Interview: Sustainability in fashion, myth or reality?

Astrid volunteering at an animal shelter

I originally wrote this article last year for the circular. But as sustainability is a fundamental part of why I started this blog, I felt the need to share it with you 🙂 A while back, I interviewed a very close friend of mine, Astrid. We had a chat about fashion and how sustainability is on the rise but yet not even close to reaching its full potential.

But first, thoughts: in my opinion, sustainability has definitely reached the fashion world! The amount of designers working with fairly traded materials has increased massively throughout the years and so has the buying audience. People are starting to become more aware and interested in where and under what circumstances their clothes are being produced. The controversial working conditions of garment workers all over the globe are no longer (completely) left out.

As a member of the Upper Austrian green party and environmental activist, Astrid told us what sustainability is all about.

High street brands such as Zara and H&M already have taken a step in the right direction in producing their clothes under water saving techniques. Special organic collections like H&M’s conscious collection show, that fair trade fashion doesn’t have to be expensive but still can be stylish at the same time. The Swedish brand even uploaded a list of their suppliers and talks about the fair living wage for seamstresses on their website. But still, we have a long way to go.

Seamstress at work
Seamstress at work. Photo Credit: Mikko Koponen (Flickr)

But how does sustainability work? According to Astrid, the main focus lies on nature itself, sustainability makes sure all techniques and materials used tend to be as natural and raw as possible. The natural resources should not be exhausted completely, but allowed to grow normally without any interruption by humans. The goal is not to destroy or damage the environment.

‘We take what we are given, but leave behind what is not meant for us.’

This theory might sound good while saying but is way harder to accomplish in the brutal reality that’s called economy.

‘They [the designers] acknowledge the natural resources we already have and try to make the best out of it’ she explains, that’s why the process of designing and making the clothes is so different, compared to other non sustainability designers. So it’s a wide known misbelief that fashion can’t be stylish and fair at the same time.

Even though the green activist thinks the alternative scene is growing and people are becoming more aware about the production of their clothing, sustainable fashion hasn’t reached the mainstream high streets just yet.

‘The field is growing and it definitely can reach out to a wider audience, but as of right now, I don’t think it has what it takes to become the next popular mainstream object.’

Not because of its unique style or the higher price range, but because of the people who are still more attracted to cheap clothing and leaving their ethical principles at home, when entering the next big shopping mall. This is based on the inherited laziness of humans and the aspect that sustainable fashion hasn’t fully reached its potential yet. ‘You have to shop at certain places or online stores, to really have that size comparing selection you get when shopping in the big stores’. So the main issue is not the actual price – but the availability.

Astrid & Joan
Astrid during her Thailand trip, where she volunteered in an animal shelter, back in 2014.

This could easily be solved by bigger companies offering more fair trade or supportable collections or even the creation of an online shop, that involves a higher number of sustainable designers. If we can provide a more effortless access for potential costumers, people would become more interested in buying these products.

However, in the end it all starts and falls with the people. The demand is determined by the supply. If we manage to get into the consumer’s head, we can finally reach the goal of fair wages and the preservation and funding of natural resources. And even though the change is happening, I sometimes feel like the majority of people, have little to no imagination of what’s going on on the other side of the world. There needs to be better campaigning, then people are becoming more aware and start to demand better working conditions. Start a revolution from the inside.

What makes your new dress even more beautiful? The knowledge that it has been produced with natural and fairly traded materials, as well as the fact that it is supporting the seamstresses all over the world and their families. So why don’t we wear local, and think global? If not, we can always go back to buying vintage ❤

A big thank you to my friend Astrid, a nature girl with the devotion to make this world a greener place and people more aware of their consumption.

If you want to know more about the production of clothing and how the system works, check out the trailer of The Real Cost below.