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What Sustainable Apparel Really Means

Your favorite brand says they are shifting their focus to make more sustainable gear, but you’re not really sure what they mean by that. How can you tell what is sustainable vs just a marketing ploy?

We cover a few simple areas to consider when looking to purchase sustainably:

  • Quality
  • Material + Dye Process
  • Do Good / Give Back
  • Packaging

So, what does sustainable apparel actually mean?

In short, it refers to gear that is designed, manufactured, distributed, and used in ways that are environmentally friendly. 

Whether something is 'sustainable' or not is less binary and more on a sliding scale. It also includes how the people that make the garments are treated. It means better working conditions, fair wages, and riding illegal sweatshops. 

But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to wade through the weeds of brilliant marketing thrown our way. Is this sustainable or just the brand saying so to get a sale? 

Unfortunately, many brands are using sustainability more as a marketing play than business practice. You might’ve heard the term 'eco-washing', which is essentially over-selling or exaggerating just how eco-conscious the brand is operating. So it becomes hard to tell when companies are just tweaking their messaging to make it appear like they are doing more for the environment than they really are. 

Luckily, we're in a time where we’re seeing a massive shift in the apparel industry to operate more ethically & sustainably. We're still a ways away from it being the norm, but it's much more prevalent compared to just 5 years ago. Companies are taking the initiative to use organic, recycled, upcycled, and other environmentally friendly material. Some are focusing on ethical production and ensuring the people working in the factories making garments are treated fairly and given a proper wage.

A recent study by The Business Research Company (seems like a fake name, doesn't it?), showed about 2/3 of people say they consider sustainability when purchasing a luxury product.

That's the good.

The bad - the apparel industry is the biggest contributor to plastic waste in the world. Fast fashion is still very much alive as companies look to churn out new items at a minimal cost. There's less thoughtfulness behind the design, and the idea is to get trendy new items out the door constantly.

The problem is that producing virgin materials, using non-sustainable practices, and manufacturing in factories that don't adhere to ethical practices are doing more harm than good. There's a great article highlighting 6 Ways the Cost of Fast Fashion is higher than what the price tag shows.

There are massive environmental costs associated with choosing brands that prioritize short-term profit over long-term care for people & the planet.

Let’s highlight some key areas below:


Companies often seek to make gear at the cheapest cost possible to maximize profits. It minimizes risk if an item doesn’t sell and allows them to get more styles out the door to keep up with trends. 

But cheaper costs mean sacrificing the quality of the fabric, stitching, trims, and dyes - all of which affect the durability and longevity of the item. 

Shorter usage of clothing = more waste and more gear to the landfill.

So what’s a small way you can do your part? Look for companies that stand by the gear they produce with longer warranties and options to fix + repair vs replace with a brand new item.

Some facts to consider:

Material + Dye Process:

The dyeing process is still a big environmental pollutant. 

  • It can cause rashes, skin diseases, and irritation in factory workers. The process also discharges chemicals into waterways, resulting in the death of aquatic life, ruining of soils, and poisoning drinking water. 

Under 1% of the material used to produce clothing is recycled into new gear at the end of its life.

One cotton shirt (or pair of jeans) can take as much as 10,000-20,000 liters of water to produce.

Do good:

Now, brands are being required of customers to not only provide quality sustainable gear but have a purpose-driven mission that does good by giving back a portion of sales to non-profits or in-kind donations.

Whether it's partnering with 1% for the Planet, Movember, Boys & Girls Clubs, or giving a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair sold, consumers seek brands to align with a movement they care about. 

It's becoming a non-starter for brands to live for something greater than product + profits.


Keep a keen eye on how a brand approaches sustainability and whether or not they are just eco-washing with packaging.

Brands are now commonly opting for packaging made from recycled material. While it's not the biggest contributor to sustainability issues, it's a massive opportunity for brands to do their part in keeping trash out of landfills.

It adds up when we use minimal packaging, recycled + recyclable material, compostable options, and reusable designs.

As consumers are trending towards living a zero-waste life, it's imperative to demand the same effort from companies we buy from. 

The good news is you are in control and have a vote. Each time you buy something, you place your vote. When you buy an item built to last, made with sustainable materials, and created in a factory that practices ethical production - you vote for a better planet.

The generations with new purchasing power have the most influence on brands to do good.

Let us know what environmentally-focused brands you love and we’ll check them out!

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