Introduction To Sustainability
By Laura McIntyre
I’m going to deviate from our artistic influences and shed a bit of light on what sustainable clothing actually means. Sustainability is about balance. To be sustainable we need to manage natural resources in a way that is environmentally, ethically, and economically harmonious to current needs but also that of future generations.
Organic garments are sustainable in many ways: organic cotton, for example, requires less water because crop rotation maintains moisture in soil. It is grown from GMO free seeds and is not treated with pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, which in turn saves money and energy. Inorganic, standard cotton is bleached with chlorine and dyed with heavy metals and sulphur. This is harmful to workers but generally anyone with sensitive skin as it isn’t hypoallergenic. Organic cotton, therefore, is sustainable in that it is renewable and promotes biodiversity.
Kimba is both organic and Fairtrade. Our garments meet ethical standards set by the Fairtrade organisation, which advocates a more democratic type of production. Fairtrade is about respect; it checks every stage of the production chain and protects the most vulnerable people in the industry. Fairtrade sets a premium for workers, meaning it gives producers additional money to help improve working conditions and their community, such as funding educational projects or develop infrastructure. It also sets a minimum price for companies to pay workers, promoting stable livelihoods for producers. This in turn promotes a more sustainable economy.
But the current quality of garment making is clearly very poor. Lucy Siegel, writer and journalist of ethical fashion, states this is due to drastic cuts on production times, or the ‘time to market’, which is the time given for factories to sew garments and deliver to stores. Some High Street brands have a production time of just three weeks. Priority is given to speed over design integrity. Other brands play on consumers’ fear of missing out, ordering small quantities of each style with the aim to get rid of stock faster. Consumers are less likely to hesitate over a purchase if they’re worried it’ll be gone the next week and unavailable forever.
The fast fashion epidemic has developed out of a toxic mentality towards apparel. Disregard to quality comes down to our obsession with quantity and variety. The balance between what we need and what we have, or can have, is wildly out of line. Such imbalance cannot go on.
Mindless consumption can thrive in High Street brands, promoting their extraordinarily low prices. They harbour impulsive energy. The sheer scope of choice is enough to induce a consumer coma. I’ve caught myself many times drifting between racks, floors, shops, searching for something with no particular purchasing purpose. It fills the void. One of my favourite anecdotes from Siegel’s book To Die For is a woman exiting a popular High Street shop with multiple bags, dropping one on the rain-sodden pavement only to carry on and leave it. Stats show we’re sending the same amount of clothes to the landfill as what we buy every year. This is the pinnacle of disposability.
It’s easy to think your actions alone won’t make much of a difference to the bigger problem at hand. Practicing mindfulness and forming alliances to alternative, ethical brands are some solutions. This means getting into the habit of questioning the provenance: What is it made from? Where is it from? What are wider social and environmental implications here?
Sustainability requires a slower pace and acceptance of individual responsibility. Respect clothes (including the ones you already own). Learn to repair and amend. Shop from charity shops. Share clothes with friends. There are many approaches to combating passive consumption - practicing mindfulness, heightening consciousness, can lead to better decision-making and better fashion.
By Laura McIntyre
Laura McIntyre is a freelance editor and writer from London who's written for various publications including Tank magazine.