreddit, and saw a lot of people saying that a lot of ethical brands are very … unsexy. 

The styles can be often quite boring, and unflattering, with minimal shape. There is no color, just neutral ones like beige, brown, and moss green. From my experience, this can be true for a lot of brands.  

Solution:

Find eco-brands that have a variety of styles, and colors. Here are a few of my favorite options:

sustainable second-hand clothing

Summary

It is great to see brands are thinking about things like less environmentally harmful materials, textile recycling, etc.

Buying sustainable, good-quality items is always better, but the main focus should be to only buy what and when we truly need something, to repair & make things last as long as possible, and take proper care of them. 

Ultimately the best thing to do is to avoid over-consuming and to choose second-hand whenever possible.

Second-hand is great since it is affordable, and it keeps something out of the landfill while preventing the purchase of something new. 

Did I miss a pro or con you would like to see in this list? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂 

fast fashion greenwashing
credit: unknown, but I had to share this 😀

More on ethical fashion:


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