What is Sustainable Fashion and Why Does it Matter Today?

What is sustainable fashion and why does it matter today?

Sustainability has been defined as “Treating the world as if you wanted to stay.”

But in today’s fashion world, the business model for the most profitable, billion dollar fast fashion companies in the world is the race to the bottom. To keep labor costs low and the profits high, these corporations build factories in developing countries and force workers to work for 60+ hours a week for as little as $3 a day. Some garment workers (which are 85% women) are also victims of the forced labor and sex traffic industry. Read more about the issue of human trafficking and its connection to the garment industry on my blog, Dressember 2018.

This is the opposite of sustainability and today the fast fashion megabrands along with the consumers who shop there have successfully put many brands and retailers out of business because of price. In the $3 trillion fast fashion industry, stores receive mass shipments of trendy new merchandise on a daily basis. This means that instead of a traditional, 5 seasons a year model, fast fashion stores are operating on 52 seasons a year. I’m not giving publicity to the major players here, but everyone knows them. You can find out who they are in the documentary “The True Cost”, a story about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the fashion industry is having on our world. 

A second and poignant documentary “River Blue” brings awareness to the destruction of some of the world’s most vital rivers through the manufacturing of our clothing. In the film, fashion designer and activist Orsola de Castro can be heard saying “There is a joke in China that you can tell the ‘it’ color of the season by looking at the color of the rivers.”

Mass consumption of cheap product has changed the world. But why do people buy fast fashion? In one of his business mastery presentations, Tony Robbins said it beautifully: ” People don’t buy things, they buy feelings.” (He shares that this bit of insight came from a conversation with real estate businessman Stephen Wynn) We so often shop to make ourselves feel better, to feel richer, perhaps to feel loved. But the result of shopping in this mass market, fast fashion way is actually making people poorer. The merchandise is not built to last. It’s built to fall apart so we can buy it again. Moreover, the goods are cheap so most of the time people don’t care if they don’t last.

Where do sustainable businesses fit in to the marketplace today?

I’m an eco designer so have been living with this question for awhile. Between approximately 2004 to 2008, ethical fashion brands were recognized as the way of the future of fashion. Eco designers and eco business owners worldwide were putting the health of the environment first in textile and clothing manufacturing without sacrificing true artistry and impeccable design. Our work was a new idea and incredibly important. Retailers and celebrities sought us out, journalists interviewed us and wrote about our work, magazines and publications featured us. Ethical tradeshows and fashion shows featured unique brands from all over the world. It was a very exciting time and one that I’m honored to be part of. But in the last decade, many of these eco brands as well as the brick and mortar retailers who carried our work have been put out of business by consumers embracing the “buy it cheap, wear it once, and then throw it away” mentality of fast fashion.

I believe that if people better understood the impact their shopping choices are making in the lives of the people who make their products and on the environment, they might make different choices. Today more and more people are becoming conscious consumers. More brands and businesses are focused on sustainability. Ethical organizations worldwide help to spread awareness and offer support. Imagine what we can do when we do it better.

Since the beginning of my business in 1983, I have been rescuing valuable, artistic materials from potential landfill. It started with materials to make my first belt, and today I have several categories of upcycled materials I love to use. In my Deborah Lindquist brand, I use a combination of upcycled, organic, and sustainable materials. In Green Queen Clothing, my vegan brand, the fabrics are vegan, organic, or sustainable. I design and hand cut everything, and produce locally in Los Angeles with a small team of sewers. Here are some of my favorite looks, from a recent collaboration with talented people.

Photo left to right, back: Hannah studded parachute skirt and upcycled scarf halter top, Olivia parachute skirt and upcycled scarf halter top, modal crew t-shirt and organic cotton french terry hoodie, Olivia parachute skirt and silk chiffon bubble top.

Seated front: Upcycled studded military knapsack jacket with muga silk and vintage leather appliques, Vintage scarf fabric flutter front blouse, Keiko floral kimono bralette Bustier, muga peace silk and silk chiffon high/low skirt.

Photo left: The Olivia upcycled military parachute skirt and Elinor jacket, vintage upcycled sari fabric bustier.

Photo right: Clyde upcycled military parachute coat, modal crew t-shirt from our vegan Green Queen Clothing brand.

Photo left: Upcycled cashmere scarf with an applique hemp leaf. (right photo also)

The Olivia upcycled military parachute skirt, vintage upcycled sari fabric bustier, upcycled suede and leather clutch bag with an applique hemp leaf.

Clyde upcycled military parachute coat, organic cotton crew t-shirt from our vegan Green Queen Clothing brand

Vintage scarf halter top with a vintage kimono cumberbund, wide leg trouser pant in hemp/silk.

Garbo high waist pleated hemp trousers and a silk chiffon hand dyed bubble top.

Vintage scarf fabric flutter front blouse, Keiko floral kimono bralette Bustier, muga peace silk and silk chiffon high/low skirt.

As consumers become more conscious, there is a learning curve and much of this awareness requires some research. I see many people making healthy choices, and that is hopeful for our environment, our industry and our personal health and well being. Sustainable businesses are held to a higher standard. Its not the easiest path but we think its worth it.

The most important consideration when shopping as a conscious consumer is to ask for more transparency from the brands you buy from. Do you know who made your clothing? Make it a point to buy less and buy better. Support businesses that are focused on sustainability. Connect with organizations that educate and support sustainability. One of the organizations calling for a fairer, safer, cleaner, and more transparent fashion industry is Fashion Revolution.

Even small steps can create big results when put into a supportive environment. We’re in this world together. Remember that sustainability is treating the world as if you wanted to stay.

For information about our eco collections, including our philosophy, fabrics used, and more, visit this link. To shop these looks, visit our shop.

Many thanks to our creative team! Photographer: @udophotography, MUA: @kokobeaute, Hair: @nyhairboss Jewelry: @charmedbyacause Models: @queengotham, @swarasampaio, @swanmy_sampaio, @kendallgrace, @rare_style, @tommymaksanty. Shoot produced and managed by @queengotham Queen Gotham LLC.

For the latest news on our sustainable and vegan brands, find us on Instagram: @deborahlindquist, @greenqueenclothing. Sign up for our Eco Fashion Newsletter for Sneak Peeks, News, and Special Offers!

Live Green and prosper. Save Our Planet.