Sustainable Fashion For Dummies
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This mini sustainable fashion guide provides you answers to questions like: What is sustainable fashion? What is fast fashion? What is greenwashing? It also guides you on how sustainable fashion is eco-friendly and ethical, as well as provides some tips on how to get on the path to a sustainable wardrobe, including some ideas on fashion pieces to add to your thrift list.

Sustainable fashion lingo

If you are new to sustainable fashion, it may be useful to get up to speed with some of the sustainable fashion lingo. Here are some key terms:

Sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion is the making of apparel and the consuming of fashion in a way that is good for the environment and people.

Environmentally friendly fashion focuses on the least consumption of natural resources such as water, the reduction of waste, and the reduction of pollution and emissions that are harmful to the climate.

Sustainable fashion is also people-friendly fashion, meaning that everyone in the supply chain — from farmers to factory workers — is paid a living wage and guaranteed a safe working environment. Sustainable fashion seeks to be the opposite of fast fashion.

Fast fashion

Fast fashion is trendy, inexpensive, mass-produced fashion. It’s often considered to be the opposite of sustainable fashion. Most of the fashion you see in the stores, malls, and online is fast fashion. Trendy and inexpensive may sound like a win at the cash register, but it comes at an environmental and social cost.


Greenwashing is when a brand exaggerates or flat-out lies about its sustainability claims, conveying a false impression that a company or product is environmentally friendly. For example, they may use phrases such as “conscious clothing collection” or use green tags on clothing. This deceptive practice is unethical, as it can falsely influence a consumer to purchase what they think is sustainable but isn’t.


Microplastics are tiny plastic pollution, specifically defined by the National Ocean Service as small plastic pieces, less than 5 millimeters long, which end up in our oceans where marine life mistake them for food and ingests them.

Microplastics shed from all plastic, but most notably, laundering synthetic garments accounts for 35 percent of microplastic pollution.

Synthetic fabrics

Synthetic fabrics are made by humans through chemical processing. The most common synthetic fabric used for clothes is polyester, but rayon, nylon, and spandex are other examples.

Synthetic fabrics are problematic for these reasons: They are products of the oil industry, which is the most polluting industry; they are non-biodegradable; and they shed microplastics when laundered.

Organic natural fibers

Natural fibers come from nature (plants and animals); cotton, wool, linen, and leather are common examples. Sustainable brands tend to use natural fibers because they are great quality, durable, and biodegradable.

Organic natural fibers are grown without pesticides. While all natural fibers are biodegradable, conventional natural fibers are grown using pesticides that then pollute the soil; organic is better for consumers, farmers, and the environment.

Nontoxic fashion

Nontoxic fashion refers to clothes that have no harmful chemicals in them. Some commonly used chemicals for textile manufacturing and dyeing are toxic. These include azo dyes, bleach, formaldehyde, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance) and fabric finishing processes (like anti-wrinkling and waterproofing finishes).

Sustainable brands provide a nontoxic option. Their products are toxin-free — from sourcing organic pesticide-free natural fibers to using safe nontoxic dyes and fabric finishes — thereby making clothes that are safe for your skin and don’t cause pollution.

Zero-waste fashion

Zero-waste fashion refers to clothes made in a way that generates little or no waste.

The benefits of sustainable fashion

Sustainable fashion is better for everyone. It’s better for the garment workers, the farmers who grow the fibers that make the fabric for clothing, the environment, and you. Sustainable fashion is gentler on the planet and everyone involved.

Sustainable fashion is eco-friendly

Whether you are shopping your closet, shopping from sustainable brands, thrifting, repairing, or upcycling, it’s all better for the environment. Here’s how:

  • Thrifting, repairing, and upcycling are all ways of keeping your clothes in your closet longer and out of landfills.
  • Sustainably made clothes are made from organic natural fabrics or recycled fabrics. Organic natural fibers are biodegradable and don’t pollute the soil with harmful pesticides.
  • Sustainable brands use nontoxic dyes or natural dyes that don’t pollute surrounding water.
  • Sustainable brands work to minimize their carbon emissions

Sustainable fashion is more ethical

Sustainable brands do right by everyone in the supply chain, from farmers to the people who make our clothes. That’s because sustainable fashion brands have fair labor practices and transparent supply chains.

Sustainable fashion is better for you, the consumer

The social and environmental benefits of a sustainable approach to fashion are beneficial to you. You don’t want your fashion to be at the expense of others and the environment. But there’s plenty in it for you:

  • Better quality clothing
  • Better value for your money
  • Nontoxic clothes
  • Feel-good factor

Ways to approach fashion sustainably

There are many ways to approach fashion consumption sustainably. Shopping from sustainable brands is a great way, as these brands are doing great work, but it’s not the only way.

Thrifting, mending, upcycling, and even shopping your own closet are other ways. Here are some things that you can consider:

  • Wear the clothes you already own.
  • Shop secondhand.
  • Repair your clothes.
  • Upcycle used clothing.

Top items for your thrift list

Thrifting is like going on a treasure hunt. You can score really nice stuff. While you can thrift almost all the clothes you need, some pieces provide better value for your money when you thrift instead of buying new, so you should totally include them on your shopping list for the thrift store:

  • Coats (including leather jackets)
  • Blazers
  • Scarves
  • Belts
  • Special occasion clothes (such as New Year’s Eve outfits or costumes)
  • Trendy fashion
  • Knitwear
  • Handbags
  • Jeans

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Paula N. Mugabi is a fashion blogger and influencer with a commitment to fostering sustainable fashion. Her blog, mspaularepresents, champions the transformation towards conscious consumption in fashion, offering easy-to-follow steps toward sustainable fashion choices and lifestyle.

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