Fashion is always on the cusp of culture, reflecting the changes in people’s interests and lives almost as rapidly as they occur. Now that environmentalism has become an issue at the top of most people’s concerns, many fashion brands are responding to those concerns by becoming sustainable. You might hear the word sustainable thrown around quite a bit nowadays, but what does it mean exactly for a fashion brand to be sustainable?

If you wonder about what defines sustainable fashion, you’ve got good reason to — no one definition of sustainable fashion exists. It’s currently up to consumers to examine what individual brands present to them as their unique effort at sustainability. For that reason, it helps consumers hoping to shop for sustainable fashion to understand a few tenets about sustainability in fashion.

When looking for sustainable fashion, a brand should offer at least some of the following categories.


Fashion brands should provide information about the efficient usage of resources that go into their production. Resources such as water, land, and textiles can have massive impacts on the environment when misused. Clothing and shoe production currently accounts for over 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Animal-based materials require farming, which has a much more significant impact than plant-based materials.

Using recyclable materials and avoiding animal-based materials helps a fashion brand become more sustainable. Stella McCartney shows this sustainability is absolutely possible — the brand avoids leather, which is treated with harsh chemicals that render it un-biodegradable and harmful to the workers creating the item.

Labor Standards

Something that fast fashion has been guilty of is bringing consumers low prices not at the expense of the brand’s profits but at the cost of impoverished workers in countries where labor standards are low.

A sustainable fashion brand cannot include the use of unsustainable labor practices, as the end result is the kind of devastation seen in the Rana Plaza factory fire that killed over 1,100 workers. Brands who sourced labor from the factories in this plaza included Versace, Prada, Mango, Gucci, and Wal-Mart. For a fashion brand to claim sustainability, cheap and unregulated labor can’t be relied upon.


Some fashion brands are already changing the way they recycle clothing — H&M has set up a collection and recycling system that supports an increase in textile recycling. Fashion brands can do their part to become more sustainable by minimizing waste in their production process and also finding creative ways to reuse textiles like offering unique, one-of-a-kind designs or limited edition products from these materials.