In these times of global warming, companies and consumers are paying increasing attention to the issue of sustainability. We are becoming ever more aware of plastic waste, factory farming and of our ecological footprint. Sustainability is becoming more and more relevant in the fashion world, too.
Status Quo 2020: Fast fashion and plastic
Fast fashion is a corporate strategy whose aim is to introduce new fashion to shops more frequently. Instead of having the traditional two collections per year in spring/summer and autumn/winter, twelve collections a year are now being launched, particularly by low-cost labels. The idea is to attract the attention of the media and to entice consumers, particularly younger people, into stores more frequently. If these garments are discarded after their third wear, this does not only create tonnes of waste, but also results in a constant cycle of over-production. Added to this, such clothing is usually made from cheap plastic. When the clothes are laundered in a washing machine, tiny particles of plastic are released into the waste water. These particles then find their way into waste water treatment plants and are difficult to filter out. Their journey continues into open waterways and finally into the sea where they threaten the habitat of many creatures, resulting in a vicious cycle of plastic pollution. The environment is polluted for the long term and overproduction contributes to climate change.
What is sustainable fashion?
In order to raise awareness of the need to protect the climate and ensure the longevity of their garments, increasing numbers of people are paying attention to sustainable fashion when buying clothes. This approach is also known as fair fashion, eco fashion and green fashion and refers to clothing made from environmentally friendly materials and whose manufacture has taken social aspects into account. Viewed more closely, this means that the materials have been produced from organic sources and that toxic chemical processes have not been used. In addition, as few natural resources (e.g. energy and water) as possible are used in production. Fair working conditions (e.g. reasonable working hours, fair wages, occupational safety, no child labour, social security) are also taken into account in sustainable fashion.
How to recognise sustainable fashion when purchasing
In manufacturing clothing, the key issue is transparency: Which materials are used? What effect do they have on the environment? Where does production take place? What are the conditions there? Anyone wishing to purchase clothing responsibly will pay close attention to the answers to these questions. In order to make this clothing easier to recognise, there is a number of seals of quality and certificates denoting sustainability. A detailed description of all seals of sustainability in the textile industry can be found here.
The strictest ecological seal on the market is the one awarded by the German Internationaler Verband der Naturtextilwirtschaft (international association of natural textile industry), or IVN. It regulates the entire textile chain for natural fibres from organic cultivation to the end product. Synthetic fibres are not used because they consume a lot of energy and non-renewable raw materials. A large quantity of our mixed-fibre clothing, especially with polyester content, is therefore not certifiable by IVN Best.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
The comprehensive Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) requires at least 70% of natural fibres to be sourced from verified organic origins. Up to 30% recycled fibres, such as recycled polyester, may be added. GOTS regulates and certifies the entire textile value chain from cultivation to the finished product, and also ensures adherence to the social criteria laid down by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). These include not allowing child or forced labour, and ensuring occupational safety and at least minimum wages to be paid during manufacture.
Global Recycled Standard (GRS)
Using the Global Recycled Standard (GRS), the exact proportion of recycled material in a final product can be recorded and traced. The seal may be used if a product contains at least 20 per cent of recycled materials. The GRS also regulates chemical additives, and sets requirements for environmental management and corporate social responsibility. The traceability of goods and the transparency of the supply chain for the GRS can be assured by combining it with the ‘Content Claim Standard’.
Fair Wear Foundation
The Fair Wear Foundation works with companies to develop improvements in social conditions in all the manufacturing companies in the textile chain in the various production countries. The focus is placed particularly on the factories where the textiles are sewn. Member companies are regularly monitored and must report on their progress. Those that make the cut are allowed to use the FWF seal on their products.
Made in Green
The Made in Green label by Oeko-Tex has developed a strict standard for textile production and end products. Factories have to monitor their chemical management, environmental performance, environmental management, occupational safety, social responsibility and quality management to comply with the Sustainable Textile Production (STeP) programme. The end products – regardless of fibre – are tested for harmful substances in accordance with the Oeko-Tex standard 100.
Der grüne Knopf
Der grüne Knopf is a German seal for sustainable textiles which was launched in September 2019. Fashion companies must meet 46 demanding social and environmental standards in order to be awarded the seal. These state that the companies comply with basic social and ecological standards which include paying the minimum wage, not using child or forced labour, nor hazardous chemicals.
How do I recycle old clothing sustainably?
There are now many options focusing on sustainability that can be considered when garments are worn out. Your clothing does not have to be sent to landfill, but can be recycled by companies into new products. By sending items to second-hand shops, selling them at the flea market or doing some DIY upcycling, these still-usable garments can find a new owner.
Next Generation against Climate Change
In the area of office wear, businesses are finding the issue of sustainability is moving into the spotlight. CG – CLUB of GENTS has a mission to make a valuable contribution in protecting the planet for future generations. Available from spring 2020, its climate suit sporting a blue outer fabric and a green lining and made of 80% recycled polyester has a clear message: Next Generation against Climate Change. The suit is certified with the Global Recycled Standard (GRS). This seal guarantees that the supply chain and the production of the suit follow environmentally sustainable principles, meaning that you, too, can help to combat the causes of climate change and make your wardrobe a bit more environmentally sustainable.