BUILD YOUR SUSTAINABLE WARDROBE PT 1
No, it doesn't require you Marie Kondo your life and buy a bunch of new stuff. Read Part 1 of How to Build Your Sustainable Wardrobe.
Image by Cydney Cosette
Build Your Sustainable Wardrobe Pt 1
Sustainable. That word. Again. Used ever-frequently by many a well meaning person brand, influencer and organisation.
What is sustainable fashion, actually? And what on earth could possibly be labelled a Sustainable Wardrobe? Here, in Part 1, we'll unpack the word "sustainable" and set the more arduous groundwork for part two (the step-by-step) but if you don't want to stick around for all the theory (I get it), you can jump straight into Part 2.
Let's begin with the definition of the word ‘Sustainable’ — simply, to be able to continue over a long period of time. Sustenance or being self-sustaining might be more accurate notions of the word 'sustainable' than eco-warriorism. However actions like offsetting carbon emissions, planting trees for purchases and buying from certified factories may all stake claims in the word or worse (and my pet peeve claim), touting something as ‘100% Sustainable'. Like, what does that even mean?
To me (g'day, Courtney here), sustainability should be holistic of entire systems that perpetuate a self or shared sustenance. The circular economy, in its true sense - not in the increasingly hijacked fast fashion sense where circular claims are slapped on something because it uses a recycled button - is an example of how we might achieve holistic sustainability. Offsetting carbon emissions for a fashion collection or using recycled PET instead of virgin polyester should never, in my opinion, seek claim to sustainability on its own.
So how could you or I possibly build a sustainable wardrobe? I think we should think of our wardrobes like our own little eco-system, one that we want to be able to continue on for a long period of time. Sustainable, anyone? While much of fashion's industrial systems are firmly out of your (or my) control, our wardrobe eco-system can be managed. Putting up some protective barriers to your wardrobe by pre-determining criteria about what will (or won’t) be allowed in or out will do wonders for the overfull cupboard, money wasted on things unworn and the dreaded periodic wardrobe cull. It might seem like a challenge at first but once you set your own criteria, it should become a lot simpler.
Now to acknowledge a legitimate criticism that I hear often about sustainable fashion concepts. Sustainable fashion can be exclusionary, elitist and has a dangerous tendency to point the finger at those on lower incomes as the ones who are to blame for environmental fashion woes. That is just plain wrong on many levels. People on lower incomes are not the ones responsible for the fast fashion crisis that exists today. Period. At A.BCH our aim is to make our clothing as inclusive as possible (whether that's through free education and resources, or through our actual clothing) and to ensure we don’t inadvertently blame the individual who might not have the time nor means to examine this stuff in great detail. While we ALL have a lot to learn, I want to emphasis that this guide is not just for people with time and money to spare, it's for anyone who cares about the impact clothes are having on people and planet. By virtue this guide should save you time, money and brain space in the long run, once you get through all my intro preamble chat that is.
So, grab a cuppa and settle in for some background info so you know where we (at A.BCH) are coming from.
Certifications are everywhere and they claim a lot. There are hundreds of different fashion/textile related certifications out there, but some do more harm than good. Some are also really specific to certain aspects of the supply chain ie. Cradle 2 Cradle is primarily interested in Material Health, while GOTS is focused on organic growing and processing with a strict chemical policy and Fair Trade are concerned with fair and premium wages for farmers.
I'm actually going to cut through all the crap right now and tell you my favourite certifications by way of my own personal extensive research. Any other certs you come across might have merit too but just know there's more to certifications than meets the eye. Even fantastic certification organisations stuff up from time to time too - certifying organisations are only made up of humans after all. Even my fav GOTS was recently in hot water for third party certifiers forging certificates on organic Indian cotton. They have changed their system now to ensure that it won't happen again, but it just goes to show certifications aren't everything when it comes to verifying sustainability.
– Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
– Cradle 2 Cradle (C2C)
– Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA)
– Fair Trade
– Recycled Claim Standard (RCS)
- Global Recycled Standard (GRS)
- Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)
Read more about these on our FAQs.
Various certifications, claims or campaigns - each with their own focus.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
We can't talk about sustainability without talking about the SDGs. This could take a few hours or even days to digest in and of itself, but here's a brief overview from the UN.
"The Sustainable Development Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. The 17 Goals were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which set out a 15-year plan to achieve the Goals.
Today, progress is being made in many places, but, overall, action to meet the Goals is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. 2020 [and beyond] needs to usher in a decade of ambitious action to deliver the Goals by 2030."
Sustainable Development Goals - United Nations.
The Sustainable Development Goals.
The fashion industry operates on a linear model of "take, make, waste". Think about it, anything that is ever made in the world is on this trajectory. After a product is made from extracted resources, it's used for a time before being chucked. Circular design is a method of design that from inception to end of life, phases out harmful materials and all wastage in a continuing cycle. You can learn a lot more about the complexities of the circular economy from Dame Ellen MacArthur who founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation with a mission to change how people make things.
The idea that the way we create and consume is fundamentally flawed (and that there is a better way), is exactly why A.BCH exists. We will not create a product that doesn't have a clear birth, life and afterlife trajectory. Each item we produce first undergoes a projected assessment of product lifecycle to determine its overall impact. Besides this, every A.BCH piece must be able to be recycled simply via a pure materials stream within a technical or biological cycle and/or biodegraded or composted safely back into the earth.
We don't just source innovative circular fabrics for our clothing because that would be utterly pointless in the lens of a circular economy. We look to the details and manufacturing methods to ensure the entire product is designed and constructed for this optimal lifecycle. Even seemingly invisible components like buttons, labels, threads, interlining and dyes need to meet our circular lifecycle criteria.
It's not only about end of life (though that it a super important part in the design process) but also the actual life-span of the garment and its internal cycle-ability. It’s the reason why our products are designed for easy care, include a detailed digital care manual with purchase, are repaired by us during the life-span for FREE and are taken back at the end of their life for repair, re-use, re-sale or recycling.
At A.BCH we believe that unless something is designed for actionable circularity, then it cannot be sustainable (because it literally cannot go on). Here's a concrete example. Using recycled PET in a garment does not make it circular and it certainly doesn't make it sustainable. Why? Well adding a rPET zipper to a cotton dress makes the ability to recycle the dress near impossible down the track and despite the effort to use a recycled product within the piece, the entire lifecycle has not been considered or designed for. Also, without education and a system around that product, how can customers know what to do with the piece when it wears a hole or what to do with it when it's no longer wanted or useable? Even if it gets an op-shop second life, the piece will still eventually end up in landfill - not circular - not able to go on - not sustainable.
Circularity is so much more than one or two lifecycles for a garment, and it's so much more than recycling. Our purpose at A.BCH is to act as knowledge and solution custodians in telling things how they are to both the industry and our fellow citizens, not to greenwash you with half-truths. Hope that's ok ;)
So you've made it this far. Now join us for Part 2 - Six Steps to Build Your Sustainable Wardrobe (they can be applied to your wardrobe as is, without necessarily buying anything new).
Until then, what questions do you have for me? As always, please send your unfiltered thoughts here.