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The Movement: What is sustainable fashion?

by gwcmag

The sustainable fashion movement has revolutionised the way we shop, dress, and farewell our clothing. The demand for sustainable clothing is only growing, and more brands are beginning to shift their focus to eco-friendly production methods. So, where to start? With an oversaturated fashion market, it can be difficult to decipher which brands are truly sustainable and using environmentally-kind practices. Firstly, it’s important to understand what constitutes sustainable fashion and what to look out for. In this guide, we explain all things sustainable and slow fashion and round up some of our favourite eco-friendly fashion brands.

What Is Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion is designed, produced, and distributed using environmentally-friendly methods. It prioritises fair treatment of workers, animals, and the environment and will not compromise on these factors.

It’s really all in the name; sustainable fashion items are meant to be sustained and loved season after season. Sustainable fashion is the antithesis of fast fashion. Fast fashion, or mindless fashion, is all about creating cheap, low-quality, trend-focused garments that are designed to be worn a few times, then discarded to make room for another fast fashion item.

What Is Slow Fashion?

Slow fashion and sustainable fashion are branches of the same tree — the foundations are the same, but their structure differs slightly.

Slow fashion focuses on reducing consumption and production in addition to adopting sustainable practices. So, sustainable fashion brands aren’t necessarily slow fashion brands. They may adopt certain sustainable practices and still release fortnightly or monthly new collection drops.

Slow fashion brands generally create only two to three collections per year, while the best-practice brands release only a few new styles per year to add to a permanent, trans-seasonal collection.

slow fashion

The Importance Of Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion is important for various social, economic, and environmental reasons.

Ensures Fair Wages And Safe Working Conditions

In 2013, the world was alerted to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. The building, which housed five garment factories, caved in and killed at least 1,132 people, injuring 2,500 others. It was this tragedy that exposed the poor labour conditions, unsafe working environments, and wage injustices rife in garment factories across the world — the real cost of fast fashion.

This disaster prompted activists to push for change, encouraging individuals to seek out brands that put social and environmental sustainability first.

Reduces Waste

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians acquire an average of 27kg of new clothing per year. Additionally, each Australian sends an average of 23kg of textile waste to landfills each year.

Two-thirds of the materials sent to landfills are man-made synthetic and plastic fibres. These materials do not break down easily, often sitting dormant for long periods of time before they begin to decompose.

Reduces Harmful Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Most fast fashion items are made from petroleum fibres, such as acrylic, nylon, polyester, and spandex. These fibres are toxic and extremely harmful to the environment.

When binned items eventually break down in landfills, they generate methane, which is more potent than carbon dioxide and is responsible for 25% of today’s global warming.

Reduces Excessive Water Usage

Clothing production is responsible for a significant amount of water usage worldwide. The textiles industry uses 93 billion cubic metres of water each year and is responsible for 4% of all freshwater withdrawal. Around two-thirds of this usage comes from clothing production alone. In fact, producing just one cotton shirt requires 3000 litres of water.

Clothing production also exposes freshwater to the toxins used in clothing. When clothes become lost in our waterways, they leach plastics and synthetic fibres into the ocean, damaging ecosystems in the process.

It’s Kinder To Animals

Many sustainable and slow fashion brands are cruelty-free and vegan certified, meaning they use alternative materials to create certain items.


female model in red shirt

What Makes A Clothing Brand Sustainable?

So, what exactly makes a clothing brand sustainable? There are a few things to look for when on the hunt for sustainable fashion.

Sustainable Fashion Manufacturing

The manufacturing process encompasses everything from the materials used to the way the item is transported to you. Truly sustainable fashion brands will ensure all of these links in the chain are adhering to best practices.


A sustainable fashion brand will carefully consider the materials they use in their garments. These brands ensure the fibres used have not and will not harm the environment in any way. In other words, they won’t leach toxins as synthetic fibres will, and they will break down easily without harming the earth.

Essentially, sustainable garments must contain only organically grown fibres and will be crafted from 100% of the same material (for example, 100% organic cotton). These fibres will be recyclable and biodegradable too, to ensure that at the end of their useful life they will not clog up landfills and waterways.

Sustainable fibres include

  • Organic recycled cotton
  • Organic hemp
  • Organic linen

Innovators have also created new eco-friendly fabrics such as

  • Tencel is created by dissolving wood pulp. Produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG, Tencel is moisture-wicking, anti-bacterial, and 50% more absorbent than cotton.
  • Piñatex is a vegan leather alternative made from pineapple leaf fibre. It is manufactured by Ananas Anam. It’s natural, sustainable, and reduces waste in communities that grow the fruit.
  • Econyl is made by the Italian company Aquafil. It uses synthetic waste to generate new nylon yarn.
  • Qmonos is spider silk. It is five times stronger than steel and is completely natural and biodegradable.

When considering materials, it’s also important to consider the use of dyes. Toxic dyes release up to 20,000 chemicals into the environment and are considered the fashion industry’s most pressing issue. Ensure that the brand limits its use of dyes or, better yet, opts for natural dyeing materials and methods instead.

Working Conditions

Sustainable fashion is ethical and often locally made, ensuring fair working conditions and wages for all employees. This means workplaces are safe, hygienic, and regulated, with reasonable working hours and absolute bans on child labour.

Low Resource Use

Sustainable fashion brands often have strict water usage limits and may even recycle or re-use water at various points. The use of natural materials also comes into play here, as linen, hemp and organic cotton require less water during production than synthetic fibres do. Many sustainable companies also reduce water usage by limiting their dyeing, stone-washing, and finishing processes.

Sustainable companies won’t just focus on using eco-friendly practices while making the garments; they’ll use greener processes wherever they can. For example, many businesses have recognised that the transportation of goods to warehouses, stores, and homes results in a significant amount of CO2. To mitigate this, many sustainable brands have production factories within the brand’s home country.

As mentioned earlier, synthetic materials release methane when breaking down, which is an extremely damaging and potent greenhouse gas. The natural fibres used by slow and sustainable brands are natural, biodegradable, and do not release toxins into the atmosphere, so this helps to reduce the greenhouse effect.

Sustainable Packaging

At the very end of the line, there’s no sense in undermining all that good work with plastic packaging. The best sustainable brands use plastic-free, eco-friendly packaging, right down to biodegradable shipping bags.

Our Favourite Sustainable Fashion Brands

With all of this in mind, we thought we’d share some of our favourite sustainable fashion options. Thanks to these eco-friendly brands, you can treat yourself to something special and feel good about it!

Seaside Tones

Seaside Tones

Seaside Tones is a Polish fashion label that was founded by Anna Rutkowska and Michal Rutkowski in 2015. It focuses on minimalist pieces for a timeless wardrobe, crafted from locally grown soft Baltic linen. All garments are designed by Anna and are organic, dyed without dangerous toxins, and produced ethically in safe conditions.

Outland Denim

Outland Denim

Outland Denim was born in 2011, created to provide sustainable employment and training for women who had experienced exploitation. Outland Denim uses industry-leading water and energy reducing technology and GOTS certifies organic cotton in all garments. The pieces are vegan friendly too!

Hemp Clothing Australia

Hemp Clothing Australia produces quality pieces made to last the test of time, so your capsule wardrobe will thank you for investing in Hemp Clothing Australia’s garments. They are crafted with natural fibres including Hemp, which is breathable, insulating, durable, moisture-wicking, and biodegradable. Hemp plants are also highly renewable and require minimal water, so your hemp items are truly sustainable at every turn.



Icebreaker was founded by Jeremy Moon, who sought to create a natural solution to technical outdoor apparel. Icebreaker offers everything from basics such as socks and underwear to quality outdoor wear. All items are made from high-performance natural fabrics, and Icebreaker has ensured a transparent and traceable supply chain.



Veja was founded in 2005 with the aim of creating sneakers that will last. Veja uses ethically sourced materials, works directly with cotton farmers, and uses technologies that serve the interests of the Amazon Rainforest. Their fabric dyes also meet European REACH standards.

Aster & Oak

aster and oak

Aster & Oak create certified organic baby and children’s clothing, designed to be safer for the planet and your little ones. The garments are safe, non-toxic, low allergen, and free from nasty chemicals. They are made from 100% GOTS certified organic cotton. Aster & Oak ensure their pieces are ethically made with transparent manufacturing and fair trade policies.

Discover Sustainable Fashion

Update your wardrobe with pieces that feel good, look good, and do good for the planet and local communities.

Explore the extensive range of sustainable fashion at Biome.

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