Principles of Sustainable Fashion

Principles of Sustainable Fashion

Sustainable fashion can be considered an antidote to the disadvantages and negative impacts of fast fashion. The concept recognizes the economic and sociocultural contributions of the fashion industry while also advocating for the need to promote sustainability across all aspects of production and consumption.

The Principles of Sustainable Fashion: A Guide for Suppliers, Manufacturers, Retailers, Distributors, Consumers, and Policymakers


The origin of sustainable fashion as a social movement coincides with the emergence of the greater environmental movement several decades following the Second Industrial Revolution or Technological Revolution and the Second World War. Concerns about the environment specifically grew during the 1960s and the 1970s.

It was in the 1970s when the sustainable fashion movement took ground. The prevailing hippie culture advocated against consumerism and materialism of the mainstream culture. This included snubbing mass-produced clothing from mainstream manufacturers and fashion retailers in favor of products made and sold in local communities.

Several publications disseminated after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development or the Rio Earth Summit featured well-known companies such as Patagonia and Esprit Holdings. These two became the first fashion retailers that spoke about the environmental harm of overproduction and overconsumption.

The growing criticisms against multinational clothing and apparel brands such as Nike and Levi Strauss and Co. due to their use of sweatshop labor in the 1980s and 1990s further exposed the ethical and moral issues of the fashion industry to the public. Advocacies for fair labor practices later became part of the sustainable fashion movement.


Sustainability is the core principle of sustainable fashion. Sustainability in the context of fashion specifically means pursuing market growth minus the harm. The concept can be related to the circular economic model and cradle-to-cradle concept of production and consumption. It is a criticism of fast fashion, overconsumption, and the linear economic model.

The concept is a whole-systems approach. It covers the entire and different aspects of production and consumption. It is specifically concerned with the design, sourcing, manufacturing, distribution or retail, consumption, and disposal of clothing and other related products. The following are the specific principles of sustainable fashion:

1. Environmental Protection: The fashion industry is one of the most resource-intensive and polluting industries in the world. This is also true for fast fashion. Sustainable fashion advocates for the conservation of natural resources, use of suitable materials or production inputs, less waste generation and proper waste disposal, reduction of carbon footprint, and proper disposal of old or discarded products.

2. Worker Empowerment: It also promotes fair labor practices in accordance with established labor rights and workplace standards. The concept advocates against labor exploitation. This means paying livable compensation, providing standard employment benefits, promoting security of tenure, ensuring safe working conditions, promoting workplace diversity, and enriching the lives of workers.

3. Ethical Material Sourcing: The concept advances ethical principles in the supply chain or the sourcing of production inputs. These include prioritizing cruelty-free materials and animal welfare, sustainable practices in relevant agricultural processes, using natural or biodegradable fabrics and other raw materials, avoiding toxic or polluting materials, and ensuring and supporting the welfare of workers.

4. Sustainable Transportation: Movements across the production and consumption of clothing and other related products have been considered inefficient. Sustainable fashion is also concerned with sustainable transportation that does not produce negative externalities. This means advocating for shorter transportation routes from the supply chain to production, and from production to consumption.

5. Circular Design: The specific concept of slow fashion runs in contrast with fast fashion because it promotes circular design. Clothing and other related products should be designed in consideration of a longer product lifespan and ease of repairability, reusability, or recyclability. The concept also encourages quality over quantity through durable products that reduce frequent and disposable purchases.

6. Innovation and Creativity: Sustainable fashion explores innovative materials and technologies. It seeks alternatives to conventional textiles, production inputs, and production practices while also encouraging creative but practical designs that challenge conventions. Examples include upcycling for raw materials, experimenting with novel production processes, and introducing modular products.

7. Cultural Sensitivity: Practitioners of the concept collaborate with local artisans to incorporate traditional techniques while promoting and preserving cultural heritage and the interest or welfare of involved local communities to produce distinctive fashion products. The process also involves gearing away from cultural appropriation and cultural exploitation as a sign of respect for different cultures.

8. Education and Awareness: The concept also informs the consumers and stakeholders about the impact of their choices. This involves encouraging concerned companies to regularly publish reports or provide transparent and accurate information about the origin of raw materials, sustainability of their operations, and quality of products as part of their corporate governance and corporate social responsibility.