These Two Women Are on a Mission to Make the Fashion Industry More Sustainable
Learn how to outfit yourself more mindfully, and support brands that are as eco-conscious as they are cool.
When it comes to finding that new favorite dress—or perfect pair of jeans—fit and style are usually the key metrics to making a purchase. However, where and how items are manufactured matters more than ever. The average global consumer bought 60 percent more clothing in 2014 than in 2000, and kept each garment about half as long. Plus, we sent three‐fifths of these purchases (many of them made from petroleum‐based polyester, nylon, and acrylic—in other words, plastic—per U.K.‐and‐China‐based consultancy group Tecnon OrbiChem) to a landfill or incinerator within a few years of being made. There are painful realities on the production end, too: chemical fertilizers used to grow cotton, rainforest trees pulped to create rayon fabric, coal burned to power garment factories, and fuel burned to ship garments across the world to our doors. All told, the fashion industry is responsible for an estimated eight percent of global carbon emissions.
That figure is what spurred Maxine Bédat to launch the New Standard Institute (NSI), a New York City–based information platform and advocacy group focused on greening the apparel business, last May. Together with her colleague Linda Greer, PhD, the senior global fellow at the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs (who also spearheaded the Natural Resources Defense Council's Clean by Design program), Bédat aims to transform the industry by 2030. Their mission, per Greer, is four‐pronged: "We need to lower our carbon footprint, use less water, employ fewer toxic chemicals, and reduce impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems."
"Fashion needs a systems change, and it's starting to happen," says Harriet Vocking, chief brand officer at Eco‐Age, the U.K.‐based sustainability‐communications consultancy launched by activist Livia Firth. The group helps brands such as Alberta Ferretti and Chopard assess their supply chains and develop cleaner practices. It also lobbies for global policy changes and raises public awareness through the Green Carpet Challenge, which enlists celebrities including Penélope Cruz and Cate Blanchett to lead by example: They attend events (the Cannes Film Festival, the Met Gala, its own Green Carpet Fashion Awards), and wear environmentally friendly clothing and jewelry. You don't need a PhD or to be a celebrity to help the cause. Simply shop smartly, and hold businesses accountable. To learn what you can do, read on.
Think Fewer and Better
"It's not about never buying anything again," Bédat says. "It's an invitation to purchase only things you really love." Use Eco Age's #30wears rule: Before pulling out your credit card, "ask yourself if you are going to wear it at least 30 times," Vocking says. "You will be surprised how many times the answer is no." Invest in high‐quality, long‐lasting pieces. Be a clothing mender (not a tosser), and when you need a refresh, consider vintage and secondhand designer finds (they abound on sites like The RealReal and ThredUp), or try a service like Rent the Runway. It isn't just for weddings and proms; you can choose an Ulla Johnson dress or Loeffler Randall handbag and rock it for a whole season.
Seek Out Green Companies
And "beware of gimmicks," Greer warns. (Installing LED bulbs in the corporate offices and doing a one‐off capsule collection isn't enough.) Look for ones that integrate sustainable fabrics, like recycled polyester or organic cotton, into all their collections; are certified free of toxic chemicals by Bluesign; use recycled or compostable packaging; and invest in making their factories more energy‐ and water‐efficient. A great resource: the Good on You website or app, which rates companies on a number of criteria, including their impact on the environment.
Lobby Your Favorite Labels
If a brand you love isn't up to speed, tweet, DM, or email the company asking for change. Yes, your voice can really get results. Or make it a group effort: NSI has created a petition that calls on businesses to be transparent about their supply chain, set targets, and report on their progress to the public. Join the movement at newstandardinstitute.org/sign-up.