Sustainable Fashion - The New Luxury?

While words like slow, organic, sustainable, holistic, and so on are taking over the mass consumer market and our social media feed, sustainable fashion remains in a niche territory. Sustainable fashion brands are expensive, time-consuming and unrealistic. Agreed! On the other hand, sustainable fashion brands not only use low-impact organic crops to produce them, but also implement good working conditions for their workers, including unmistaken wages, which is great and just what the world needs. The real question then is that if they are saving on resources, are environment friendly, are reducing waste, and are selectively produced making them niche, are they the new luxury in fashion?

Think of a sustainable brand as a manufacturer - by following certain environmental guidelines and standards, CSR Audit Compliance, and other socioeconomic responsibilities, these brands involve huge investment and effort in fulfilling the requirements of being designated as a “sustainable brand”. It is not easy to outstrip audit compliance without transparency. And then enters the concept of business which cannot work on “No Profit No Loss”.

H&M is highly recognized as one of the few fast fashion brands for embracing sustainability; by collecting discarded clothes at their stores and using them to produce recycled garments. The amount of their yearly production of new garments is much larger than what they recycle. However, they are trying, something we cannot say about most fast fashion, high street or luxury brands.

“No sustainable fashion brand is really 100% sustainable. More improvement is always needed”, says Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, the world’s first sustainable fashion brand founded in 1973. The brand is such that it challenges the hardships of fast fashion by being mass produced. Withal, it is sold at a premium rate.

But have you ever wondered what it means to not clothe oneself in fast fashion and still look urbane? If you don’t, the consumer psychology is to be blamed. What I mean is, that by modifying your consumer psychology and buying habits it is possible to not only care for the environment but also be remembered and acknowledged for it, AND still look à la mode. Brands like Bodice, Doodlage, Aureole, Akaaro, Nicobar ensure you look good while you be a responsible human.

“Make the effort to buy a little bit less from the mall and a little bit more from smaller brands, because it’s difficult to trace who is making high-street brands and how responsibly they’ve been made,” says Ruchika Sachdeva, founder of Bodice. She not only tops the list of sustainable designers but has also won the International Woolmark Prize 2017-18 (Indian Subcontinental and Middle East Region).

“To be a non-conformist is the new status symbol in fashion” says Kate Fletcher, professor of sustainability, design and fashion at the London College of Fashion. She also says - “Sustainability begins in our wardrobes.”
It sensibly implies you are more aware, keen, and responsible and have an attitude which will be evoked. Following slow fashion is not laid-back or careless. It is about making an investment in the environment you are living in.

Sustainability is more organic, less technology and extensively handmade. 

Flashback to 90s, commoners in India hardly bought clothes in haste or to win at fashion. Accepted that people hardly had access to Zara and H&M. Lower per capita income as well as lack of global exposure did count in Indians being less acquainted with fashion. Consequently, consumer satisfaction was at peak then.
Now I’m flooded with Fall 2018 trends like tartans, checks and plaids. Humankind is approaching fashion with no depth. It is a rat race where everyone wants to flourish, survive and even thrive beyond real enlightenment. Zara introduces a new clothing line every day at the stores. Fashion trends have become directionless, lasting only a week. This dissatisfaction and the need to fit in the virtual world of Instagram where every time we refresh there is a new influencer sporting a new trend, is feeding the capitalist consumer in us by the minute.

To explain this better, Darshana Gajare, founder of Fairtrunk and Core Team member of Fashion Revolution India asserted, “Fast fashion brands have made us believe that their pricing is the right pricing. In order to understand why sustainable fashion is expensive, we first need to let go of this notion. Sustainable products factor in fair wages, ethical production, preservation of craft, ensure minimum impact on the environment; and all of this comes at a cost. There is a conscious effort to make a positive social impact, which is not the case in conventional fashion. Sustainable Fashion thrives to make long-lasting products, while fast fashion aims at making fashion disposable. If you really ask me, the amount a person spends on fast fashion brands, buying 3-4 garments can be easily diverted or invested in buying 1-2 conscious garments that will surely last them way more, both in style and durability.”

In this trend obsessed culture and speed driven society, ethical fashion rightly known as ‘slow fashion’ is mindfully missing the boat. Keeping the practicality of high price points and the conscious emphasis on style rather than trend in mind, sustainable fashion is not here to compete with luxury labels or fast fashion brands. It is here to teach us to respect our resources and our fellow humans, to learn how to value our money and someone else’s time. Sustainable fashion is not just about fashion, it is way more than that. Calling it a cult may sound crass but that is what it is at this point. Sustainability is on its way to become a meaningful religion whose soul can be equated with that of a philosophical intellectual known for its long lasting ripple effects, while luxury even though it comes with its own positive arguments remains a privileged brat remains infamous for its exploitations.


IN SERVICE OF SISTERHOOD, BY ASTHA BARANWAL