What is Eco-Friendly Fashion and Why is it Important?

By Tess DiNapoli and Morgan Rose Elliott

When it comes to first impressions, fashion plays a huge role in forming perceptions regarding the people we meet. Style and clothing are great tools to express your personality and showcase your values. But with growing consumerism and fast fashion trends, it has become imperative to make responsible choices that reflect mindfulness for the future.

Every year, countless donated or discarded clothes end up getting dumped in landfills. But with the alarming rates of garment production rivaling the slow pace of fabric decomposition, fashion has begun to choke our planet.

This is where eco-friendly fashion comes into play. With the creation of sustainable clothing options and increased awareness about detrimental industry practices, dressing well while being mindful of the environment has never been easier.

Further Reading:

What is Eco-Friendly Fashion?

Eco-friendly fashion embodies style and sustainability. This includes clothes and accessories that are manufactured and consumed while keeping in mind their long-term environmental footprint on the planet.

In recognition of the global need for more eco-friendly alternatives to fast fashion, a number of sustainable fashion brands have cropped up, offering longer-lasting and less disruptive clothing options.

Eco-friendly fashion aims to act as a corrective measure to try and counter the damage done by the consumer culture. In contrast to cheap materials that are easily worn down and need constant replacement, eco-friendly fashion creates garments and accessories designed with longevity in mind. Moreover, they are crafted using materials that are produced ethically. Some materials are also made using recycled waste. 

Apart from fresh pieces, eco-friendly fashion celebrates the value of repurposing, repairing, and rewearing pre-loved pieces.

Eco-Friendly Fashion: Woman speaking at a fashion conference
Sustainability and Style event held during Berlin Fashion Week 2016.
Credit: usbotschaftberlin

Why Eco-Friendly Fashion is Important

By catering to the rising consumerism curve and using unethical production practices, the fashion industry has become responsible for 4-10% of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions. This worrying statistic adds even more urgency to the need for alternative clothing options that are more eco-friendly. 

Here are three reasons why eco-friendly fashion is important:

Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Clothing made from recycled materials and through ethical production processes can help counter the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Recycled fabrics are made by repurposing waste materials, giving them a new life.

By making intentional style choices through eco-friendly fashion, fewer garments end up in the garbage. Before every purchase, make sure to consult the label of the garment and review the composition of the material. But beware of brands that falsely greenwash their merchandise to fool buyers eager to do their bit.

Protects the Ecosystem

It is not just the willy-nilly disposal of garments that is an environmental concern. The worries begin at the very start of the production stage itself. Even the simplest of fabrics require water to be grown and energy to manufacture. But brands can explore renewable energy or produce fabrics requiring minimal water.

The callousness towards the environment continues at other stages of production too. From the cruel poaching of animals for fur and pelts to the discharge of harmful dyes and chemical runoff that is emptied from factories into natural water bodies – the fashion industry’s unethical practices are seldom challenged by consumers. The disruption of ecosystems hardly seems like a fair trade for an aesthetically pleasing garment.

Increases Accountability

These concerns imply an urgent need for eco-friendly fashion globally so that brands are held accountable for the environmental costs of producing their products. Even we, as consumers, need to be held accountable. 

Rather than treating garments as disposable commodities and buying into trends that come and go like clouds – we must ask ourselves how we can make fashion choices that do not negatively impact the environment. By intentionally getting the most use out of each item and trying to find loving homes for garments we no longer want, we can avoid contributing to the piling up of fashion waste.

We must also begin to question brands about the materials and chemicals used and disposed of, as well as their goals for reducing carbon emissions. But before we can get to that stage, change must begin within our own closets.

Eco-Friendly Fashion: crowd swapping clothes outside by a yellow building
Clothes swap in Wrocław, Wyspa Tamka. Event is manifesting slow fashion movement, focusing on Fashion Revolution actions
Credit: BudzikBudzińska – Own work

Eco-Friendly Fashion Practices

If you’ve decided to make more responsible styling choices, here are some ways to let go of the old fast-fashion trends. Jump on board the sustainability train with these key tips to get you started on your eco-friendly fashion journey.

Increase the Longevity of Your Accessories

One inexpensive way to contribute towards the eco-friendly fashion movement is by taking care of your summer and winter accessories to avoid repurchasing them and adding to fashion waste. 

Rather than dumping your accessories helter-skelter in your closet and allowing them to suffer the damage of time and dust, you could allocate a special zone to store them. Take special care of items such as scarves, tights, and woolen hats as they can’t withstand heavy-duty washing and drying.

We all know the pain of losing one-half of your favorite socks or gloves. Prevent this by taking the time to sort your laundry and grouping articles together, rather than replacing missing pairs later.

Invest in Quality Outerwear

By investing in premium quality outerwear, you’ll be supporting fashion brands that are doing their bit towards making fashion slow and intentional. Go for quality, environmentally friendly outerwear, such as sustainable coats and jackets, to wear them for years on end. 

Spending on quality outerwear is one way to avoid burning a hole in your savings by repurchasing poorly made jackets and coats year after year. While fast fashion coats are made to keep up with changing trends, a classic coat will remain timeless and trusty, regardless of the styles that keep making the rounds.

Avoid Shopping During Sales

One of the most essential aspects of eco-friendly fashion is mindfully reducing consumption. But shopping during sales is the gateway to making impulse purchases and getting lured by deals and discounts. This leads to hoarding and amassing a lot of unnecessary garments that get discarded or donated and eventually turn up in landfills.

While avoiding sales and shopping at a full price might seem counterintuitive, it will ensure you make a thoughtful purchase rather than simply jumping at a deal. This way, you’re actually going to spend less in the long run.

Another perk of avoiding sales is that when your garments are bought at full price, you are less likely to discard them on a whim. Instead, it is probable that in seeking to extract the full value of the garment, you’ll make an effort to wear it as much as possible and care for it better in the long run.

Shop Pre-Loved Fashion

If you want to shop on a budget and still reduce your fashion environmental impact, consider shopping at thrift stores or consignment stores

While there is a certain novelty in wearing an article of clothing with a history behind it, buying pre-loved clothes is a much more sustainable and cost-efficient fashion choice.

A more significant benefit of shopping for second-hand clothes is the reduction of demand in the market for fast fashion. As a result, fashion brands will have to cut back on production to avoid losses from unsold stocks.

This is also a great way to find a new home for your garments, as many thrift stores and boutiques also accept individually procured pre-loved clothes.

Demand Affordable Sustainable Materials

Eco-friendly fashion is the ideal solution to combating the widespread impact of fast fashion and unsustainable consumerism tendencies that the industry has promoted. However, most eco-friendly brands and sustainable clothing materials are highly priced and, therefore, out of reach of the average consumer.

As consumers, we can simply turn the tide of consumption by creating a demand for eco-friendly fashion. Only by doing so will sustainable brands be able to reduce the prices of garments, making slow fashion more affordable and accessible to all.

Eco-Friendly Fashion Trends

The fashion industry is slowly releasing the importance of ethical fashion. Both small and large fashion businesses are doing whatever they can to become more sustainable and eco-friendlier to be able to stay competitive.

The interest in sustainable fashion is rising and different eco-friendly trends are creating many opportunities. However, becoming truly green will take some time and a lot of challenges.

Here are some fashion trends that are attempting to make a positive impact.

Recycling plastic waste into clothing

Most of today’s apparel is made of materials such as polyester, nylon, spandex, and so on. These materials are derived from oil which makes them highly polluting and harmful to our environment.

In addition to that, garments made out of these materials also leave a massive carbon footprint – carbon emissions, plastic waste, energy consumption, and so on.

This is a huge problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible.

Thankfully, recycled plastic is making quite a change in the fashion industry. A lot of sustainable brands are looking for innovative ways to use recycled plastic.

Recycled polyester is also a more sustainable option than those derived from oil.

Using recycled plastic might also contribute more to a circular economy that encourages the reusing of existing materials.

But the solution is far from perfect. For further reading see the Guardian article: Are clothes made from recycled materials really more sustainable?

Print-on-demand clothing

Yet another green trend in the fashion industry is print-on-demand fashion. Print on demand clothing is much more sustainable for several reasons.

This type of model can significantly reduce the amount of material waste that the fashion industry is notorious for.

Additionally, it requires less storage space, as well as less water and energy use. High-quality materials and eco-friendly inks are usually used for print-on-demand clothing.

So, if you’re looking for a sustainable fashion model, look no further than print-on-demand clothing.

Second-hand clothing

In recent years, second-hand clothing has become quite huge. Customers love the thrill of going thrifting and finding unique clothing pieces. But more than everything customers love helping our planet.

How is second-hand retail sustainable? It reduces waste, and carbon emissions, and saves water and energy while being quite affordable. The second-hand apparel market is the fastest-growing resale category. This market is expected to continue growing well into the future.

If you’re looking for a good fashion business idea, second-hand fashion is the way to go.

Next-Gen materials

Recycled plastic fibers aren’t the only new materials introduced as sustainable. The Next-Gen materials, also known as vegan and ethical fabrics are non-plastic, non-synthetic. They are meant to replace polyester, nylon, synthetic, and other non-eco-friendly materials.

Next-Gen materials include organic cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, artificial leather, and similar fabrics.

Replacing traditional materials with these vegan ones can significantly reduce carbon emissions. In addition to that they are biodegradable and renewable.

The rise of the rental market

We all have clothing that we only wore once. Those types of clothes usually end up deep in our closets never to be used or seen again, until we decide to clean our closets and get rid of them. In the end, those once-used clothes end up in landfills.

This brings us to our 5th sustainable fashion trend – rental clothing. The concept of renting clothes is still relatively new but it’s on the rise.

Renting clothing for special occasions instead of buying new can be much more sustainable and cheaper. And not just for special occasions but simply renting garments to freshen up your wardrobe is also a good, viable, and eco-friendly option.

Reusable packaging

Clothing packaging also plays quite a big role in the fashion industry, especially since the rise of online retail. Unfortunately, plastic packaging is still very much in use. But things are slowly changing.

One of the trends this year includes using more sustainable, biodegradable, and reusable clothing packaging.

Some of the sustainable packaging materials include materials that can be renewed or recycled.

Biodegradable packaging is there to limit the damage non-biodegradable packaging can do. Non-biodegradable materials such as plastic or polystyrene foam cannot be broken down by elements and ground soil, so they hurt our environment.

Biodegradable materials include cardboard and paper among others. Reusable packaging is also a good, sustainable option because it reduces the demand for new packaging.

AI and cloud technology

Artificial intelligence is a relatively new type of technology that is slowly taking over almost all industries in the world. As far as fashion goes, we can use AI to predict fashion trends and customer behavior. This could potentially significantly reduce the overproduction of clothing.

As for cloud technology, it could help with the supply chain management as it would help managers deal with waste, carbon emissions, energy, and water consumption.

Moreover, cloud tech could facilitate collaboration between factories and improve communication and data sharing between them as well.

Improving delivery services

We mentioned how online retail became huge in recent years. However, the rise of online retail has also brought forward the use of delivery vehicles. As you may know, freight transport contributes a lot to pollution and carbon emissions.

One of the sustainable trends in 2023 includes more efficient transportation. The use of eco-friendly vehicles and alternative fuel sources is slowly becoming a trend for all fashion businesses.

The fashion industry, together with small and large fashion businesses is slowly doing everything to become more sustainable and eco-friendlier. This journey will be slow and full of challenges, but there are ways and these eco-friendly trends are clear proof.

Mindful Fashion is the Future

With a surge in consumerism and the increased fluctuation in trends and styles, it can be easy to fall prey to the evils of fast fashion. But our desire to look good doesn’t have to mean that the environment pays the price.

Sustainable fashion is a relatively new counteraction to the decades-old environmental damage caused by the fashion industry. But often, these brands produce garments that are inaccessible owing to their price.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of ways for you to do your bit towards making eco-friendly fashion every person’s first thought. Whether you actively curtail your buying habits, make more mindful purchases, resell and rewear your garments, or begin asking brands the questions that matter – change takes place with every small action.