Dani van der Horst

Sustainable fashion is a movement that aims to establish an ethical and more ecologically friendly fashion industry. According to United Nations Climate Change News, the fashion industry contributes to approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to long supply chains and energy extensive production processes. Aside from contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, the fashion industry also contributes to about 20% of global wastewater. It takes approximately 20 000 litres of water to produce a single kilogram of cotton. This is equivalent to a single t-shirt and a pair of jeans.

In recent years, the textile industry has also been identified as a major contributing factor to plastic entering oceans. The current dynamic of the fashion industry is largely driven by “fast-fashion”. The “fast-fashion” approach emphasises cheaper and faster production. This often results in poor working conditions and poor pay for factory workers. The UN has declared the fashion industry “an environmental and social emergency”. It is crucial to establish more sustainable and ethical fashion options.

As a student, trying to become more sustainable is a very daunting task. However, becoming more sustainable might not be as challenging as you originally thought. Dominique Marais is a fashion lecturer at the London International School of Fashion (LISOF). She explains that “living sustainably as a student (or for anyone) is not something that comes naturally to us. It’s not like school taught us how to reduce microplastics in our personal fashion flare or how to minimize our carbon footprint when purchasing clothes”. It is something that involves a large amount of self-educating and continuous active effort, but it is possible.


the fashion industry contributes to approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions


Oftentimes you will go through your closet and find items of clothing that you haven’t worn in over six months, it is important to get rid of these items. Marais suggests going through your closet at least once every six months, to ensure you are not hoarding unnecessary clothes that have little or no use to you. This may seem contradictory, as sustainability is about reducing waste. However, it is the first step towards a trendy and sustainable closet. When cleaning out your closet, do not simply throw your clothes away. You can thrift your good quality items for cash and donate the other items to charities. According to Marais, the most important word when it comes to sustainability is “reduce”. In this case, it is important to reduce what you have but it is also important to “reduce your waste footprint”.

Adding items of clothing to your closet that can be worn multiple ways, is a smart fashion choice as it reduces the number of similar items you may unnecessarily collect. Try repurposing clothes that have been damaged or no longer fit you. Pinterest and YouTube are great platforms to find creative inspiration. Marais suggests “clothes swapping” as another alternative to throwing clothes away. Exchange the clothes you no longer wear with friends for the clothes that they no longer wear.

Purchasing clothing from thrift stores is another sustainable option. Thrifted clothes do not make use of any more energy extensive production methods. It also offers an opportunity to find unique items. The Vintage Square Thrift Fair is a great place to start if you are new to thrifting. It takes place on the first Saturday of every month, at the Duncan Yard Centre on Prospect Street in Hatfield. There are also many thrift stores that make use of social media and other online spaces, as a platform to sell secondhand clothing.

It is quite challenging to shop sustainable brands but some of Marais’ favourites include Hannah Lavery, Nude Ritual and HempLove. The best way to shop for new clothes sustainably, is to find local brands. This way, less carbon fuel is used to transport items. Marais’ favourite local brands include Loved by Elli (a local jewelry brand), Temple of Reason, ESJAY Sportswear, Earthbound Traveller’s Co. and VERSE.

Remember that being more sustainable is a process and that it is okay to slip up on occasion. As Marais says “don’t beat yourself up! Remember this is a process of trial and error. You are going to find yourself at some point buying something from Zara, and that’s okay. I would be lying if I haven’t purchased something from a fast fashion brand whilst attempting to be more sustainable. But when this happens, make sure you use that clothing item to its fullest”.

Try to stick to local brands as much as possible, not only is this a more sustainable choice regarding carbon fuel, items are usually of a higher quality and last a lot longer. Plus, supporting local brands encourages our economy by creating more jobs for South Africans.

Slow fashion is about “establishing a consciousness towards the process before and after the production of a garment”. It encourages quality over quantity. This is done to motivate consumers to avoid unnecessarily updating their wardrobe due to poorly made garments.

Marais suggests that “slow fashion also includes ethical fashion, meaning that brands do not exploit their workers and their product does not bring harm to the environment and animals pre and postproduction”. Research your favourite brands to see how transparent they are. “Ask yourself, how does this brand benefit the environment? Also look into the working conditions of the factories producing the garments” says Marais.

Marais suggests following the hashtag #whomademyclothes to stay up to speed on where your clothes are coming from.


slow fashion also includes ethical fashion, meaning that brands do not exploit their workers and their product does not bring harm to the environment and animals pre and postproduction


South African cruelty-free leather brand, Nick & Nichols, is a good example of a sustainable brand. Nick and Nicole Nyalungu began their journey in 2016, experimenting with rubber tire tubes as an alternative to leather. They create bags, pencil cases and even earrings out of these tubes and their product has been dubbed “vegan leather” because of its striking resemblance to actual leather. Nick states that “there are so many problems in the world that human beings have put there and we need to find ways to reduce the impact of them”. By repurposing old tire tubes, Nick states that he feels as though they are helping stop those tubes from ending up in the ocean or a landfill. The rubber used in most tires contains chemicals and heavy metals. When left to break down in landfills or near bodies of water, these toxic elements leach into the environment and increase toxicity levels. By repurposing this rubber into something else that is useable, this process is avoided. Nick says that the journey towards sustainability is about having a desire to make change.

Nicole says that everyone has the potential to be more sustainable. She says that there are so many ways to repurpose things, especially things that we do not want to end up in landfills. Nick & Nichols is based in Mbombela, Mpumalanga and is currently finishing up the process of becoming a solely online shop. You can follow them on Instagram, @nickandnichols or on Facebook, Nick & Nichol’s for more information and for updates on the new online shop.

They will also be attending markets around the country, so keep an eye out for them.

Sustainable fashion is about making better choices as a whole. Choices that are better for the planet, more ethically grounded and promote a slower rate of consumerism. There is no perfect way to be sustainably fashionable. It is an ever-changing process and requires some effort on your part. If you start out slow and focus on shifting your mindset, sustainability is sure to form an integral part of your life. Always try to make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing clothing, but don’t become disheartened if you slip up occasionally.


Image: www.unsplash.com

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