May 15, 2018 - Ethical & Sustainable

What is Sustainable fashion?

buy less choose well make it last Vivienne Westwood ethical fashion quote Fashion Revolution campaign

Sustainable fashion considers the environment in every step of a product’s life cycle from design, development, raw materials and production to shipping, storage, marketing and sales.

Sustainable clothing brands aim to minimise the impact on the environment as much as possible. They limit the use of natural resources such as water, land, plants, soil and animals and use renewable energy including wind and solar power.

The Ethics of Sustainable Clothing Brands

Sustainable clothing supports good ethics by focusing on improving working conditions for all people involved in the creation of a garment from cotton farmers to garment workers.

Kitenge is a social enterprise that empowers tailors in Tanzania to improve their livelihoods one colourful garment at a time. We are very proud of our tailors’ major achievements to date:


Kitenge founder Sian Wells with tailors at their new workshop in Tanzania


Creating Sustainable Fashion with Organic Cotton

Many sustainable fashion brands use organic cotton as it uses much less water (mainly rainfall instead of irrigation) compared to conventional cotton. It is not treated with chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers or insecticides, which can negatively impact farmers, consumers and the environment.

Organic cotton is grown all over the world from China to Turkey and the US. Other sustainable fibres include linen, jute, hemp, silk, and wool. The popularity of organic clothing is on the increase as consumers start to become more aware of its benefits.

Recycling & Upcycling Clothing

Sustainable fashion brands may also recycle and upcycle garments at the end of their life cycle by turning them into brand new items. Mud Jeans offer a leasing system so you can return your worn-out jeans for recycling and exchange them for a brand new pair! This minimises waste and also saves water.

Other companies such as H&M accept bags of unused clothes, which are sent to their own recycling plant. The fibres that can be recycled are then used to make new items of clothing.

By using only recyclable fibres, sustainable clothing brands help to reduce the amount of clothing that ends up in landfill. Did you know that 95% of discarded clothing can be recycled or upcycled?


95% discarded clothing can be recycled or upcycled Fashion Revolution sustainable fashion fact


Another way sustainable fashion brands protect the environment is by reducing cutting room floor waste. It is estimated that we make 400 billion m2 of textiles annually and 60 million m2 is cutting room floor waste!

They can improve wastage by improving their cutting pattern procedures to get the most out of the cloth, making clothing only to order and recycling offcuts by making them into other products.


It is estimated that we make 400 billion m2 of textiles annually. 60 million m2 is cutting room floor waste (Fashion Revolution fact)


Kitenge recycles all offcuts by making smaller items such as hair accessories, bow ties, bunting and jewellery, which are sold at UK music festivals as well as their African boutique online.


Betty with her tailors Lucy and Levina presenting their finished kitenge African print hair clips handmade using recycled offcut fabrics in Tanzania


Our tailors Betty, Lucy and Levina proudly hold Kitenge hair clips that are made from our recycled offcuts

Sustainable fashion brands also support the ‘slow fashion’ movement by making a limited number of collections per year. Luxury fashion houses, such as Chanel, can produce five or six collections per year! Many Kitenge products are made to order, which means our tailors do not cut the fabric until an order has been received.

Reducing Carbon & Water Footprint

High street fashion brands regularly ship their goods usually from the Far East by air, instead of sea, to keep up with ‘fast fashion’ demand. This increases carbon emissions and negatively impacts the environment.

The way people care for their clothes also negatively impacts the environment. By washing clothes too frequently in the machine at a high temperature with normal detergent uses much water and electricity.


One third of the carbon footprint of clothes comes from the way we care for them Fashion Revolution sustainable clothing fact


Furthermore, fashion brands should continuously improve the amount of water consumption used in their production methods.

Brand new clothing items are worn on average just seven times by women. By simply wearing our clothes for longer it can help to reduce carbon, waste and water by around 20-30%.


extending the life of clothing by a further 9 months would reduce carbon waste and water footprints by around 20-30% each Fashion Revolution quote sustainable clothing UK


Ignore all the hype about updating your wardrobe each season. It is not necessary and you’ll be amazed at how much money you save. Renting, swapping or borrowing clothes and purchasing secondhand or vintage clothing all helps to save the planet.

How You Can Support Sustainable Fashion

Remember the wise words of Vivienne Westwood – buy less, choose well and make it last!

Further reading:

What are the current ethical issues in the fashion industry?

Join the fashion revolution!

The True Cost (movie)

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