I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on what sustainability means to me and how I fit myself into it all. I feel so many people have different takes on the idea and thus it has become more unclear as to what parameters define it. What makes a product truly sustainable? Where do ethics play a part? Without being a bore by citing factual statements and telling right from wrong, I’m just going to share my thoughts on the subject and how I’ve developed along my journey towards a more sustainable wardrobe.
As a vegan, it is no surprise I tend to avoid wearing any animal products. It’s something I’ve always struggled with though because the alternative (plastics and man-made materials) could be much more damaging to the environment and, in return, create more harm towards the animal industry. I suppose I should know a thing or two about sustainability and I’ve come to believe removing animal products without understanding the impact of the alternative is barely scratching the surface.
There are two types of people – those who say wool farming is unethical, and those who say it is necessary for the sheep. I don’t think either of these viewpoints are wrong, however, as they both argue for the wellbeing of the sheep. That’s not to say there aren’t some exceptions to this such as mulesing which hurts the sheep and is not at all ethical. The problem with wool alternatives is that they can contain many toxic chemicals and are very harmful to the environment as they don’t break down. Wool, on the other hand, is one of the most biodegradable natural materials you can use. So how do you know if the wool garment you’re purchasing abides by ethical guidelines?
What I’ve found to be a great trend in sustainable fashion is the growing reliance on transparency in the supply chain. So many companies such as ASKET, Oliver Spencer, and Naadam are opening up to share the process of how they make their products and the impacts they have on the environment. Because of this, I feel comfortable adding wool to my wardrobe as I know exactly where it came from and know it will last much longer than any acrylic sweater I’ve owned in the past.
Now let’s talk leather. There is no such thing as ethical leather, but I do feel if the alternative is again PVC or another toxic material, it’s the better choice. PVC is cheap and won’t last, so you’ll end up throwing away your shoes in a matter of months. Leather on the other hand is higher quality and although isn’t the most ethical choice, will last longer. Luckily, there are many high-quality vegan leathers out there such as apple-skin leather and BioPolyols and companies are slowly starting to catch on. These alternatives would be my first choice of course as they are truly the most sustainable “leather” you can find.
To focus more on the matter, a lot of things are taken into consideration when it comes to sustainability. A minimal wardrobe with high quality pieces is much better on the environment than a closet full of easily disposable faux garments and shoes. Even if those items may not have animal products, it isn’t helping animal welfare or the earth.
We’ve talked about the ethics, transparency, quality, and consumption, so what’s the conclusion? I’m not sure there’s a clean-cut definition for sustainability. The idea is understanding what it means to you and how you’re going to contribute your part. For me, I will continue to avoid animal products, but will make my exceptions where I see it is more ethical and better for the environment. Sure, others may disagree, but it’s important to educate yourself and do what you feel is best for both you and the wellbeing of the planet.