A smiling woman in a stripped collared shirt

Fashion is a medium through which we can be artistic in our everyday lives. It is cultural, creative and expressive. As an industry, fashion is also wasteful. Behind our beloved and carefully curated wardrobes, our adoration for style bloggers and our favorite fashion brands is an industry that contributes 4 percent of the world’s waste every year. 

While this number sounds small, the impact is huge. Annually, fashion brands send millions of tons of fabric scraps to pile up in landfills. (Eighty five percent of all textiles go to the dump every year.) The industry is also the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply. It uses 79 billion cubic meters of water annually. (It takes 650 gallons to produce a single cotton tee!)

The fashion sector also pollutes the water supply by using dye containing toxic chemicals or synthetic materials to make the apparel that shed plastic microfibers into the water. Washing clothes, meanwhile, releases the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles into the ocean each year. This is not to mention the massive amounts of waste produced from packaging orders or its energy use that contributes 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable and Zero Waste Fashion Brands are Changing the Industry 

If you’re like me and you find joy in the expression of styling outfits and curating a beautiful wardrobe, but you also care about making sustainable choices for the health of the planet, there is hope. The dark reality of the fashion industry has been illuminated more and more in the last several years, creating positive changes and making way for sustainable, zero-waste fashion brands to set the standard for the future. 

The dark reality of the fashion industry has been illuminated more and more in the last several years, creating positive change.

As the sustainable fashion movement grows and with many new brands and collections popping up in the space every day, we must be careful to discern if a brand is truly zero waste and avoid those engaging in greenwashing, which is a form of false marketing that a company uses to portray itself as environmentally responsible when, in reality, it does not follow sustainable practices.

How to Know if a Brand is Truly Zero Waste 

1. Do your research.

To determine if a brand is truly zero waste, do your research on their website and learn about their production and supply chain practices, as well as the materials used in their apparel. Zero waste brands will be fully transparent on their websites about their efforts in sustainability.

Do they make full use of their textiles, leaving no waste behind? Do they conserve energy in their manufacturing? Do they use natural fabrics and dyes? If you cannot locate this information on a brand’s website, this may be a sign they are not hitting the mark. 

2. Look for a B Corp certification.

Certified B Corporations are “businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” B Corp certified companies must maintain high sustainability standards. This certification is a great indicator of whether or not a brand is truly zero waste. 

3. Consider a brand’s efforts outside of their production.

Do they participate in or encourage clothing recycling programs? Have they cut back on materials used to package their products? Do they educate their communities about sustainable fashion? 

Consider a brand’s efforts outside of their production.

4. Finally, consider a brand’s production practices from a holistic view.

Having a “conscious collection” does not necessarily represent their values, especially if this is only a small part of their full line. Encouraging recycling programs for their apparel is helpful, but if it is not made sustainably and designed to last, this effort is not enough. 

3 Fashion Brands Living Up to The Zero Waste Standard

Girlfriend Collective 

Girlfriend Collective is a post-consumer, zero waste activewear brand that uses recycled water bottles and turns them into the comfiest leggings, sports bras and running shorts. The list goes on of what they have to offer. Girlfriend takes water bottles that would otherwise end up in landfills and contribute to pollution and uses a process called “polymerization” to create a yarn to make their apparel. In addition, their manufacturing process uses minimal water and energy. 

Mate the Label

Mate the Label is a clean fashion brand and a go-to for cozy, sustainable basics. Their website lists their fabric portfolio, sustainable production practices and provides helpful resources and information to educate their community on what it means to create and consume fashion mindfully. In addition, they are moving toward fashion circularity, meaning they’ll soon offer their customers the opportunity to return used clothing that they’ll then recycle into new clothes to sell.

Christy Dawn

Christy Dawn makes ethereal and timeless dresses, jumpsuits, loungewear and other apparel exclusively out of “deadstock” fabric, which are excess textiles leftover from other fashion brands. They have recently launched a Farm-to-Closet initiative that works closely with cotton farmers who use techniques to “replenish the health of the soil, the planet and the people.” Christy Dawn is also a carbon neutral company. 

This earth is our home. As we all take thoughtful steps toward caring for it better, our current fashion habits must be reconsidered. While zero waste fashion is the ultimate goal, keep in mind that thrifting, repairing, recycling clothing and finding creative ways to style your existing wardrobe in new ways are equally valuable efforts toward sustainable fashion consumption. 

Have you taken steps toward mindful fashion consumption? What are some of your favorite zero waste brands?

Image via Ben Cope, Darling Issue No. 19

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