Above: Image © Petmal, iStockphoto.com

What happens when fashion philosophy and environmental sustainability collide? The answer is sustainable fashion.

Sustainable fashion, also called “eco fashion”, is clothing and accessories that are designed with the main goal of reducing the negative environmental impacts of growing, manufacturing and shipping textiles (fabrics).

The textile processing industry, like many industries, uses large quantities of water, energy and an assortment of chemicals, such as dyes and bleach, during the manufacturing process. As a result of this process, wastes, like hydrogen peroxide, formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and packaging materials and fabric scraps, are generated at various steps that can end up in waterways, the air and landfills.

Did you know? In Canada, clothing manufacturing costs $37 million in energy, water and vehicle fuel.

Along with the government’s contribution to minimizing the harmful environmental effects generated from textile manufacturing (Environment Canada regulates pollution produced by this industry, among others), many Canadian designers are also doing their part by transforming the fashion industry into a sustainable venture that is supported by many eco-conscious consumers.

Did you know? The term “sustainable” is often used to describe ways to maintain the best possible environmental conditions to support life on Earth.

What makes a piece of clothing “sustainable”?

While there currently aren’t established industry guidelines, there are a few key criteria that are generally used to classify a fashion product as sustainable:

  • environmentally-preferable materials are used (i.e., certified organic cotton, recycled materials)
  • the manufacturing process is more efficient and uses fewer harsh chemicals, and less land/water
  • fair labour and fair trade practices are followed
  • items are handmade, artisanal and traditional

By using organic fibres and recycled or reclaimed materials, clothing companies can provide consumers with an environmentally-friendly alternative to conventional clothing. Organic fibres,such as organic cottons, are produced under conditions that are free from toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers and chemical dyes. Recycled or reclaimed materials are made from scraps of fibres or other unlikely materials such as coffee filters or plastic bags that are collected and reprocessed. By doing this, the carbon footprint of the product is decreased.

Did you know? Mass production of clothing in Canada began in the mid-1800's and has since grown to be one of the largest manufacturing industries in Canada.

The downside to sustainable fashion is that the costs of producing, processing and shipping eco-friendly products can be higher than that of traditional clothing, making these items somewhat more expensive for consumers.

But, perhaps it’s a small price you’re willing to pay compared to the environmental price that we might face if we don’t make environmentally-conscious fashion choices.

Learn more!

Design Aware is an online resource forum started by Ryerson University students as a way to share resources with other young people who share their passion for using environmentally friendly design practices.

Fashion Takes Action is a Toronto organization that provides workshops and resources for people interested in making fashion greener.





Article first published December 16, 2010.

Photo Credit:Sean Michael/Epoch

Sherry Boodram

Sherry is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at York University.  Her research focuses on protein structure determination and biomolecular interactions. Previously she attended the University of Toronto as an undergraduate student where she studied Biological Chemistry.  

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