Sustainable fashion is having a moment. While some style mavens have been opting for eco-friendly, ethically made clothing for years, lately sustainability seems to be fashion’s hottest trend.
Research by McKinsey revealed, more than 50 percent of shoppers have made significant lifestyle changes to reduce their environmental impact since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And a study by Lyst found that since the start of 2020 there’s been a 37 percent increase in online searches for sustainability-related keywords, including terms like “upcycled fashion,” “second-hand,” and “pre-owned.”
“Sustainable fashion has been on the rise for years, but it was really fast-tracked with the COVID-19 pandemic as people slowed down and took note of their own impact on climate change,” says Jake Turner, a sustainable fashion expert and fashion authenticator for Cudoni, a luxury goods and fashion resale service.
Bridgett Artise, co-founder of Sustainable Fashion Week, believes that during the pandemic consumers saw that fast fashion is bad for the planet and for people as they learned about the unfair labor practices many garment workers across the world face.
“There were too many eyes sitting still, locked onto social media and a lot more people found out the horrors of the fashion industry,” Artise says.
Artise hopes the rising interest in sustainable fashion isn’t a fleeting fad. In the sustainable fashion world, “trend” is somewhat of a dirty word. After all, the chase for the latest trend is what fuels the demand for fast fashion.
However, Turner believes there are six trends that could help propel the sustainable fashion industry and perhaps even make eco-friendly fashion more accessible. Celebrity resale, capsule wardrobes, biodegradable materials, shopping locally, fashion recycling and increased diversity and inclusivity are all trends that Turner and other fashion experts have their eye on.
According to a report by Business Insider, 85 percent of all textiles go to the dump each year. One of the best ways to reduce that number is by selling the clothes and accessories you no longer want and by shopping second-hand fashion.
“Many influencers and celebrities have jumped on this trend and often promote thrifting to their followers and fans,” Turner says. “Celebrities have also started selling their own luxury designer clothes through resellers so others can enjoy the quality craftsmanship of a designer item for a more affordable price than buying new.”
If you think shopping second-hand will wear down your wardrobe, think again. “Shopping for second-hand clothes means people can find unique, vintage gems and stand out from the fast-fashion fads,” Turner says.
The Capsule Wardrobe
During the pandemic, the need to buy new clothes for work or for going out disappeared and we found ourselves shopping our closets and wearing the same work-from-home looks again and again. “We collectively realized that the clothes currently in our wardrobes worked well for multiple occasions,” Turner says. “Because of this, capsule wardrobes have become a very popular trend, which is great for sustainability.”
A capsule wardrobe is a curated collection of clothes and accessories (usually no more than 50 items) designed to be mixed and matched and last for years.
To start creating your own capsule wardrobe, first assess what you already have and what colors and kinds of clothes you like to wear. Donate or sell what doesn’t fit your style or lifestyle anymore. “Then buy that one amazing piece,” Artise says, “like a black high-end blazer that you know you you’re going to get a lot of wear out of.” Turner recommends looking for high-quality materials such as pure cotton or silk that will last a lifetime if properly cleaned and cared for.
Artise suggests heading to your favorite thrift shop for most of the items in your capsule wardrobe – which she says should include basics such as two button-down shirts (one white, one print) two pencil skirts (one black, one print) and two pairs of slacks (one black, one print). “It’s really about loving your clothes and only buying pieces that you absolutely love – not just for a quick TikTok video,” Artise says.
Using biodegradable materials for fashion goods is on the rise, with designers using innovations like rose petal silk, cactus, pineapple, mango and mushroom leather.
“There’s no shortage of new bio-based materials and the fashion industry is experimenting with it all,” Turner says. There was a time when only high-end boutiques sold eco-friendly items. But things are changing.
“With new technological advances and more competition in the market, the price of eco-friendly items will inevitably come down,” Turner says. And even fast fashion brands are jumping on board. Even before the pandemic, Zara owner Inditex pledged to make all of its cotton, linen and polyester 100-percent sustainable by 2025. “By finding more sustainable alternatives to current materials and scaling up these technologies,” Turner says, “environmentally damaging fabrics will soon be a thing of the past.”
The pandemic hit small businesses hard, but this has urged many consumers to step up and support local shops. “Everybody is community driven now,” Artise says. And shopping locally can have a global impact.
“Local businesses can have a major positive impact on the planet as they source local materials, employ local people and cut down massively on international transportation,” Turner says.
Fashion recycling, or circular thinking, is the process of materials being recycled and reused again and again within the fashion industry. “This means that not only will there be less waste, but fewer resources will be sourced to create a brand-new product,” Turner says.
Artise believes this is perhaps the best way to be sustainable. “While the fashion industry isn’t completely circular yet, it is an ongoing process that many brands are getting on board with,” Turner adds. And it may be easier for brands to hop on this bandwagon as new recycling technologies become available that claim to be able to separate and recycle polyester and cotton blends on a mass scale.
“The circular thinking movement is a hugely popular trend that isn’t set to go away any time soon,” Turner says.
Increased Diversity and Inclusion
In 2020 all industries – including the fashion industry – were called to the carpet on issues of diversity and inclusion and this has pushed top brands to take action to become more ethical.
“Environmental justice, racial inequality and cultural appropriation have been brought to the forefront for brands to address,” Turner says. “The pandemic forced us to look inwards and demand brands to quite literally clean up their act.”