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What is “sustainable fashion?”

In this video, hear from Ethical Fashion Forum chief editor Sarah Ditty and several fashion entrepreneurs discuss how to define sustainable fashion.
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Hello, and welcome to week 1 where we will be exploring what sustainable fashion is all about. I’m Sarah Ditty, the editor in chief at “Ethical Fashion Forum.” And I spend all day every day researching and talking about sustainability for the fashion industry. Sustainability is commonly defined as the capacity to endure. And it refers to how things could remain productive indefinitely. This means that three key things need to be sustained– your profits, your human resources, and your natural or material resources. For the fashion industry, sustainability can be interpreted in many, many different ways. There’s no one definition. But rather you might think of sustainable fashion as an approach or a philosophy.
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In this sense, sustainability is about trying to balance different and often competing needs against an awareness of the environmental and the social issues we face as a society. The impacts of the decisions we make every day have very real consequences for people’s lives and for the environment. As entrepreneurs, or as people working in the fashion industry, or business decisions too have important consequences for others. We all have a part to play. Small actions taken collectively can add up to real change. In the fashion industry, as people just starting out businesses or as those looking to grow your business, you can literally design a new and better future. So what is sustainable fashion? What is ethical fashion?
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Do these two terms mean the same thing? And what about all the other terminology we often hear? There’s conscious fashion, green fashion, eco-fashion, fair fashion, and so many other ways to talk about it. “Ethical Fashion Forum’s” definition is fashion that maximises benefits to people and minimises impact on the environment. But I’d like to explore exactly what sustainable fashion means to different people who work across the industry. So let’s hear from some of the designers, business owners, and experts themselves. And I want you to think about what issues matter to you. Sustainability to me is taking what you do now and trying to improve it as much as you can while still creating something of value.
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And I think that inclusivity, rather than exclusivity, is the key to moving forward. Sustainability to me, means ensuring that we don’t impoverish the planet for future generations. It’s as simple as that. The words, what does sustainability mean in fashion? It’s a massive topic. I think that in itself is changing. Sustainability provides that kind of platform of curiosity whereby young designers and young consumers can actually question the clothes that they wear, design, or buy.
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Mostly capitalism operates under the ethos that you make as you can while you can. And you don’t give a crap about the consequences. But personally, I don’t think I could wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror if I approached my business in that manner. I do think money will the devices to make them more sustainable. I think it’s only thing people respond to. So you pay less taxes or less fees if your rubbish is less. So therefore, you will act more sustainably. Companies like us have been pioneering ethical and sustainable fashion for, well, in our case, 15 years and others before us. And now that’s becoming the norm.
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And that’s fantastic because that means that the people in our supply chains and the factories are starting to become much more aware of their responsibilities to their own people. Two of the largest buyers of organic cotton in the world are now H&M and CNA. Well, you wouldn’t have said that about them 15 years ago. But they are now. And that’s a fantastically encouraging for all of us. And I’m proud to be in an industry that’s turned the corner.
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I think we’re in an interesting time about whether sustainability can be a business opportunity, particularly at the moment, because it’s a hot topic. What will happen soon, or one day, it’s originally the sustainable brands were the small percentage. And it was weird if you were doing it. And one day, everyone will be sustainable. And if you’re not doing it, it will be weird. I think sustainability offers the possibility to, one, be smart, and people will respond to that and appreciate that. And secondly, it can give your brand and edge that possibly would be slightly ahead of the curve because the industry is moving in that direction.
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The marriage of commerciality with sustainability and materials and costs is always a really difficult one. That’s for sure. And it doesn’t always work, quite frankly. You have to be very commercial to be a survivor in the fashion industry to start with. So that’s almost a given. But it doesn’t mean to say that you necessarily have to buy the cheapest product or the most ill-conceived and sourced product because of that. People are saying that there’s a backlash where people do want something that’s more individual. So in terms of sustainability of my supply being able to still have an industry, still have product, thinking about things like the environment, like wages, like working conditions for workers, just makes good business sense.
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It’s a fantastic opportunity to combine for me, especially, my love and joy of the fashion industry in the sector that we work, but also doing it in the correct, and ethical, and sustainable way.
There is no formal definition of sustainable fashion. Sustainability and ethics can apply to many different aspects of running a fashion business, from the raw fibre right through to the use and disposal of a product.
In this video, several supply chain experts and fashion entrepreneurs discuss what sustainability means and why sustainability is important in the context of fashion. Think about what sustainability means to you and how you think it could relate to your work in the fashion space.
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How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Business

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