Special Briefing: The Unexpected Impacts of Sustainable Fashion

Special Briefing: The Unexpected Impacts of Sustainable Fashion

By OZY Editors


Because how you buy and wear the styles of tomorrow could have a more positive impact on the planet.

By OZY Editors

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.


The fashion industry is no stranger to accusations of environmentally unfriendly behavior and the exploitation of human labor. By some estimates, these practices cost the global economy $160 billion each year. Yet there’s also no shortage of fashionable forward thinkers aiming to overhaul the industry. And through their efforts to pioneer ethical and sustainable fashion, they’re changing the way we dress and live in more ways than you may realize.

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It’s what you’ll be wearing tomorrow, next year and a decade from now that truly matters.

Source Composite by Leslie dela Vega / Getty Images

To help get your closet ahead of the curve, OZY’s Fashion Forward original series dives into these trends and innovators, investigating the myriad ways — from cutting waste and saving animals to preserving time-worn antiques — they’re shaping the future through fashion. What you’re wearing today will soon be out of style. But it’s what you’ll be wearing tomorrow, next year and a decade from now that truly matters.


From landfill to luxury. Neither luxury brands nor fast fashion have escaped criticism over their reckless ways, but a new crop of zero-waste designers is trying to mend that reputation by getting creative while embracing upcycling. Some, like Ambercycle and Modern Meadow, are looking to science — using microbes to break down polyester clothes for use as fresh textiles, or growing leather in a lab. Others are literally digging into the trash, using recycled materials to create clothes from the scraps left over from factories. And while manufacturing zero-waste fashion takes extra planning and effort, observers say consumers are slowly coming around — to both the Earth-friendly approach and the looks.

Art history lessons. Brimming with both creativity and the desire to change the fashion industry, 32-year-old Mimi Prober is looking to the past to preserve the future. In addition to exploring environmentally friendly methods like botanical dyeing, the New York-based designer incorporates antique fabrics, such as old quilts or 19th-century lace, into her modern garments. Prober also crafts elegant jewelry from recycled metals and precious stones, some reclaimed from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Her signature style has caught the eye of celebrities like Misty Copeland and Erykah Badu.

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Vegan fashion designers across the globe are providing cheaper, sustainable goods that deal-hungry Western markets want.

Source Composite by Leslie dela Vega / Getty Images

Vegan payback. As veganism expands globally, a growing number of startups are producing vegan fashion outside the traditional ethical clothing hubs in the U.S. and Europe. Not only are these emerging firms saving countless furry creatures, they’re also boosting their local economies in Asia and Latin America — while providing cheaper, sustainable goods that deal-hungry Western markets want. The major challenge? Ensuring these manufacturers don’t succumb to the same pressures of using sweatshops that have earned fast fashion a bad rap.

Arts and crafts. For Lisa Gachet, 30, fashion isn’t about black turtlenecks and artfully unkempt hair. Seeking to inspire shoppers to create their own look, her pastry-stocked Paris boutique, Make My Lemonade, sells scissors, fabrics and patterns alongside colorful ready-to-wear designs. Because she embraces both the craft movement and female entrepreneurship, some say Gachet is creating far more than just a fashion brand with her accessible and inclusive approach: Her clothes are meant for the woman who asks for a raise while wearing them — having made them herself.


Meet the Entrepreneur Launching the “Etsy of Sustainable Fashion,” by Charlaine Grosse-Lopez in Euronews

“The designers will be carefully selected to avoid any ‘greenwashed’ products — those that look green on the surface but actually have very little ecological focus.”

Does the Ethical Fashion Community Have a Diversity Problem? by Jasmin Malik Chua in Fashionista

“Ethical fashion Instagrammers also often fit a similar mold: female, young, lithe and white — perhaps, as some have suggested to me, because young, lithe white women are likelier to have the time, money and resources to hone their online personas and cultivate a following.”


The True Cost of Fast Fashion

“This is a global problem: Expanding middle classes in emerging markets are hungry for more and cheaper fashion.”

Watch on The Economist on YouTube:

Why Recycling Our Clothes Won’t Save the World

“We need technical innovation, which is how we make our clothes, and we need process innovation, which is how we sell and use our clothes.”

Watch on TEDx Talks on YouTube:


Playing for keeps. To reduce the stress on both your paycheck and the planet, consider OZY’s Immodest Proposal: Instead of collecting tax receipts every time you donate clothing to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or Oxfam, you should receive specific garment vouchers you need to collect before you can purchase new fast-fashion items. That way, you can play your part in keeping carbon emissions in check — and help save the world’s water supply.