Probono Australia asked Susan, founder of Made With Respect, exactly what sustainable fashion means...


"If we can focus less on keeping up with the latest trends and instead buy fewer, better quality pieces, it will not only be better for our bank balance but also for our planet, writes Susan Stevens, founder and CEO of Made with Respect.

In 2019, it is clear that “sustainable fashion” is not just a futuristic concept, but today’s necessity.

A UN report released last week has revealed that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. It has found that the current global response is insufficient; transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature and 1 million species are threatened with extinction. This loss is a direct result of human activity and has a direct threat to our future well-being.

The current trajectory we are on can still be changed but only if we are willing to make a change.

What is sustainable fashion all about?

Sustainable, or ethical, fashion is about being more conscious; knowing how our clothes are made, who made them, what they are made from and the impact our consumption behavior has on the environment.

We need to start educating ourselves and have a better awareness. Fashion is one of the most resource intensive industries in the world, both in terms of natural and human resources. We are currently consuming resources at 1.6 times the planet’s capacity, if we continue on this trajectory we will need two planets by 2030.

The fact that our natural resources are at risk should be a major concern for everyone, especially as the population continues to grow, our natural resources are not able to replenish at a quick enough pace to keep up with our consumption habits.

I don’t think a lot of people realise that we are living outside our means and we all know there is no second planet.

If we don’t purposely change the way we behave and consume, we will eventually have no choice but to adapt to whatever environment we are left to live within – that includes every single one of us. The question now is whether we are willing to act before it’s too late.

Why the fashion industry needs to slow down

The fashion industry churns out up to 52 micro-seasons per year, which means there are new trends coming out every week. Trends are not made to last, incentivizing consumers to dispose and replace. The profit for these companies is not in the margin of selling one piece, but selling thousands of pieces.

The fashion industry statistics are alarming:

  • Eighty billion pieces of clothing are consumed globally every year, with most people regularly wearing only 20 per cent of their wardrobe and 12.7 million tons of clothing thrown away each year.
  • Fashion is one of the largest industry polluters in the world, 20 per cent of industrial water pollution comes from treating and dying textiles and it’s the most resource intensive industry.
  • It’s estimated that we make 400 billion m2 of textiles annually, 60 billion m2 ends up as cutting room floor waste, most ending up in landfill.
  • The volume of water consumed by apparel production each year is the equivalent of 32 million Olympic swimming pools.
  • It’s predicted overall apparel consumption will have risen by 63 per cent in 2030. That’s the equivalent to 500 billion more T-shirts. When the population will be around 8.5 billion – do we really need that many T-shirts?!

Sadly, the spin-off of this is that most of our clothing (made with non-biodegradable synthetic, petroleum-based fibers) ends up in landfill, leaching chemicals into the soil. Synthetic fabric is also made from microfiber which is too small to be caught by wastewater treatment plants, ending up in our waterways, being ingested by fish and shellfish, and showing up in our food chain. These tiny fragments of plastic have been linked to cancers and other ailments.

And then there is the issue of packaging. It’s predicted that only 2 per cent of 78 million tons of waste packaging is recycled. Based on our current behaviour, roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will end up in landfills or littering our natural environment by 2050.

If we can focus less on keeping up with the latest trends and instead buy fewer, better quality and timeless pieces, it will not only be better for our bank balance in the long run but also be better for our planet.

What can we do?

As consumers we can help drive change. We need to hold fashion houses accountable and demand sustainably made products. But firstly we need to educate consumers of the impact our consumption choices and behaviour has on our planet and ultimately on our future.

Purpose-driven businesses are proving that you can produce aesthetically crafted pieces, earn a profit and be respectful to people and Mother Nature. They are the game changers.

Consumerism is at the heart of our problem; through irresponsible and disposable consumption habits we are destroying our natural resources. Time is not on our side, we have to make changes – we don’t have to compromise our values, we just have to start making more conscious choices. Ignorance is no longer bliss." writes Susan Stevens


Photo: Priscilla du Preez, Unsplash