Quality or sustainability … which is more important?

Those of us working in the fashion industry system are supposed to be aware that ours is not currently a sustainable enterprise.

Sewing is hard: I’ve had some experience learning to sew. Sewing is not too difficult if you know what you’re doing, but it is time consuming and fiddly. Most people who wear clothes have no idea what it takes to actually make them; whether to the costs to the environment or the costs to lives and livelihoods, just buying a t-shirt could become an ethical dilemma. Image: Niki Bruce

The general clothes-buying public, however, have probably no idea that their $5 t-shirts are harming not only the environment but that we might just end up eating the microfibres are clothes are made of (Bauck 2017).

Sustainability …
In a pointed post entitled ‘How many gallons of water does it take to make a single pair of jeans?’, influential fashion website The Fashion Law points out that just about everything we wear is somehow damaging our planet and therefore, the future of the fashion system (The Fashion Law 2018).

Until very recently I didn’t give much thought to the environmental impact of my love of shopping. I did rail against the rise of blogshops and fast fashion outlets, but that was more in support of independent designers being ripped off by multinational brands, than concern over the environment, or the sustainability of the fashion system as it now operates.

Quality …
Quality, I believe, is something that’s worth paying more for; you’re paying for the art and skills of a young designer who has put everything into creating something special for you to wear. Quality also equals unique or luxurious materials, handcrafted work, and a sense that the item will last forever. And, more often than not, quality fashion costs more.

Quality versus sustainability …
Are quality and sustainability the same thing? If we only buy quality items, are we being more sustainable? Or are quality items affecting sustainability? Should we just not buy anything? But then who will employ the millions of women in developing nations who currently work in the industry?

No clear conclusion …
Personally I find that I cannot come to a clear conclusion on this issue at this time. It is complicated, ongoing and there are more questions than answers.

I have decided, however, to give shopping a break and join the #shopyourwardrobe movement until I can come to a conclusion.

Note: As the issue of sustainability and ethics in fashion continues to be discussed, major fashion designers and emerging brands are offering a variety of thoughts and options that take the issues of quality and sustainability into account, and which are being picked up by mass media.

The stories below make for some interesting reading:
Derek Lam believes sustainability is the future of fashion
Is the use of feathers in fashion any more ethical than fur?
The huge impact of donated bras

The Fashion Law 2018, ‘How Many Gallons of Water Does it Take to Make a Single Pair of Jeans?’, The Fashion Law, viewed 16 May 2018, <http://www.thefashionlaw.com/home/how-many-gallons-of-water-does-it-take-to-make-a-single-pair-of-jeans>.

Bauck W 2017, ‘If we can’t make the fashion industry more sustainable, we may end up eating our clothes’, Fashionista, viewed 16 May 2018, <https://fashionista.com/2017/11/textile-economy-sustainable-fashion-plastic-microfibers>.


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