Defining Sustainability: A Stigmatized Term

Having been apart of the realm of sustainability for three years now, I’ve seen the industry grow and evolve tremendously. Back in 2015, when I decided to focus our efforts on ethical or sustainable brands, the space was far less saturated. But now, it’s a different story--no pun intended (but, sort of?).

First thing’s first, let’s try to define sustainability. It’s a nebulous term because there are many layers of complexity.

The Business of Fashion recently posted an article on the 7 priorities to achieve sustainability in fashion, and it’s spot on. I nodded my head in agreement throughout:

1. Supply Chain Transparency

I like to say that we’re “supply chain focused,” in terms of which brands we work with. I ask every founder what and where their raw materials are coming from, if they can verify that they’re ethically or sustainably grown, sourced, processed, etc. Note that it doesn’t always mean they’re certified. The certifications for organic and natural products are so difficult to obtain and upkeep.

2. Safe Conditions and Fair Treatment of Workers

It’s important that every person involved in the production process is not only paid a living wage--that affords him/her enough to support themselves--but also, that s/he works in a safe and respectable environment. Most brands we work with not only support workers’ welfare, but also empower each artisan or craftsman, and support initiatives that better the local community.

3. Mindful Use of Resources During Production

Efficient use of water and energy during production is imperative for the preservation of the surrounding environment. Equally, if not more important, is the avoidance of chemicals or toxic materials that may be used to dye, print, or produce a good. We’ve worked with brands that employ materials that purify the water, for example, that the dyes they’re using run into.

4. A Nod to the Future

One of the most exciting things, in my opinion, that goes hand-in-hand with sustainability is the rise of innovation. Discovering new production processes, raw materials, and functional uses for waste, makes this movement so inspiring and technologically intertwined. We look for brands that bear in mind the long-term effects of their business and the sort of positive footprint they’ll leave.

So, brands that are operating “sustainably,” as such, are incurring higher costs of production to satisfy those (and other) criteria. That’s why ethical or sustainable goods have an elevated price tag. To that point, the disparity and misconception of what sustainably produced goods are has evolved. I believe there are two ways in which the majority view these goods, on either end of a spectrum: one side (the left, let’s say) views those goods as boho, granola, poorly-made, lesser quality items. On the other hand, “the right” believes ethically- or sustainably-produced goods are just inaccessible, unattainable, or ‘higher than thou’.

How are we to expect the majority to accept a more sustainable lifestyle if they’re sitting on either end of the table?

It starts with education. Hence, understanding what goes into the making of an ethical or sustainable good.

And, truthfully, sustainability needs to be rebranded. In reality, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle starts simply with mindfulness. It solely requires a level of consciousness about your decisions: behavioral, purchasing, and the like. More on that in a later post. It’s called the “slow movement” for a number of reasons, including the fact that it’s a process in itself. Small, non-radical changes here and there make a big impact in creating a more sustainable future.


What are your thoughts on 'sustainability'? How do you define it, or how do you live it daily?