The Evolution of Sustainable Fashion: When did Sustainable Fashion start?

The Evolution of Sustainable Fashion: When did Sustainable Fashion start?

2023 has been a challenging year for humanity, testing our resilience and resourcefulness. Amidst the difficulties, sustainability in the fashion industry has seen remarkable milestones, reminding us of our capacity to bring positive change even in tough times. As we embark on a journey through the history of sustainable fashion, we question whether it is truly sustainable and how far we have come.

The Roots of Sustainable Fashion

The movement for sustainable fashion dates back to the 1970s, influenced by counterculture hippies. Embracing locally-grown, handmade, and pesticide-free products, they rejected the mass production culture of the 1950s. The seeds of sustainability were sown, challenging social norms and promoting conscious consumption.

The Counterculture Hippie Movement of the 1960s and 1970s


Empowering Producers with Fair Trade

In 1989, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) emerged, enabling economically marginalized producers and farmers to improve their livelihoods and communities. The association, comprising 401 organizations worldwide, actively fights poverty, climate change, gender inequality, and injustice, making a positive impact on the fashion industry's global supply chain.

Advocating for Ethical Working Conditions

The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), founded in 1997, stands as the largest alliance in the fashion industry, advocating for the human rights of workers worldwide. Driven by a mission to defend and improve workers' rights, CCC promotes safe and ethical working conditions and calls for an end to exploitation in the fashion industry.

Clean Clothes Campaign starts week of action to urge brands to sign the  2018 Bangladesh Accord — Clean Clothes Campaign

Defining Sustainability Standards

In 2002, the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was established, setting internationally recognized textile processing standards for organic fibers. The GOTS label is awarded to companies that meet stringent environmental and social standards, ensuring high-quality, safe, and sustainable organic fabrics for consumers.

The Rise of "Slow Fashion"

The term "slow fashion" was coined in 2007 by Kate Fletcher, promoting a more deliberate and thoughtful approach to fashion. Inspired by the slow food movement, slow fashion emphasizes quality, durability, and ethical production, aligning with the psychological and physical needs of consumers.

Egenskab Ligegyldighed kun kate fletcher Zealot Behandle Torden

Industry Collaboration for Sustainable Change

In 2009, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) brought together over 200 members, including retailers, brands, suppliers, and advocacy groups, united by a vision of creating an apparel industry with no unnecessary environmental harm. SAC's mission is to have a positive impact on people and communities and drive the industry towards sustainability.

Towards a Circular Economy

Dame Ellen MacArthur launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2010, promoting the idea of a circular economy in the fashion industry. Partnering with major fashion retail giants, the foundation strives to eliminate waste and embrace circular practices, transforming the linear/throwaway economy into a regenerative one.

Tragedy Sparks Revolution

The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 claimed over a thousand lives, awakening the world to the unethical and inhumane conditions of the garment manufacturing field. Fashion Revolution was founded in response, advocating for transparency in the fashion supply chain and systemic reform in the industry.

The True Cost of Fast Fashion

"The True Cost" documentary, released in 2015, shed light on the social, environmental, and economic impacts of fast fashion. The film's premiere at Cannes Film Festival coincided with the Fashion Revolution Day, igniting a global movement for a more ethical fashion and textile industry.

Commitment to a Sustainable Future

In 2017, major brands like Inditex, H&M, and Adidas signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. This commitment sets sustainability milestones to be achieved by 2020, fostering a shift towards a circular economy system.

Combatting Plastic Pollution

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched the Global Commitment programme in 2018, rallying over 500 companies to address plastic pollution. The programme aims to eliminate unnecessary plastic use, promote reusable and recyclable alternatives, and keep plastic items within the economy's circulation.

Accelerating Sustainable Practices

Throughout 2019, the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) successfully reduced clothing and textile waste, promoted sustainable materials like eco-friendly cotton and recycled polyester, and educated consumers about the importance of sustainability.

2020: A Year of Revelation

In 2020, the #PayUp campaign demanded brands to pay suppliers and workers for lost wages due to the pandemic, unlocking $22 billion for employees worldwide. Luxury retailers signed an open letter calling for transformative changes in industry practices.

Challenging the Notion of True Sustainability

As we celebrate the progress made in sustainable fashion, we must question if it is truly sustainable. Despite these commendable milestones, the fashion industry remains one of the largest polluters globally, with significant environmental and social challenges yet to be fully addressed.

An Ongoing Journey

Sustainable fashion is not a destination but an ongoing journey towards a cleaner and brighter future. It requires collaboration, innovation, and commitment from all stakeholders, including consumers, brands, manufacturers, and policymakers. We have witnessed the power of movements, alliances, and initiatives shaping the industry, but it is up to each individual to play a part in this transformative journey.

Join the Discussion

As you reflect on the evolution of sustainable fashion, we invite you to join the discussion. Share your thoughts on whether the fashion industry's progress is enough to achieve true sustainability. Engage with brands, ask questions, and make conscious choices as consumers. Together, we can take sustainable fashion to new heights and build a better future for our planet and its people. The journey towards true sustainability has just begun, and we must embark on it with passion, determination, and an unwavering commitment to positive change.

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