By changing the sustainable fashion realm, companies and brands are altering consumer habits in an attempt to save the planet.

By Naomi Barling.

Interest surrounding sustainable and ethical fashion is growing fast as consumers are developing what has been termed a ‘consumption conscience.’ The topic has been propelled from the shadows of the industry into the spotlight along with the realization that time is running out. Over-consumption is no longer an option.

Sustainable fashion has struggled to shake its preconceived aesthetic of expensive linen, hemp colored trousers, and tie-dye apparel. This was a bland visual representation of a fundamental design and cultural shift that is actually rooted in structural innovation.

These popular misconceptions are being addressed by new purveyors of fashion. @Future_Dust is an Instagram account headed by Alec Leach reporting on fashion made using sustainable methods in an easy-to-digest manner, and platforms like Good On You and Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index offer a trusted ethical rating system for sustainable brands.

Fashion actually ties into multiple global industries, from agriculture to transport, technology and retail, packaging and transportation. The production of fashion and textiles typically requires water, energy, chemicals (including pesticides), fertilizers, chemicals for dyeing, and raw materials that can be farmed, mined, or extracted. So, there are a myriad of layers that need to be addressed when it comes to new garments.

Often, our consumer culture disempowers the individual, but help is on the way in the shape of tangible shopping alternatives that will help you align your moral compass and love of seasonal trends.

Enter the circular economy, a radical new philosophy that aims to outsmart capitalism so that it aids, not harms, the environment. The circular economy is a speculative system where we would recycle products again and again, turning waste into new product. Working toward a truly circular system would drastically reduce the industry’s carbon footprint, and this is where consumers can have a huge impact.

uy vintage from resell markets like Vestiaire Collective, The RealReal and Thread Up. They offer you guaranteed authentic high-end pieces. My Wardrobe is reinvesting itself as a rental service for the designer clothing it once simply sold, and Harvey Nichols is introducing an after-care service for shoes and bags to encourage customers to restore rather than replace purchases. Resale commerce is growing 21 times faster than the high-street, estimated to be worth £52 billion in five years.

Shop secondhand and from small businesses on Depop, Grailed, eBay and the countless brick-and-mortar stores that stock incredible vintage pieces you can give a new lease on life to, think Beyond Retro, Rokit in the U.K., or places like Beacon’s Closet or Goodwill state side. The first market-leading fashion brand that does not make clothes, William Vintage, is a London-based vintage label that has dressed the likes of Adwoa Aboah and Rihanna. There are also brands which are rooted in upcycling. Elv Denim reimagines landfill denim, Bode has made a name for their one-off pieces, 1/Off Paris collages designer pieces that have been thrown away, and Moss Omey makes custom slip dresses out of vintage fabrics.

There is also a growing sharing economy which has altered many areas of our lives. Our wardrobes are not far behind. A recent study by Westfield London found that the U.K. clothing rental market has a potential value of £923 million and is forecast to boom over the next few years. Renting our clothes requires a change in mindset, in order for products to be repeatedly recycled, we’d need to move to a system where we pay to use things, rather than own them. A post-ownership model would create a clear incentive for brands, as the most efficient brands would be the ones who recycled the most, making longevity the main focus.

A rental model gives you more flexibility in your wardrobe choices and allows you to keep up the tradition of wearing new pieces each season. It’s already happening at Netflix, Spotify, DriveNow, and Zipcar and weirdest of them all, Share Your Pet. Rent the Runway and Beijing’s YCloset have shown there’s money to be made from leasing clothes and London’s startup Higher Studio is a high-end rental service, which leases gold dust archival pieces from the likes of COMME des GARCONS and Maison Margiela. The company also works with small designers to create pieces specifically designed for the platform.

Higher Studio isn’t the only one making the connection between renting and the environment — there’s HURR, By Rotation, OurCloset, frontrow, The Nu Wardrobe, and COCOON which give users the opportunity to rent, subscribe, and even lend their clothing.

What we need versus what we want is critical in minimizing our carbon footprint.

For so long we’ve been lulled into thinking there is no alternative. A sustainable, eco-responsible fashion future is ours if we grasp it. But we must first make that choice, and our shopping habits should be the first point of call.

Image via @sustainablefashionuk