We live in a world where "fast fashion" is supreme and retailers are creating clothing at the drop of a dime. But is it time to slow down?
Multiple reports suggest that in addition to oil, fashion is the next largest industry to pollute the world. However, that might change as awareness of the issue increases.
How can you help? You may already have the answer.
"I think finding affordable, sustainable fashion always starts with your own closet," said Dominique Drakeford, the chief curator of MelaninASS (Melanin and Sustainable Style), a space to celebrate sustainable fashion, natural beauty, wellness and land justice from the lens of communities of color. "Look at your wardrobe and see what you can mend and repurpose or upcycle before throwing an item away."
If you are already inspired to start shopping for more environment-friendly fashion finds, understanding some of the key terms and symbols placed on clothing can put you on the right track.
A few tell-tale words that are usually associated with sustainable fashion include:
Recycled: This may be the most obvious term, but one of the most important. Pieces that include a recycled stamp have been produced from previously used materials.
Certified organic: When an item has the certified organic stamp, this means the clothing was created through an organic farming process and under strict regulations.
Naturally dyed: This simply means the garments were dyed using only plants, vegetables and minerals, and without the use of animals.
Fair trade: If you notice this verbiage, it's safe to say your clothing was fairly traded between companies in developed countries and that those who produced the clothing were paid fair prices.
How to make sustainable fashion more affordable
Sustainable fashion isn't a completely new idea, but it is one that has notoriously been associated with a wealthier class-type.
DeVonne Jackson is an upcycle style and earth advocate. She's also the founder of Positive Obsession, Inc. which is a platform that sparks sustainable lifestyle conversations through events, education and experiences. She said that the most affordable and ethical place way to be sustainable is to simply check out everything you've already bought in your closet.
"So, clean out that closet and fall in love again," she said.
Jackson also made clear the value in saving for sustainable goods. "We save up for good kitchen pots, a first car or a much-needed crew vacation," she said. "Save for the memories that will last."
Sustainable stylist Lauren Engelke has become a master at styling herself and her clients consciously without compromising style.
"I help my clients figure out what occasions they dress for during the week, and then we brainstorm a handful of outfit options for each," said Engelke. "Usually, we'll realize that they don't need a whole new spring wardrobe, but one pair of spring booties and one new blazer will make everything they have feel fresh again. Then, we shop for just those two things."
Engelke also suggested slimming down your wardrobe so that you can identify your own authentic style.
"By being able to identify the silhouettes and colors that you love, you can lean into and play around with your personal style without buying mountains of new clothing," she said.
Yes, sustainable fashion has made lots of progress, but like anything else, it doesn't come without challenges and a dark past.
"The sustainable market still isn't doing a very good job of dressing plus-size people. I have a bigger body myself," Aja Barber, a London-based stylist and writer, who more recently vowed to dress more sustainably, told "GMA," "But, I do believe more and more designers are waking up every day and pledging to do better in that category."
"I find it unacceptable to call yourself ethical but exclude plus-size people from the narrative," said Barber. "Buying from Etsy is wonderful because you can get things tailored to your size no matter what size you are! And that's a beautiful thing!"
Drakeford also chimed in, explaining how overcoming systemic oppression ties into the challenge of more sustainable fashion.
"The infrastructure of the industry was built on slave labor and thrives by way of exploitation, while the environmental crisis disproportionately affects black and brown communities," Drakeford said. "Dismantling a system that's doing exactly what it was intended to do is a constant battle and fashion plays a huge role in all of this. It not just about wearing cute clothes, it's much deeper."
With the highs and the lows of sustainable fashion, overall, there is forward movement in the right direction. In addition to advocates and stylists pushing for more of it, there are brands that are doing the necessary work to help consumers shop more consciously.
5 sustainable fashion collections leading the charge for 2019
Rent The Runway
Rent The Runway is becoming the Uber of sustainable fashion and shopping. You can sign up for a subscription to rent rather than buy outfits for everything from formal events to office attire. The popular subscription service is disrupting how people traditionally shop by allowing consumers to keep up with the latest styles and returning when they are done -- with zero waste!
Amour Vert means "green love" in French, and the brand is at the forefront of fashion sustainability in everything from their FEC-certified forest fibers to environmental partnerships that help plant trees around North America.
This year for Earth Month, there is an initiative where the brand will plant a tree for each purchase of a $1-tree that customers can add to their carts when checking out. This unique offer is in addition to their ongoing, year-round program to plant a tree for every tee purchased ("Buy a tee, plant a tree").
ThredUp is one of the world's largest fashion resale websites and actress Olivia Wilde recently teamed up with the brand to launch a secondhand capsule collection to raise awareness for how "choosing used" can end textile waste. The line features more than 4,000 unique items and it is size inclusive, with sizes ranging from XS to 3X.
On April 25, the brand is launching a sustainable pair of unisex sneakers under the name "Tread by Everlane." The new footwear line is 94.2% plastic-free and comes with a mission to "make the world's lowest-impact sneakers."
The luxury retailer debuted the Earth Polo shirt on April 18. It is made from an average of 12 plastic bottles and dyed with a waterless process. Ralph Lauren has also committed to removing 170 million plastic bottles from landfills and oceans by 2025.
Editor's note: This was originally published on April 22, 2019.