It feels good when we do our little part to make the environment better.
We separate our recyclables, conserve water, and avoid using plastic straws. But applying sustainable living concepts to fashion is a bit more challenging.
The global fashion industry hasn’t ironed out exactly what eco-friendly standards are for clothing so there isn’t a North star to follow for guidance.
Many menswear brands including those for gay men have begun to define themselves as eco-friendly by their material resourcing, product output, and overall company transparency. Which is great because we need to start somewhere. But there’s a noticeable cost increase when you begin shopping eco-friendly clothing. We also have our established brand loyalties.
How can we shop more eco-friendly while retaining our personal style and keeping our budget under control?
Providing an exhaustive list of “green” clothing companies is boring and feels surreptitiously promotional. Instead, let's better understand what sustainable fashion is and how to navigate eco-friendly shopping.
The Cost of “Fast Fashion”
By now, we’ve all become familiar with the harrowing statistics of fast fashion production.
Fan-favorite's like Zara, Topman, and H&M provide us with trendy and inexpensive clothing but at a cost. The fast fashion process of high volume output at low retail expense creates pollution throughout production.
According to the UN Environment Assembly, clothing manufacturing contributes to 10% of the global carbon emissions (more than international flights and maritime shipping combined) while also being the second-largest consumer of water worldwide.
Yet the biggest environmental problem with fast fashion is us. We’re throwing away these low-cost clothes at alarming volumes.
“This (fast fashion) has led consumers to see cheap clothing items increasingly as perishable goods that are ‘nearly disposable’, and are thrown away after wearing them only seven or eight times.” Kirsi Niinimäki, Professor of Design at Aalto University said.
Why Does Eco-Friendly Clothing Cost More?
Eco-friendly apparel, and ethics, come at a higher price tag. Fast fashion’s inverse is the process of utilizing natural fibers, fewer chemicals, recycled materials, and fair trade worker conditions.
- Natural and Sustainable Fibers: Instead of using petroleum-based materials like polyester, eco-friendly fabrics are created from renewable fibers like linen, organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, organic wool, and silk. These are biodegradable resources and less damaging to produce.
- Fewer Chemicals: Processing clothing with traditional dyes wastes large amounts of water and utilizes caustic chemicals. Low impact and natural dyes are a much greener alternative.
- Recycled Materials: Eco-friendly companies are purchasing unused fabric, essentially leftovers, to create their lines. While others are recycling plastics and synthetic fabric into entirely new materials. Upcycling is an increasingly popular alternative for generating fashion textiles.
- Fair Trade Work: Holistic eco-friendly fashion includes the treatment of people, not just the environment. ‘Fair Trade’ labels indicate that designers followed a strict program to ensure that workers earn a living wage in healthy conditions throughout product production.
Many sustainable minded fashion folk have nicknamed this eco-friendly production process “slow fashion”.
Tara St James at the Sustainable Strategies Lab for Pratt’s Brooklyn Fashion, explains
“Slow fashion is the movement of designing, creating, and buying garments for quality and longevity. It encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and (ideally) zero waste.”
How To Build Sustainable Fashion Into Your Daily Life
We all want to do our part to help the environment but maybe aren’t ready to buy strictly eco-fashion clothes or abandon our personal style. Here are reasonable ways for gay men to begin incorporating sustainable fashion into your wardrobe.
Shop with versatility in mind
Trend pieces are fun but consider longevity before buying new clothes. Purchasing shirts and pants with a streamlined design means that you can wear them for years. Versatile clothing can easily be paired with your existing styling and layered throughout the seasons.
Blend eco-friendly basics into your closet
A great jumping-off point is to start buying eco-friendly basics like socks, t-shirts, joggers, and sweatshirts. You wear basics often and the price point is accessible. Everlane and Patagonia are the top tiers of versatile eco-friendly clothing but menswear companies Buck Mason, Todd Shelton, and Outerknown are rising in popularity.
Recycled clothing - where it makes sense
Clothing brands are taking advantage of the high-performance materials created by recycling bottles, carpets, plastics, and synthetic fabrics. Workout clothes are ideal for clothing made of these materials because of their durability. Shockingly, the company Repreve has recycled more than 20 billion plastic bottles into activewear.
Get it second hand
Vintage shops, thrift stores, yard sales, or stealing a favorite t-shirt from your best gay friend are all paths to reusing clothes so that they don’t end up in a landfill.
Research a company before you buy
We’re increasingly critical of what companies we give our money - with good reason.
Many global fashion brands have started blending sustainable materials and ‘Fair Trade’ certified clothing into their product assortment. Before you buy something, investigate how environmentally conscious the company is.
To help you on your research quest, the Australian company Good On You developed a database that reviews then rates fashion companies on their overall impact on the planet, people, and animals. At goodonyou.eco you can search thousands of brands to see how they score.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither is eco-friendly fashion. But understanding it’s place within your world and incorporating sustainability into your life is a pretty good start.
Matt McFall for KeYou