June 20, 2021

What Is Sustainable Fashion?

By Elisa Rerolle
What Is Sustainable Fashion?

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion is clothing that’s created with the intent of minimizing brand impact on the planet. A sustainable fashion brand is a clothing brand that focuses on sustainable practices, whether because of the organic or recycled fabrics the brand uses, the methods they use to create their designs or how they fairly they treat their workers. This means making environmentally-conscious and ethical fashion choices, from initial sketch and pattern making, through the entire supply chain and finally to the clothing rack, all with the customer, garment workers, and Mother Earth in mind.

Sustainable fashion can also be ethical fashion. Ethical fashion is looking at the supply chain from the point of view of how workers are treated, from the farmers, to the mill workers to the sewers and embellishers like embroidery and block printing. To do this, all facets of the process must be examined from the materials used to production to the manner in which it is packaged and sent out.

This is a photo of a small woman-owned sewing factory in san francisco

A small woman-owned sewing company in San Francisco where all Modern Shibori clothes are sewn.

Fashion, behind its bold colors and emphasis on beauty and aesthetics, has created an industry that is costing the planet heavily. Fashion is the cause of “10% of the world’s carbon emissions,” and this number is projected to grow to “26% of the world’s carbon footprint by 2050.” 1

Sustainable fashion is the ethical and moral answer to this problem.

Modern Shibori, a sustainable brand

Jenny Fong, Creative Director and Founder of Modern Shibori, carefully considers every aspect of sustainable clothing design, starting with her fabric choices, working with local sewing contractors and using natural dyes. 

“Considered clothing” means meticulously thinking through a collection's first life - and then giving customers options to give their clothing a second life (with upcycling and repairs).

She features a “made-to-order” model so there’s no inventory waste, and then incorporates upcycling and repair into her business. “Considered clothing” means meticulously thinking through a collection's first life - and then giving customers options to give their clothing a second life (with upcycling and repairs).

This is a photo of me holding walnuts I use for natural dyes. I sourced these from Guerneville, CA.

Here Jenny Fong is holding walnuts locally-sourced from Guerneville, CA.

Also, Modern Shibori pieces are kind to the earth not only in their GOTS-certified organic fabrics, but also in their seam construction. These garments' durability allows for timeless designs to last a lifetime and longer.

Sustainable materials

A core pillar of Modern Shibori’s sustainability is based on the choices designer Jenny makes surrounding the conception of her collections. She uses GOTS-certified fabrics which are grown in a way that drastically reduces negative impact on the land and guarantees the working conditions of the laborers.

The organic cotton, hemp, and linen used are biodegradable. This means Modern Shibori fashion does not contribute to polluting the planet - in the same way synthetic materials do - as those natural fabrics do not leach microplastic into the waterways.

I designed a label that says "Certified organic fabric" for all the garments that use GOTS-certified fabrics.

Every Modern Shibori garment made of GOTS-certified organic fabric is labeled as such.

Water and Supply Conservation

Beyond using natural dyes, Jenny recycles her dyes, creating lighter and lighter shades until the last bit of natural dye is used. She also recycles her dye vats; oftentimes she can reuse a vat without adding any extra water. Water and dyestuff conservation is crucial to Jenny, who works in California in drought conditions. Customers love the variation of luscious color and everyone can appreciate purchasing in a way that minimizes their impact on the land.

I dyed these organic linen garments using the same vat of dye. The lighter shades are still so beautiful.

All of these beautiful red to coral garments were dyed in one vat. Each color is lighter and lighter as the dye exhausts. I conserve both water and natural dyes, creating a gorgeous gradient of clothing.

Timeless pieces

Shopping Modern Shibori in the present can be rewarding for years to come. The combination of high quality fabrics, interior seam construction and effortless elegant design creates a garment that’s built to last a lifetime for her customers. Jenny’s designs become heritage pieces that her clients live in, and can pass down. Jenny likes to call these “future heritage” garments.

Breaking sustainability down clearly

Green Strategy is a consultancy firm based in Sweden that helps fashion or textile companies expand - and then communicate - their “sustainability and circularity ambitions”. Dr. Anna Brismar (PhD), founder and owner of Green Strategy, has extensive expertise in the area of water, environment and sustainable development, and more recently also in circular economy.” Green Strategy developed a chart called  “7 Forms of Sustainable Fashion,” which shows just how diverse the aspects of sustainable fashion are. 2

Anna Brismar's chart of the sustainable ways we can have fashion in our lives.

Credit: Dr. Anna Brismar created this chart to cleanly illustrate just how diverse sustainability really is! 3

Simply looking at the creation choices made here at Modern Shibori, four of those seven forms are taken into account (“On Demand & Custom Made,” “Green & Clean,” “High Quality & Timeless Design,” “Fair & Ethical”). Beyond that, Modern Shibori provides a fifth category with the post-purchase options it provides its customers (“Repair, Redesign & Upcycle”). 3

Upcycled army jacket. This jacket was taken apart, dyed and stitched back together with a lining.

Jenny Fong gets creative with leftover material, upcycling her scraps into accessories and garments.

Looking to the future: Modern Shibori’s sustainability plans

Keep an eye out for a Modern Shibori reVive program where past garments can be sent back and revived/rebirthed by redying and even adding custom embroidery for a small fee.

Modern Shibori might be expanding into a sixth Green Strategy Sustainability Form, “Rent, Lease & Swap”: Jenny is thinking about doing a Modern Shibori clothing swap! Not only does this exciting swap event keep clothing out of landfill in a new way, but it will build a stronger Modern Shibori community. Would you be interested in a Modern Shibori clothing swap? If so, leave a comment below.

Resources:

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2020/02/24/11-fashion-companies-leading-the-way-in-sustainability/?sh=5e4420026dba

2 https://www.greenstrategy.se/about-us/concept-and-services/

3 https://www.greenstrategy.se/sustainable-fashion/seven-forms-of-sustainable-fashion/

Further Reading:

Which are biodegradable fabrics?

https://ethicalfashion.online/news-views/which-are-biodegradable-fabrics

Can fashion ever be sustainable?

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200310-sustainable-fashion-how-to-buy-clothes-good-for-the-climate

What Is Sustainable And Ethical Fashion?

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/clothing/g27154605/sustainable-fashion-clothing/

How clothes and shoes can be made with renewable electricity

https://www.ecohz.com/how-we-work/how-clothes-and-shoes-can-be-made-with-renewable-electricity/

The Environmental Cost Of Fashion | Here & Now

https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/12/03/fast-fashion-devastates-environment

Fashion in the age of climate change

https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2019/11/18/troubling-ethics-fashion-age-climate-change/

Sustainability in the fashion industry

https://carbon.ci/insights/sustainability-in-the-fashion-industry/

Sustainable fashion

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_fashion

What Is Sustainable And Ethical Fashion?

https://www.sustainablejungle.com/sustainable-living/ethical-sustainable-fashion/

Sustainability Concierge

https://www.sustainabilityconcierge.com/