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What is behind the concept of sustainable fashion?

sustainable fashion
Xabier Sevillano

Xabier Sevillano

Senior Consultant in European Projects and LIFE Programme Expert

In recent years we are starting to see a growing trend in advertisements and social media, advertising what is being called “sustainable fashion”. We are inundated with brands, certificates and labels to prove how “green” the clothes we buy are, to the point where we, the consumers, can become suspicious of the claims behind these labels and certificates.

And it is not that what we are told is not true (God forbid that I should doubt the claims made by the marketing departments of companies), but that, in reality, to be able to say that a garment is sustainable requires a very broad analysis that encompasses many dimensions, and that encompasses the entire value chain.

Fabrics for sustainable fashion

Let’s look, for example, at the raw materials. We could understand as sustainable a fabric or garment that makes use of vegetable fibres (cotton, for example) that has been cultivated in an ecological way, avoiding the use of pesticides or other substances. You could also consider not using dyes and chemicals in the further processing of fabrics. But you could also argue that it is also sustainable fashion to obtain new fabrics from problematic waste. For example, there are cases that use sail scraps or decommissioned ropes from ships to make accessories, or that make new fabrics from plastic waste.

But perhaps focusing only on raw materials is not enough, because the world of fashion is a world that, whether we like it or not, is governed by emotions. Thus, although you can defend as sustainable the use of fabrics or materials of extremely high durability (so that, for example, your jeans never break, or the soles of your shoes take much longer to wear out), the fashion industry itself favours that, from time to time fashions change, and that those jeans, even if they have not worn out one bit, you want to change them for others that are wider, or narrower, or higher or lower.

Therefore, as important as the materials is the design: to ensure that the aesthetics of your garments are not affected by fashions. There are some cases that last for a long time, such as Vans trainers or Doctor Martens (which have maintained their original design, intended as safety footwear, for years), but it takes a mental and psychological effort to make your garments iconic.

Other aspects that define sustainable fashion

There are other aspects that can also define whether your wardrobe falls into the category of sustainable fashion, which I won’t go into in detail (I’ll leave it up to the reader to go into more detail). Some examples are the design of clothes to facilitate their repair, or the facility to separate and recycle their components at the end of their useful life, or even the implementation of systems for bartering or selling second-hand clothes or the search for local materials to reduce emissions associated with transport. There are many possibilities.

Consequently, is it possible to obtain clothing that meets all these requirements? At present, it seems obvious that it is not, and that achieving it is a terribly complex task. All this, moreover, without taking into account the social dimension, which should also be considered (e.g., the fair and humane treatment of textile workers in developing countries).

Taking all this into account is not cheap, so we must also start to realise that a commitment to the environment requires investing in it (goodbye to clothes for €9.99). Therefore, perhaps the message that is being conveyed to us needs to be nuanced: the clothes we buy as “sustainable fashion” are not 100% sustainable, but somewhat more sustainable than the others.



Expert person

Xabier Sevillano
Xabier Sevillano

Pamplona Office

Senior Consultant in European Projects and LIFE Programme Expert

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