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Sustainability: What Does It Mean and Why Do We See It Everywhere? Part 1

What does the word "sustainability" mean, especially in fashion? When we see it on every corner and every piece of clothing, you might wonder what it actually is and how much importance we should attach to it.

Sustainable. Sustainability. A Lovely Tag & Label.

A label that only a few pioneering brands had three years ago is now seen in the fastest fashion stores worldwide. Here's where the first stumbling block arises: the populism of the word and practical uncontrollability. We all know that "sustainability" has become a marketing buzzword. So how do we decipher it, focus on what matters in fashion sustainability, and recognize greenwashing, where fashion brands want to deceive us?

Basic Aspects of a Sustainable Fashion Brand

Ethical Production: Ensuring that human rights are not violated, people work in dignified conditions, and they are fairly compensated for their work, promoting a better quality of life. Adherence to Environmental Standards: Using certified materials that are friendly to both users and the environment. Optimizing Production Radius: Minimizing unnecessary transportation of parts of products to save costs. Quality Craftsmanship: Ensuring products are made with care and precision. Community Service: Supporting various projects that serve the public good. Customer Education: Educating customers about sustainable choices. Eco-friendly Design and Waste Processing: Designing products to be made from materials that can be recycled or upcycled, minimizing packaging and using natural packaging materials. Long-lasting, Simple Design, and Product Durability.

Why Does Price Matter in Sustainability?

Access to an objective price is a fundamental principle and cornerstone of sustainability. What's cheap is abundant, and what's abundant isn't valued. Whether as consumers (we don't think much about a 4 euro t-shirt) or as manufacturers (the cost of storing or displaying a 4 euro t-shirt outweighs the price), it's sometimes better to get rid of it, creating waste. Not to mention the extreme strain on the planet in terms of water consumption, chemicals, and other resources, which ultimately end up in landfills.

To illustrate, consider how a cotton t-shirt costing 4 euros, from the planting of cotton seeds to several months of cultivation, harvesting, yarn spinning, fabric production, dyeing, packaging, shipment to manufacturing, clothing design, sewing, packaging again, and transportation, along with marketing and operational costs in developed countries, cannot possibly cover even 10% of those expenses. With an average person earning 10 euros per hour, after taxes and other necessary costs, you're left with 2 euros. Can we grow, process, and circulate a product through all these steps five times an hour? Machines and processes help, but not nearly enough to make it realistic. It's almost like expecting people from the other side of the world earning one euro per day to compete with our craftsmen. An honest and objective price for such a t-shirt is, therefore, realistically around forty euros.

So, can a 4 euro t-shirt manufacturer still claim to be "sustainable" while using various tactics in sourcing and production in less developed countries, profiting from cheap materials and extremely low labor costs? Most likely they had to figure out a way. These profits often result from ignoring human rights, environmental standards, and subsidies provided by different countries that enable these practices. Everyone is satisfied, except for the employees and nature, and that's the essence of sustainability.

But is forty euros too much for us, who have other responsibilities and a limited budget? For most of us, it isn't! So, you might rethink your purchase and, if you decide to go ahead, take better care of the product to make it last longer. Isn't that a solution? Buying less and buying better is what sustainability should be about. In essence, it means moving away from a focus on quantity, collectively signaling to manufacturers that we don't value miraculously cheap products because we know what's happening behind the scenes.

"More in the second part of this article. Part 2 of the article here.

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