What is sustainable fashion and what are its impact on the planet and benefits to users

Upgrading your wardrobe can come at a cost - not just to your wallet, but to the planet too!

The fashion industry is a major contributor to pollution, responsible for 10% of global CO2 emissions and generating 20% of the world's wastewater through fabric dyeing and treatment processes. This has led to rivers becoming biologically dead.

The big question:

What's the solution to this problem?


Brands such as No Nasties, Earthy Route, and SeamsFriendly were founded on sustainable principles, while mainstream brands like Levi's and H&M have also taken steps towards sustainability.

Wondering what sustainable fashion is, when it started, and how it differs from regular fashion?

We've got you covered. Keep reading for all the answers.

What is Sustainable Fashion?

‘Sustainable Fashion’ is a term for clothing that's made with the planet in mind. This type of fashion has several key characteristics, including:

  • Natural Fibres: These clothes are crafted from materials like cotton, wool, silk, and linen, which have a lighter impact on the environment than synthetic fibres like nylon and polyester.
  • Natural Dyes: Sustainable fashion uses dyes that are gentle on the environment and conserve water. The by-products from natural, plant-based dyes are also easier to treat, making them a smart choice for preventing water pollution.
  • Eco-Friendly Packaging: Sustainable fashion comes in minimal packaging and the packaging is made primarily of paper and cardboard.
  • Green Facilities: The facilities where sustainable fashion is produced often use renewable energy, recycle water, and make the most of textile waste. The headquarters of House of Anita Dongre in Navi Mumbai is an excellent example of this.
  • Fair Labor Practices: The sustainable fashion industry prioritises ethical treatment of workers, in contrast to the fast fashion industry, which has faced criticism for poor working conditions and sweatshop labour. In the wake of Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of over 1,100 garment workers, sustainable fashion is a beacon of hope for a safer, better work environment.

History of Sustainable Fashion

Before industrialisation in the 1800s, fashion was mainly both sustainable and timeless. However, the shift from small units to large industrial complexes resulted in ecological damage, and sustainable fashion is a relatively new concept.

While there is no exact date for the beginning of the sustainable fashion movement, it has been around since the Environmental Movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

This movement drew attention to the environmental pollution caused by industrial fashion and how its rapid pace harmed the environment.

In response to these concerns, various initiatives were launched to promote sustainable fashion practices, such as using organic and eco-friendly materials, ensuring fair labour practices, and reducing waste and carbon emissions.

Why do we need Sustainable Fashion?

There are very few industries on which entire humanity is dependent on a daily basis, fashion being one of them. Other equally important industries are food and real estate. Now when you are catering to a need as crucial as this, it's essential to do it sustainably.

Fashion is among the significant polluters globally, but it doesn't have to be this way always.

Sustainable fashion is a ray of hope. It emphasises using natural fabrics, eco-friendly dying, bio-degradable and minimal packaging, harnessing renewable energy at facilities and creating a more humane work environment for garment workers. By putting these practices into action, we can create a positive ripple effect and help make the fashion industry truly sustainable for both people and the planet.

Here are 3 ways sustainable fashion helps our planet:

1. Lesser load on landfills

India accumulates around 7800 kilotonnes of textile waste annually. To put it in perspective, this is almost equal to the weight of 1.9 lakhs Boeing 737-800 planes!

The global statistics aren't promising either. 85% of textile waste goes to landfills! Sustainable fashion can help reduce the burden on landfills by advocating for slower, more meaningful production and judicious use of resources.

2. Better air today & tomorrow

Fashion industry contributes 10% of the global carbon emission! This is way more than the combined carbon emission of the airline and maritime shipping industry!

Carbon emission is directly responsible for global warming, and we must act sooner. Research predicts that if the situation doesn't improve, by 2050, the fashion industry could contribute 26% of carbon emissions.

Sustainable fashion becomes all the more important to combat climate change and give the future generation a planet with clean and breathable air.

3. Let the rivers live and give

An industry can rarely cause a river to become biologically dead. But fashion has done that; in Bangladesh, 3 rivers were declared biologically dead due to toxic waste from nearby garment factories.

A sustainable fashion that consumes less water and avoids toxic chemicals is a step in the right direction. It's high time we take proactive steps to switch to sustainable fashion so that our rivers and lakes can continue to live and give.

Differences between Sustainable Fashion and Non-sustainable Fashion

We connected with Ms. Gauri Varty, co-founder of Earthy Route, a sustainable fashion brand, to understand what separates sustainable fashion from the rest. She adds:

Quote by Gauri Varty, co-founder of Earthy Route
Differences between Sustainable Fashion and Non-sustainable Fashion

It's important to remember that sustainable fashion is vast and constantly changing, and there are several methods and definitions of what qualifies as a sustainable fashion business or product.

The comparison chart above should clarify some key distinctions between sustainable and unsustainable fashion processes.

Are there Sustainable Fashion Brands in India?

India is the birthplace of khadi, and today with 51% global share, the nation is world’s largest producer of organic cotton. The government and private brands are increasingly adopting sustainable fashion and leading global change.

The Government of India launched the ‘Sustainable and Accelerated Adoption of Efficient Textile Technologies (SAATHI)’ program in 2018, intending to boost sustainable fashion. Private brands are increasingly going all sustainable and setting an example for the industry.

Here are 5 sustainable fashion brands from India and what makes them eco-friendly:

1. Earthy Route

  • They use sustainable fabrics like Lyocell and Linen. They use much less water, are biodegradable, and are great for the Indian climate.
  • Zero waste packaging - They use FSC-certified paper envelopes and further reduce their carbon footprint.
  • Repurposing textile waste - Textile waste is used to make carry bags, hair tyes, laptop sleeves, etc. This is innovative, generates employment, and is excellent for our planet!

2. Ethicus

  • They use cotton grown organically that is free from harsh chemicals and pesticides.
  • Focus on doing things the traditional way - They handpick cotton and manually grade them. This ensures superior quality, makes the entire process more eco-friendly and generates employment in rural areas.

3. House of Anita Dongre

  • They use sustainable fabrics like Bemberg™ and TENCEL™.
  • It is also a member of The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a not-for-profit organisation promoting global cotton sustainability.
  • They do not use fur and leather in their products.
  • Less carbon, more care for Earth, via their design headquarters in Navi Mumbai:
    • They harness natural sunlight to lower energy consumption.
    • 67% of wastewater is recycled and used for lawn irrigation and flushing in washrooms.
    • 100% of their e-waste is disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

4. No Nasties

  • They use 100% organic cotton to make planet-positive clothing. Organic cotton is sourced from small-scale farmers who grow it without using GMO seeds or toxic pesticides.
  • They plant 3 trees for every product bought.
  • Eco-friendly packaging - They use reusable and returnable packaging for shipping in India. And yes, you won’t find endless plastic tapes around their product, or for that matter, even no polybags!
  • Their planet-first approach has yielded some pretty impressive results:
    • 3,03,10,358 (30+ mn or 3+ cr) of water saved
    • 1,66,518 kg of carbon offset
    • 73,849 trees planted (this is kind of a mini-forest, pretty impressive, isn’t it?)

5. SeamsFriendly

  • Usage of 100% natural, plant-based fabrics and eco-friendly materials.
  • Made-to-order makes them a brand truly for all sizes and leads to minimum possible wastage.
  • A cruelty-free brand, they don’t use leather, silk, fur, and wool in their products.
  • Maximum usage of natural dyes that are driven from plants and vegetables and are azo-free. Our rivers and lakes will love them for this.
  • Eco-friendly packaging - They ship products in 100% cotton reusable cloth bags that are made from leftover fabrics. Now that’s some fantastic usage of waste materials.

Your Choices Matter

It’s not okay:

  • To wear a dress just once or a few times and then discard it.
  • To buy a piece of clothing just because it's trending.

However, it’s okay:

  • To make purchases based on careful consideration and only when you really need that outfit.
  • To use your clothes extensively. You worked hard to earn and pay for it, so why not utilise it to its fullest?
  • To not upgrade your wardrobe with the slightest change in fashion trend.

This planet belongs to each one of us. It's upon us to take care of it and hand it over to future generations better than we received. And we can do it only if we are careful in our daily choices and prefer products and brands that ultimately benefit you and the planet.

Choose wisely.

After all, your choices matter.