Opinion: Is sustainable fashion actually sustainable?

Style with a heavy cost


By Phyll Wu

Images courtesy of Pexels
Opinion: Is sustainable fashion actually sustainable?

As the ramifications of global warming and climate change become more alarming by the minute, the importance of sustainability has been a prevalent subject in the fashion world over the past few years, especially following the unwavering rise of fast fashion in the wake of the pandemic. While many brands have stepped up and advocated for eco-conscious practices in the industry, the incessant deterioration of our environment due to the lack of change raises the question: is sustainable fashion actually sustainable or is it all just greenwashing?  

With that in mind, before we go any further, it’s crucial that you understand exactly why the need for genuine sustainable fashion is an exigency that cannot be ignored. As improbable as it may seem, fashion is one of the top most environmentally destructive industries contributing to the rapid decline of our climate.



In 2018 alone, research shows that the fashion sector emitted a staggering 2.1 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases. To put the severity into perspective, that’s nearly the same amount as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the UK combined. On an annual aspect, the industry is responsible for eight to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, exceeding all maritime shipping and international flights combined.



According to a recent report published by Hot or Cool Institute—a nonprofit think tank devoted to creating a sustainable society—the fashion industry’s carbon emissions are expected to surge up to a whopping 50 per cent by 2030 if no action is taken. And by the looks of it, we’re pretty much doomed.

Now, you might be wondering why the fashion industry has failed to reduce its detrimental impact on our environment despite the countless brands that have championed eco-consciousness in recent years. Well, for the most part, it’s because sustainability has become a marketing tactic rather than an environmental cause—this is called greenwashing, and the fashion industry is an avid partaker.



As consumers, we tend to take these claims of sustainable and ethical practices at face value as we have a limited idea of what really goes on behind the scenes in the fashion industry. What’s more, it doesn’t help that there are no legal regulations to enforce transparency for the use of sustainability terms like ‘eco-friendly’, ‘green’, or ‘ethical’. Hence, brands are able to get away with these deceptive claims and continue spreading false information.

On top of that, there’s also a common misconception that luxury fashion is the greener alternative to fast fashion. After all, a higher price tag ascribes to higher quality, and higher quality must mean the product was produced with higher standards for ethics and sustainability, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. It’s no secret that the exorbitant prices of luxury items are mostly owed to the status and exclusivity associated with the label. While luxury goods are undoubtedly much finer in quality than fast fashion products, that does not exactly guarantee that they were ethically crafted with eco-friendly materials, even if they were stated as such.



Take vegan leather, for example. Most people would assume that the fashion industry’s shift from using real animal leather to vegan leather was a progressive move, but that’s highly debatable. It goes without saying that no living being should be slaughtered in cold blood for the sake of fashion—but the use of genuine leather doesn’t necessarily mean an animal’s life was cruelly sacrificed to obtain the material. In fact, that’s rarely the case as most leather are by-products of the meat industry, so using genuine leather actually helps to reduce waste.

READ: All you need to know before splurging on luxury leather goods


Vegan leather, on the other hand, has been known as a nicer means to describe plastic—and we all know what plastic does to our environment. Of course, there are actual vegan leather made from organic sources that are environmentally friendly, but it wouldn’t be vaguely described as just vegan leather. Nevertheless, this is just one of the many deceiving terms that fashion brands, fast or luxury, use to mislead consumers about their ethicality and sustainability practices.

In spite of everything said above, the damages of fashion to our environment isn’t solely due to the destructive practices of the industry—we’re responsible too.



From a young age, we were constantly made aware of the deteriorating state of our climate and the importance of green living. Although transparency and sincerity are very much needed in the industry, we can’t deny that there are still many people actively purchasing from fast fashion platforms despite knowing the incredibly harmful impacts on our climate. Not to mention, the villainous operations of fast fashion manufacturers are unfamiliar to none. To truly make change, we can no longer disregard the repercussions of our choices.





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