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How Can You Tell if a Fashion Brand Is Really Sustainable?

By Áine Cruise

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In recent years, there’s been a push for more sustainability within the fashion industry - which is a brilliant thing! However, with more and more brands adopting ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ as buzzword labels, how can you make sure the brands you're supporting (and the products you're buying) are actually doing what they say they are?


Firstly, it’s important to remember ‘sustainable’ is an umbrella term, it can cover a range of things. ‘Ethical fashion’ often refers to clothes that don’t use animal products. ‘Fair trade’ relates to the human side if the business, e.g., fair pay, good labour conditions. ‘Eco-friendly’ tends to relate to brands being carbon-neutral, or using recycled fabric. It’s important you decide which matter most to you. We can’t expect everything to always be perfect – and you shouldn’t pressure yourself if occasionally you have to make a call to compromise.


It can seem hard to spot if a brand really is sustainable, and which area it focuses on most. Luckily, there’s plenty of little things you can do to check!


Look at materials

Unless you’re buying from vintage/ charity shops, (or choosing clothes made with upcycled or waste fabrics), it’s possible that just by looking at the very material clothes are made can make your wardrobe more sustainable.


Polyester is the most commonly used material in many fast fashion, and high street brands. Mainly because it’s cheap, but it takes around two hundred years to break down. When shopping, look for Linen, Tencel, silk or hemp as an alternative. Organic cotton is also widely available, but processing it takes a lot of water (around 20,000 litres for one pair of jeans!).


Wooden accessories are also having a comeback due to the push for sustainability. On the whole, they are better, but look closely at the type of wood. Bamboo, or scraps from the furniture industry are great. However, endangered species like rosewood, sandalwood, and mahogany are more harmful.


Download ‘Good on you’

‘Good on you’ is an app available on google play and the app store. It’s perhaps one of the easiest ways to check the sustainability of brands and stores. The app is completely free, and allows you to search for brands, and save your favourites. The ratings on each brand are given on a scale, from ‘we avoid’ to ‘great’. They’re given after looking at data from three categories – labour, environment, and animal. Unfortunately, they haven’t got data on every single shop, but it’s a good place to start.


In addition to this, they often promote sustainable stores on their blog, which is built into the app. For those who are on a budget, they also have an offers page where they share discounts on high rated, sustainable and ethical brands!


The Transparency Pledge

Certain brands - such as Patagonia - have committed to the Transparency Pledge. The pledge requires that companies share the names, and locations, of all the factories it uses. And the more detailed information of the product type, and the number of workers, in each one.


The project has made a massive difference in how brands share conditions. If the shop you’re looking at buying from has signed this Pledge, it’s a good way to check that the labour they use is sustainable.


Ditch the brands all together

One of the best ways to keep the cost of a sustainable wardrobe down is simply to buy more second-hand clothes. I’m not saying that you should stop supporting your favourite small business – far from it! But, if you still want clothes from brands that aren’t sustainable, see if you can find them second hand.


Online app’s like Depop, Vinted, and even eBay have thousands of items added every day. Consider spending time rummaging through charity shop racks, or rent an outfit for your next event.


By consuming less, shopping second hand, and only buying from slow fashion brands, you’re using your power as a consumer to bring about change.

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