What Does It Mean by a Sustainable Garment?– Answered in Layman’s Language

Question: I want to know what is meant by sustainable garments. Can you please explain it to me in layman's language?

In our latest article on sustainability, Aayushi Kumar has explained what a sustainable garment is. But this question is a bit different - an OCS reader asked me to define the sustainable garment in a layman's language. I have penned down to write one short article and sharing the definition of a sustainable garment in plain language that would help you understand the definition of a sustainable garment.

Definition of Sustainability:

Sustainable means conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources (Oxford dictionary). Garments are products and apparel items we (human beings) wear to cover our bodies. When a garment manufacturer makes a garment using sustainable materials, makes the garment following the sustainable processes, while taking consideration of social and economic aspects of employees who were involved in making the garment from fiber to garment, it is called a sustainable garment.

A garment can be labeled as a sustainable garment in many ways. There are many parameters one needs to satisfy before the company gets a certificate for labeling the garment as a sustainable garment. It is true that we cannot make 100% sustainable garment - so instead of trying to make 100% sustainable garments, we can try to improve things to become a sustainable manufacturer and improve our garments' sustainability level.

As a garment manufacturer, you can’t control the cotton firming and fibre production, you can’t control the weaving and knitting process, you can’t control the wet processing and fabric finishing processes to follow the sustainable practices. What you can do, you can source sustainable fabrics and sustainable trims (certified material) for the garments that you will be making in your plant. Follow sustainable practices in your production processes which are possible. 

Meaning of sustainable garment
Image Source: mirror.co.uk 

When a garment is called a sustainable garment (following the definition of sustainable garments)

#1. A garment made of organic fabrics (organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, jute) is a sustainable garment. But if the 100% organic cotton garments are made in a sweatshop by underpaid labors and where there is a threat of life (health and safety hazards involved) for workers, the 100% organic cotton made garments are not sustainable garments at all.

#2. A 3D knitted garment is considered a sustainable garment. When you eliminate some processes from the standard garment making process, it is a step toward making a sustainable garment. The manufacturing process becomes more sustainable – when garments are made with the sustainable process can be called a sustainable garment. 

For example, 3D knitted garments are considered sustainable - here you make the garment directly from yarn. The 3D knitted garment does not pass through the fabric manufacturing, fabric checking, fabric testing, cutting, fabric processing, stitching. You can map how much energy and resources are used in the fabric to the garment conversion process. When you make a 3D knitted garment using 100% organic cotton yarn, the sustainability level of the item increases.

#3. No wet processing, no dyeing, and no value-added process used can make a garment more sustainable by definition. If you do not dye the 3D knitted garments or do not print the knitted garments, and if the 3D knitted garment does not go through the wet processing, this garment becomes more sustainable. Now waterless washing is possible.

Let us consider a garment made of woven fabric, following the cutting of fabrics to the stitching of garments. How these businesses can be defined as a sustainable business.

#4. Are the Khadi items and Khadi garments sustainable garments?

Khadi fabrics and garments are known as a sustainable product, because of no use or minimum use of natural resources in khadi production – fossil fuel-generated electricity, water, and any form of energy. When the yarn is made by hand (Khadi) and weaving of fabric done by hand (handloom), garments are made by hand or blank head sewing machines, you cut fabric by hand scissors, you do not use any electricity. Here the garment making process is 100% sustainable.

But if you look at economic sustainability, most cases khadi may not be a sustainable business. The khadi and handloom industries are not sustainable in the age of fast fashion, where mass production is dominating the manufacturing sector and we go for low-cost items.

We aim for a better life and for that everyone needs money - so when someone involves in making garments (individuals or company) they should earn enough money by selling the garment, they should be able to support their family and business growth. If there is no opportunity of earning enough money, nobody will be involved in making such garments. Making hand-made garments don’t mean that workers need to work hard than the average. In contrast, you cannot meet the market price if you made a garment by hand.

#5. Custom made garments and made-to-order garments are more sustainable compared to mass-produced garments. In made-to-order, the garment is made when someone needs it. In made to order, you don't hold/block materials for making garments. Less processing of the material. The process is sustainable.

#6. When a garment is made from recycled materials (from the plastic bottles or from disposed of finishing nylon nets, from recycled garments), it is also considered as a sustainable garment. Why? You have not used fresh cotton or other resources for making yarns and fabrics, you recycled the resources. You have used what is already there as waste, thus it is sustainable. By using waste material and converting it into a garment - you reduced waste in the environment and made the earth clean. Circular fashion is an example of a sustainable garment.

#7. When you make garments using the garment wastes in the same manufacturing plant, the waste-made-garment is more sustainable compared to the garment made of fresh fabrics. Reason – by using waste materials you stop filling the land by solid waste. Second, you don’t use fresh fabrics.

#8. Garment designs which are made with a least waste generation (no or minimum fabric cutting wastes, no or minimum sewing process. example: Kimono)


Related Article: How to become a green manufacturer with little or no cost.


Conclusion:

Here, I have explained a sustainable garment from the manufacturer's point of view. When we talk about sustainable fashion or sustainable garment in general, there are many aspects to be considered. You might have seen, these days all brands, manufacturing technology solutions associating their product in making the fashion industry sustainable – from the washing machine, printing machines, CAD system, real-time production tracking systems, dye and chemicals manufacturers, process house, textiles mills all are adopting sustainable manufacturing and sustainable practices.

When you use organic cotton, you need certification from companies/organizations like GOTS. If you use the dyeing process and washing process in the fabric stage and garment washing, there are other certifications like ZDHC.

There are many other factors that can level up a garment sustainability level.

The definition and requirement changes as you apply different sustainable words/terms
- sustainable brand
- sustainable farming
- sustainable product (garment)
- sustainable manufacturing
- sustainable process

I will conclude the topic by asking one question to all readers. Fashion brands are making yarns and apparel products from used plastic bottles. Is this recycling process of plastic bottles sustainable?

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