“When it comes to clothing, the best way to be truly sustainable is to buy secondhand. But if you’re looking for something new, sustainable fashion brands can be a solid choice for reducing your carbon footprint and ensuring that the people making your jeans, dresses, and bags are treated fairly. The problem: The process by which brands get to call themselves sustainable is largely unregulated. With the growing demand for sustainably made clothing, the term is thrown around pretty loosely.
So what does sustainable mean when it comes to fashion? Kristy Drutman, host of the podcast Brown Girl Green, says it prioritizes both environmental and social responsibility throughout the life span of a garment, from raw materials all the way to how long a piece of clothing will last in your closet. According to Haley Boyd, an expert on sustainable fashion sourcing, some brands are going as far as disclosing the wage of the lowest paid worker in their supply chain.
Very few companies are able to achieve true sustainability at every stage of the process, however, and often decide to put their efforts toward one area before moving on to the next. As a sustainability-minded consumer, instead of trying to find the perfect company that’s accounting for everything, it’s easiest to think about what is most important to you — better labor practices, less waste, or renewable raw materials — and focus your purchasing power on a brand with similar aims.
Thankfully, there are organizations that are happy to vet so-called sustainable brands for you and online resources like Good On You and The Fashion Transparency Index. In addition, nearly all of the experts we spoke to say consumers can avoid greenwashing (brands marketing themselves as environmentally conscious without backing up their claims) by looking for third-party certifications like bluesign, GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic, OEKO-TEX, fair trade, and B-Corp.
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