Many are calling this the year of sustainability, and while critics continue to question the progress of the movement towards a better fashion industry, things are happening! A fashion forecaster recently told BBC that “brands without some kind of sustainability strategy are in trouble.” It’s hard to know exactly what the future will hold, although we can take a look at fashion innovations being implemented now for guidance. Rounded up below are five of 2019’s biggest sustainable fashion trends. However, if you know anything about fashion, you know we can always count on change. Will each of these become the future of fashion, or prove to be temporary solutions? We’ll have to wait and see.
2019’s Top 5 Sustainable Fashion Trends:
1. 3D Printing
3D printing uses computer technology to create three-dimensional objects. This allows designers to custom make pieces for individual customers. 3D printing’s rising popularity in recent years has innovative technology trending amongst independent designers and industry-leading brands alike. Recently, Rachel Stott of The Future Laboratory told BBC that the popularity is due to consumers’ desire for creative input and “hyper-personalized products.” While the custom nature of 3D printing continues to attract luxury fashion spaces, the technology is also celebrated in the sustainable fashion community. 3D printing greatly reduces waste, and in some cases, produces zero waste! When created with eco-friendly materials, 3D printing provides an efficient solution to many of the fashion industry’s problems. The downside of fashion technology lies in potentially leading to a smaller workforce. Yet, some companies, such as Stratnel, argue that “3D printing will transform workers from ordinary machine operators to value-adding employees.”
2. Recycled Polyester
Recycled polyester is one the biggest sustainable fashion trends of 2019. Recycled polyester refers to polyester which comes from recycled plastic. This often means PET (polyethylene terephthalate) from plastic water bottles or particles retrieved from the ocean. Brands of all sizes jump at the chance to use recycled polyester for its durability and low carbon footprint in comparison to virgin polyester. Since we have yet to find an accessible and all-natural alternative to synthetic fabrics, using recycled polyester seems the best way to obtain elasticity at the moment. A negative impact of the recycled material manifests in the issue of microfibers. Every time we wash a garment made from any form of polyester microfibers, or microplastics, the garment can break down and shed into our water systems. Experts argue that there needs to be an overhaul of the domestic washing machine so that every household is equipped with the technology to filter these microplastics out. Until then, companies like Patagonia and Girlfriend Collective have provided solutions for customers by way of the GUPPYFRIEND™ Washing Bag and The Microfiber Filter respectively.
3. Clothing Rentals
Though our values as consumers are altering, a desire for constant wardrobe change remains ever-present. Clothing rentals solve this conundrum by providing trendy, and often designer, clothing without the production waste. Our very own Rebecca Blake Thompson penned a piece mentioning a prime example of this phenomenon, Rent the Runway. She pointed out that “at 10 million members strong and growing, this trend is clearly not slowing down.” Clothing rental companies provide customers with a sense of newness while having a less detrimental effect on the environment than fast fashion. However, there are still some problems with clothing rentals when it comes to sustainability. From the harsh chemicals used to dry clean returned clothing to plastic-filled packaging, renting clothing can still create a large environmental impact. Ideally, companies like Rent the Runway will continue to dive further into sustainable actions in the future.
4. Vegan Leather
From animal cruelty to environmental damage, reasons to avoid traditional leather continue to pile up. Leather goes through tanning processes with harmful chemicals in order to be softened enough for wearable use. These chemicals often end up in local waterways, contaminating drinking water for miles. While a good amount of the leather sold does come as a byproduct of the food industry, many leather garments require raising the amount of livestock killed annually. Vegan leather avoids these issues entirely. The challenges with vegan leather lie in the absence of environmentally-friendly and accessible alternatives to traditional leather. Many vegan leather options consist of synthetic materials and plastic that do not biodegrade. Several companies are trying to combat this issue by finding options made from natural materials such as pineapple leaves, algae, and mushrooms. These leather alternatives solve many of the sustainability problems that vegan leathers can cause, however, they are not largely available yet. Fortunately, companies like Modern Meadow are revolutionizing the industry through “biofashion.” At Modern Meadow, the company is working toward creating “commercial biofabricated materials that will be animal-free with a lighter footprint on the planet.” Cheers to that!
5. Organic Cotton
Traditional cotton production is notorious for using massive amounts of chemicals and water in its cultivation process, leaving many brands to forgo using the crop. Organic cotton, a popular alternative, uses much less of synthetic chemicals than traditional cotton. This results in better soil health, less toxic runoff, and healthier working conditions for those tending to the crops. Due to the more conscious nature of organic cotton farming, laborers also often receive fairer working conditions, making this one of the many sustainable fashion trends worth pursuing on the human front as well. Although organic cotton can leave a far smaller footprint on the environment than traditional cotton, it is not always guaranteed. Going organic can sometimes mean using more water than conventional cotton, as well as the process being more time-intensive. Fortunately, most organic cotton is rain-fed. Additionally, programs like Better Cotton Initiative and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) help keep cotton manufacturers accountable. Learning these production standards can help when looking for sustainable guidance, as well as keep consumers educated about the manufacturing process behind the brands we are putting into our shopping cards.
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