Sustainable fashion is a movement dedicated to changing how the fashion industry operates – and we want you to be a part of it.
Our high streets are overloaded with fast fashion brands who are polluting the environment, mass producing textiles and exploiting their workers, many of whom work in unsafe factories for poor pay. These brands play on trends and manipulate shoppers to buy fast and frequently.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Alternative fashion brands are starting and calling for more ethical clothing production, ethical supply chains and fair treatment of textiles workers. Ilk + Ernie is one of those brands, and we want to tell you more about what sustainable fashion is and why it’s the only viable option for the fashion industry.
What is sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion is clothing, accessories and shoes that are designed, manufactured, distributed and marketed in an ethical way. The goal of sustainable fashion is to create clothing in a responsible way that minimises impact on the environment and protects and pays fair wages to its garment workers.
Sustainable fashion is often also known as slow fashion. It’s important to remember that sustainable fashion should promote sustainable patterns of consumption and use. The intention behind this is to shift individual attitudes and behaviours to buy less and focus on well-made items you really love. At Ilk + Ernie, we produce high-quality, timeless designs and only drop collections twice a year. We produce clothing that has long-lasting style and durability with the intention of slowing down consumer consumption.
On average, shoppers purchase 60% more clothing every year, which last only half as long as they did 15 years ago due to cheap, fast manufacturing. Therefore proving slow, is the way to go.
Sustainable fashion vs fast fashion
To better understand sustainable fashion, let’s dig deeper into sustainable fashion vs fast fashion.
Our sustainable, Bowie jumpsuit in black and white.
In order to understand the importance of sustainable fashion, we must first look at fast fashion.
It will come as no surprise to hear that our planet is under an unprecedented amount of pressure. As eco-clothing app GoodOnYou explains: “Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand.”
As well as feeding the high street, fast fashion also supplies online fast fashion stores such as Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo. To meet consumer demand, styles are churned out at a rapid rate for consumers to buy in on the latest 'must- have' trends. This then plays into the idea that fashion styles should change on a regular basis, with some brands releasing collections as often as every two weeks! This inevitably forms the toxic system of overproduction and consumption. Essentially, it's made us greedy.
In order to rapidly release new clothing ranges, fast fashion stories neglect sustainability and ethics. It’s common that fast fashion brands will non-biodegradable fabrics that are fully processed with chemicals. These chemicals often run-off and pollute streams, lakes, and oceans. Microfibers from synthetic materials won’t decay, and as climate change reporter Tatiana Schlossberg pointed out in her New York Times article: “Future archaeologists may look at landfills taken over by nature and discover evidence of Zara.”
On a humane level, fast fashion is equally devastating. As well as being destructive to our planet, fast fashion is extremely unethical. Most fast fashion brands use offshore manufacturing where it's cheaper to produce and they are able to get away with paying their garment workers very low wages. Most garment workers have unsafe working environments, as we know from tragedies like the Rana Plaza disaster, and little to no rights. The visibility of this is often well hidden within these companies' supply chains – meaning they often get away scot-free.
In 2020, it was uncovered that the majority of the fast fashion industry has been complicit in Uighur forced labour. It is one of the biggest human rights violations of our time. For more information and resources about what you can do, read our article on how to help stop Uighur genocide. In short, we as a society must stop funding the fast fashion industry and demand better. This is where sustainable fashion is leading the change.
So let’s get back on track. What does sustainability mean?
Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly, to sustain what we have. The United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
For us humans, it means that if we don't stop destroying the planet, it won't be here for much longer.
Sustainability has three core pillars:
- The environmental pillar – This pillar focuses on reducing environmental waste and minimising negative impacts on the environment. In fashion, this means using sustainable fabrics and reducing waste. At Ilk + Ernie, we don't produce ANY fabric. Instead, we save and reuse discarded fabric left over from other fashion brands supply chains. We save thousands of litres of water and greenhouse emissions every year as a result of working this way.
- The social pillar – The social pillar of sustainable fashion is about the impact on the people working within the supply chain. It’s about knowing who made your clothes and ensuring they have fair working conditions. At Ilk + Ernie, we have a wonderful team of garment workers based in Delhi, India. They receive fair wages, holiday pay, health insurance, safe working environments and EU standard working hours. More about our wonderful team here.
- The economic pillar – The economic pillar is about where we spend our money – as individual consumers and as a business. At Ilk + Ernie, we support garment workers in Delhi and purchase our fabrics from local markets there. We (Romy and Jessica) run Ilk + Ernie and do most of the marketing and distribution ourselves. Our models are local to Brighton, where we’re based, and we intentionally work with diverse models of different body shapes and ethnic backgrounds. When you purchase clothing, consider who you are supporting.
You can read about Ilk + Ernie's sustainability and ethical practices here.
Why is sustainable fashion so important?
The present rates of consumption are unsustainable. The fashion industry is causing devastating environmental damage and severe human rights abuses. While the road towards sustainability isn’t easy, it’s now critical that we all learn what qualifies as truly sustainable and ethical fashion.
Ultimately, sustainable fashion is important because it means:
- Taking care of and protecting our planet
- Taking care of and protecting workers in the fashion supply chain
- Ensuring workers are paid fair wages – from our garment workers to our models
- Ensuring our money supports brands who are committed to sustainability and ethical fashion
Our sustainable blush pink boilersuit. Our boilersuits are ethically made from sustainably sourced, surplus cotton.
How to know if a fashion brand is truly sustainable
We must all do our best to avoid fashion brands who are greenwashing, and look for truly sustainable, ethical fashion brands to shop with when we need new clothes. Greenwashing refers to fast fashion brands who are using labels like “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” to sell more clothing when in fact they are not committed to sustainability.
How can we, as consumers, know if a fashion brand is sustainable? We recommend following these simple steps:
- Read about the brand. Search them on Google and see what you can find out.
- Check their eco rating on the GoodOnYou app.
- Check Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index.
- Email them or message them on social media to ask them who makes their clothes.
Supply chain transparency in sustainable fashion
Transparency is a big topic of conversation when it comes to sustainability. Promoting transparency in your supply chain leads to accountability, which leads to CHANGE. If you’re manufacturing clothes on any scale it's important to be open about sourcing. Consumers want to know where these garments are being made and by who! At Ilk + Ernie, we’re proud of our supply chain and are happy for you to ask us about it any time.
As Fashion Revolution’s co-founder Orsola de Castro put it: “Transparency alone is not enough to fix the industry’s problems, but it is a necessary first step towards wider systemic change – it shines a light on issues often kept in the dark.” Transparency helps to reveal the structures of the fashion industry so we can better understand how to change this system in a fundamental, long-lasting and positive way.”
So what’s next?
If you're reading this blog because you're already a part of our community, then it goes without saying that you're making steps to supporting ethical and sustainable fashion.
If you've happened upon this blog, we hope the information we've provided can help you begin your journey into becoming a sustainable fashionista and sharing this information with others. Follow our Instagram and sign up to our Conscious Club newsletter to keep learning more.
There is always more much to learn and collectively we can make a difference all achieve a great deal in prolonging the life of this precious planet we all call home. Your first step can be giving up fast fashion, loving what you already own, and only buying new, sustainable fashion you love.
Written by Romy Morgan and Jessica McCleave. Edited by Charlie Marchant.
Romy Morgan runs Ilk + Ernie’s PR and Communications and has recently graduated with a degree in Fashion History.
Jessica McCleave is the founder of Ilk + Ernie. After working as a visual merchandiser at Topshop and AllSaints, Jess decided the fashion industry needed a shakeup. She left fast fashion behind and started Ilk + Ernie to promote sustainable fashion.