Is Sustainable Fashion Possible? The Hard Truth, and What We are Doing
In April, we celebrate both Earth Day and Fashion Revolution week, and many brands are sharing their commitments to sustainability and social justice. We love talking about the good stuff, but also want to keep it real and talk about challenges we face - both on a global scale and as a small brand.
The hard truth (that not many brands are talking about… because, profits): the fashion industry simply cannot continue to produce clothing at the staggering rate we have for the past few decades. Regardless of how eco-friendly, sustainable, regenerative, fair trade, ethical etc brands are, we cannot ignore the massive volume of (over)production.
Some facts that may shock you:
- Every year, the fashion industry pumps out a whopping 150 billion garments, and a staggering 87% of that (40 million tons) ends up in landfills or incinerators, polluting the air we breathe.
- Only 1% of discarded clothing is actually recycled, and recycling efforts are still in their early stages, with sorting done by hand.
- People today buy 60% more clothing than they did 15 years ago, but keep them for only half as long. The average garment is only worn around 10 times before it's tossed.
- Thrift stores are inundated with used clothing they can't sell, so they ship it abroad to countries in the Global South, where it often ends up in landfills due to the low quality and sheer volume. These countries often lack advanced waste systems, and decomposing/burning textiles causes serious environmental and health issues.
- Most major industries are highly regulated. But the fashion industry, one of the largest manufacturing industries on the planet, is almost entirely unregulated.
Fast fashion's cheap clothing comes at a high cost to factory garment workers, who are often paid less than minimum wage in the global south, leaving millions in "modern slavery". Child labor is common.
The statistics are staggering, and as a small brand it can feel like our efforts are futile. But we're committed to being part of the solution, and know that even the smallest drop can have a ripple effect beyond measure.
- We produce according to demand: we do frequent surveys and run pre-sales as much as possible before production.
- We advocate for timeless minimalist, capsule wardrobes over quickly changing trends, and share our love of thrifting.
- We make our clothing in small batches in Canada in partnership with two manufacturers that we have a personal relationship with and know workers are being treated and paid fairly.
- We choose recycled or compostable packaging, and no plastic garment bags, hang tags, or stuff that will just end up going straight to the trash.
- We choose fabrics based on durability, performance, comfort and sustainability, that is always OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified.
- We reduce the impact of being an e-commerce store (without a brick-and-mortar storefront) by offering a local pickup option (in Winnipeg), as well as an innovative EcoDrop peer-to-peer returns program. In our first 6 months of using EcoDrop, we saved over 53,000km of travel by eliminating return shipping trips.
We're far from "perfect" however. Here are some challenges we face:
- In terms of fabric selection, the most sustainable option is not always available to us as small business (for example, we aren’t able to use organic cotton in all or clothing). Or, it might not be the best for longevity or comfort, and thus would not get as much wear, making it ultimately a LESS sustainable option (for example, TENCEL (lyocell) is more sustainable than bamboo in terms of it’s closed loop processing, but we found it to be a less durable fibre long term in certain fabric types and uses).
- Being a small business, we aren’t at the point yet where we can make our fabrics in Canada, which would be ideal. Even if/when we are able to meet the minimums to manufacture our own fabric locally, the raw materials used to manufacture fabrics still come from overseas.
- We would like to have a more circular business model, and one step in this direction will be a re-sale platform where customers can list and sell their gently worn Prana Vida. Stay tuned for more on this!
- We aren’t able to make our clothing in Winnipeg (it’s made in Vancouver, as flintlock stitching technology isn’t available locally), so we're not able to be physically present when it comes to overseeing our production.
- Because cost of manufacturing in Canada is so much higher than elsewhere, and shipping from and within Canada is incredibly expensive, it’s hard to balance fair pricing and profitability (which is of course important if we want to stay in business an keep working towards a better future for fashion).
If you are interested in learning more about sustainable fashion, Fashion Revolution Week and what you can do as an individual, I recommend checking out some of these resources:
Consumed: The need for collective change: colonialism, climate change, and consumerism by Aja Barber
Unraveled: The life and death of a garment by Maxine Bédat
Secondhand: Travels in the new global garage sale by Adam Minter
Loved Clothes Last: How the joy and rewearing and repairing your clothes can be a revolutionary act by Orsola de Castro
The Conscious Closet: The revolutionary guide to looking good while doing good by Elizabeth L. Cline
Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline
The True Cost (2015) – available free on Waterbear
Riverblue (2017) – available on Vimeo On Demand
The Machinists (2013) – available free on Youtube