Do Denim Better - Sustainable Fashion

By Patrick Nakamura

Sustainable fashion needs to become more of a hot topic. The fashion industry uses around 1.5-2.5 trillion gallons of water a year, has close to 170 million children working in factories. and has caused so much pain and death due to events such as the Rana Plaza Disaster. You would think that some of these facts would cause public alarm, yet fast fashion brands such as Zara, Forever 21, and H&M continue to manufacture cheap clothing in unethical ways. The overarching question behind all of it is a simple one: But why?

Kytle Little, author of the book The Future of Fashion: Understanding Sustainability in the Fashion Industry, wrote that “in order for sustainability to become part of business operations (for fashion brands), the practice must improve a company’s efficiencies and provide some sort of monetary incentive.” The same goes for consumers, we seem to love a bargain over something of quality that will last a lifetime. In her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, Elizabeth Kline stated that “landing clothing deals in the realm of $30, or often much less, is ingrained in our culture.” 

So on the one hand we have clothing brands trying to make more money and on the other hand,  shoppers want an increasingly cheaper product. Simple economics of supply and demand: the solution is to have a surplus of clothing available to the public in order to keep the retail cost down. But since there is a surplus, what happens to the items that remain on the shelves that doesn’t sell? Well there are sales, discount stores, and enough left to donate to charity. All is well in the world.

Not so fast! While it is a common misconception that fashion is the second leading cause of pollution in the world (no one can find any hard facts to back this statement up), it is far from being a non-issue either. Jackie King, Executive Director of the Secondhand Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, stated to the Atlantic that there's only a 15 or 20 percent chance that a piece of clothing you've donated is being worn by someone in your community, as charities receive far too many donations to sell them all. Additionally, according to the EPA, about 10.5 million tons of clothing were dumped in landfills in 2014.

Those two statistics are just scratching the surface of the problems facing the fashion industry. The Global Fashion Agenda has been releasing the Pulse Report for the past two, going on three, years. The Pulse Report reviews the fashion industry as a whole, particularly on companies’ effects on sustainability and their ethical standards. As of 2018, the Pulse Score is 38 out of 100. A slight increase from 2017 but there is still a long way to go! (Download the Pulse Report) Another agency, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, created the Higg Index, a tool that can be used by brands to measure their own sustainability and social impacts. Thankfully, since the implementation of the Higgs Index in some major companies, average scores are rising each year! However, just like the case with the Pulse Report, there is much work still to be done.

Here at Indigo Denim Collective, we try to do our part by teaching others to upcycle, recycle, and/or mend their clothing. A common misconception is that upcycling and recycling can be used interchangeably. Upcycling, in the case of clothing, is taking a used piece and making it into something more valuable. Recycling is taking used clothing and breaking it down to combine with other recycled material in order to build something else.

It isn’t easy, and it seems the majority of us have had our psyche wired to accept cheap clothing, the unethical ways they are made, and the negative impact it has on our environment. We have forgotten the artistic aspect of fashion in favor of a wardrobe with an overabundance of options; most pieces we won’t end up wearing but a few times before it falls apart. Sometimes, we don’t even wear what we already own at all! However, we can change and start valuing our clothing as not only something we need, but pieces of personal expression. Afterall, an old, mended pair of jeans tells a much better story than replacing a pair every few months and a beautiful, upcycled shirt puts showcases the makers creativity and skill. 

By becoming more sustainable, we are cleaning up the environment, helping society, and redefining ourselves.

Attend our Day of Denim Workshop on Saturday, September 28th!

Amanda Harth