Define sustainability

5 ways to approach fashion’s forever trend


Words: Daniël Geldenhuys | Images: Instagram

Sustainability is the biggest buzzword in fashion these days and for good reason. Scientists aren’t being dramatic when they say we’ve got less than 12 years before climate change starts making those global disaster movies a palpable reality. Sadly, fashion is really good at sucker punching Earth, creating 92 million tons of waste every year, according to a Pulse of the Fashion Industry report. The answer, as you’re aware by now, is to support sustainable fashion. But what exactly does that mean?

A simple proclamation of sustainability is becoming increasingly empty. Greenwashing, whereby major corporates use various marketing strategies to make themselves seem more sustainable than they are, is a real thing. Real talk: anyone who is producing new clothing is not 100% sustainable – and that’s okay. Our power as consumers lies in our ability to educate ourselves and shop accordingly. This is an introduction to the five key tips of the iceberg: your access card to the conscious shopper hall of fame.


Upcycling is the most creative way designers can be sustainable. Plainly defined, it means taking material that’s already been used and discarded and giving it a second life by using it to create something "new". South African designer Amanda Laird Cherry sourced fabrics for her AW20 show from Gumtree. In New York and Paris, designer Emily Adams Bode is rising to fame for her use of antique fabrics (think early 1900s silk quilting), which she tailor-makes for her customers. An upcycled piece is (to varying extents) always limited edition and therefore all the more valuable.


Recycling takes a little more energy than upcycling to pull off, but is still a highly valid way of solving, for example, the planet’s plastic problem. Did you know it’s possible to make beautiful fabrics from recycled plastic bottles? Prada is in the process of rolling out a new core accessory line called Re-Nylon, made from discarded plastics collected in the ocean and landfills. The resulting nylon can be infinitely recycled without compromising its quality.


Sustainable shoppers are also likely to come across eco-friendly fabrics. This tends to refer to biodegradable silks, linens, wool and hemp. Local designer Celeste Arendse used biodegradable silk and linen for her Selfie 2019 Divine Femme collection.


In addition to focusing on being nice to the planet, sustainability is also about respecting those living on it. Ethical fashion is the umbrella term for pieces created in a way that respects the individuals involved in the supply chain. A fair trade certification means the garment was created by someone who earns a logical sum of money that allows them to live with dignity – often more than the legal minimum wage.

Right now, the most important aspect of sustainability is transparency. It’s how our favourite labels can tell us which of the above aspects they’ve mastered and which ones they’re still working on. Transparency, if done right, will end greenwashing. In a future world, we’ll be able to verify claims of sustainability through blockchain technology, which will make things a lot easier. You can already scan the label on pieces from Thebe Magugu’s SS20 Prosopography collection with an app that reveals both the creative inspiration behind the collection as well as details on the fabrics and people involved in the manufacturing process. Until this becomes standard, you get to decide how deep you want to dig. Though it seems daunting, if you’ve made it this far in the article you’ve already heightened your awareness – a valuable first step.

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