Fashion Sustainability Principles and Definitions

There is an art that kills and an art that gives life. The fine fabric that we import from the West or the Far East has literally killed millions of our brothers and sisters, and delivered thousands of our dear sisters to a life of shame. True art must be evidence of happiness, contentment and purity of its authors (Gandhi 1929).

Value and fashion. Fashion used to be very valuable, now it is treated like garbage-to-be. Luxury is not luxurious when it is destroying other cultures. It’s not arms length when we create and maintain the system that pits contractors against each other in a competitive bid-down system. It’s an arms length throwing dirt on the coffin of a garment factory worker in a non–western culture. And let’s talk about band-aid solutions like the micro-eco collections that comprise minute parts of an overall pathological process. You know what I mean, walk in and there is one rack of not spectacular eco-friendly (definitely not eco-chic) garments competing with the other 95% of the non-organic, non-ethical inventory.


Let’s also address that “fast fashion” misnomer. There is no way that an article of clothing that is produced for pennies halfway across the world is going to be rush-shipped to market. In fact, it spends months on ships traveling across the world, inside massive supertankers polluting all the way. And the amount of chemicals that you need to put a garment to keep it from moulding, and vermin infestation? That is that new clothes smell: formaldehyde and fungicide. Some of the health effects of these chemicals are really bad. All of this is snuggled up against my body. If I’m not sure, don’t buy it. It all starts with asking the questions.

Who made this? How was it made?

I want ethical production

What is it made of?

I want sustainable fabrics

Vote with my money


This of course may seem like a bother and a whole lot of extra work, and really will take some of the fun and spontaneity out of shopping. All of which points to motives larger than just buying a new garment. Mood changing is suspect, treating garments as a form of recreation is suspect. What exactly is it that I am buying sometimes? Honestly, it’s a thrill, it’s a pick-me-up, it’s a mood changer.  All of which is fine, but the reliance on garments to alter mood is problematic when the manufacture of those garments is killing people, polluting our shared environment, and devastating communities.

Would I buy a slave to do work for me? Slaves make junk fashion. Would I intentionally ingest formaldehyde? It’s in junk fashion. Would I knowingly waste resources: water, air, earth? Junk fashion is incredibly wasteful. I don’t think I would if the choice was that obvious, actually I know I wouldn’t. I need to ask the questions, and start to total up the actual cost of that nasty, cheap junk fashion garment I am wearing on my body. My choices are communicating far louder than I may realize. And honestly the world can’t take it. The how, where, when and why I shop will be the determining factor in what the future of sustainable fashion will be. Truly, I love fashion, but I don’t believe people should die for it, or the environment should be degraded to produce it.

My purchasing power is the most important component in this whole system. My money is what makes all of this happen…all of it. How I spend can radically change the market. Just look at the organic foods market: I have seen it grow from a few sad looking apples only available form health-food stores to featured sections in every supermarket.

What does a real clothing revolution look like? Well there are frontrunners who are doing some really amazing things: Arcterryx; Muji; Stella Mcartney, all have put sustainability at the front of their production goals. Even luxury powerhouse Kering (the corporate owner of the Stella Mcartney, Gucci, Balenciaga, St Laurent labels as well as Alexander McQueen) has done interesting things. For one thing, they are making all of their research open access so any fashion company can adopt their innovations. This is huge for fashion start-ups who have nearly zero capital.

Things can change, but it needs paradigmatic shifts to happen first. Until it is seen as a legitimate problem, there will be no call for solutions.

Gandhi, Mohandes. 1929.“Appeal to the Women of India” Young India. Nov 8.


Image: “White Tulips” Feb. 23, 2010, Mark O’Connell


@Mark O’Connell 2017, all rights reserved, no reproduction without authorization


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