Rediscovering responsible fashion in 2022

It was august 2022 and five and a half years into my no clothes shopping commitment. Since I already reduced my clothes shopping starting 2015, it was almost seven years of not reading fashion magazines, visiting stores, attending the sales etc. But then my mother and sister insisted that they wanted to give me clothes for my birthday. I initially resisted the idea, but looking closer at the alternatives, which brands I might want clothes from, I was positively surprised.

A lot of things have changed in seven years (and some things haven’t). When I started to only buy (more) sustainably made clothes in autumn 2015, it required a lot of research and planning, asking questions to brands and getting more or less good answers. It resulted in very few purchases and the popular and latest fashion brands were often out of the question because they did not have very ambitious sustainability work, although there were some exceptions. Filippa K had some more sustainable pieces at the time and Danish brand Aiayu were both trendy (used by Gwyneth Paltrow) and sustainable. A french brand, Ekyog, had clothes in more sustainable viscose (lyocell), a new thing in 2015.

In 2022, however, there is so much more choice. Most brands try to be more sustainable, although not all brands succeed. Even Chinese super fast fashion brand Shein has a page called sustainability (containing very unconvincing information). Perhaps because there are so many corporate claims of being sustainable, it is still difficult to know which clothes are actually (more) sustainable. However, my understanding of sustainable fashion has changed too and sustainable fashion research has evolved in these years. So maybe sustainable fashion is a moving target, evolving as we all learn more.

In 2015, I noted down my own understanding of (more) sustainable fashion and at the time I was very focused on material choices and certifications. This remains how many brands show that they are more sustainable: their choice of textile fibres and organic certifications. Of course textile fibres matter. Just as in 2015, microplastics are a big concern. They say that 33% of primary microplastics in the oceans derive from our synthetic textiles (polyester, acrylic, polyamide etc.). Microplastics are released as we wear and wash the clothes. No solution has yet been proposed so, personally, I avoid synthetic textile fibres altogether.

However, and what I have learnt since, is that the energy use during production is the main climate impact of fashion (ca 60%) and fibres only account for 10-15%. This means that where clothes are produced (the energy mix used) plays a big role. Moreover, if one cares about the chemical pollution from fashion (which I did already in 2015) then EU chemical regulation is comparatively more advanced (although far from perfect). Working conditions tend to be better in EU too, we have unions to watch this. Certifications are of course good, but are often in place to make up for lacking national environmental regulation. Hence, in 2022, responsible fashion, to me, is made in Europe, alternatively in a non EU-country with less fossil fuels and some sustainability certification to compensate for lacking national regulation.

Whereas none of the clothes I bought during my sustainable fashion challenge in 2015 were made in Europe, today several brands do produce in Europe. There is fashion production yet again in Portugal (unfortunately using quite a bit of fossil fuels), a big industry in Bulgaria (although criticized for the working conditions) and some not too expensive French brands have relaunched “Made in France”. Because of its nuclear power, French production has a really good climate footprint. Swedish production would have to, but we unfortunately don’t have any production here.

The remaining issue is where the fabric is from and, as customers, we seldom get information about this. Certifications may provide some reassurance regarding the production of fabric, but it does not tell us about its climate footprint. More transparency from the industry is still needed.

So for my birthday, I chose a few pieces from Sezane, made from natural and/or certified materials, preferably in an EU country. Then, after five and half years, I actually started clothes shopping again. I bought a few pieces from another French brand Balzac (one of those relaunching Made in France). I am also buying vintage/second hand and I have had a seamstress make a few pieces for me from (more) sustainable fabric. The latter are probably among the more sustainable things I have bought this autumn.

Just like that I am clothes shopping again, which I even outed on Swedish TV. This decision has a lot to do with the fact that I have worn out quite a bit of my wardrobe over these years and decreased it with 10%. I addition, your fashion needs change slightly over time. Now I also know that I can do another no clothes shopping challenge if needed. It is very doable and not shopping saves a lot of time and effort. Having to put so much thought and effort into acquiring clothes is in fact one of my least favorite things about shopping again. But I am really glad that there are more sustainable items to choose from these days.

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