With trending words such as “eco” and “green” being thrown around a lot these days, sustainable fashion is gradually growing as a hot topic.

As more consumers rise up demanding transparency, fair and living wages for the people who make our clothes, alternative materials such as organic cotton, hemp and recycled fibres, and more designers rise to the challenge of creating beautiful and stylish garments to meet these expectations, we are seeing a shift in the world of fashion.

It might be small still and has not yet reached the masses but we are optimistic for the day when sustainable fashion is just ‘fashion’ without the prefix. Here, I explore why fashion in the future has to be sustainable.

1. The Big Connection To The Natural Environment

It is weight on the world. Fashion has a big connection to the natural environment, which needs to be protected. Fashion is one of the world’s largest and most resource intensive industries with a connection to the natural environment that is far more dependent than many other activities.

The fashion world has numerous components and a supply chain that crosses multiple other trades including agriculture, design, manufacture, retail, marketing, laundry and recycling services. Its impact when it comes to the use of natural resources, pesticides, chemicals and manual labor is intense and its effect on the environment is second only to the oil industry.

Maxine Bedat, co-founder of Zady, shared the statistic that “the apparel industry is responsible for 10% of the total carbon output for the entire world. That’s 5 x more carbon output than airline travel combined.” These revealing numbers show that, while we have been paying for carbon air miles and green energy cars, the environmental impact of fashion has been flying under the radar.

2. The Rise Of The Intelligent Consumer

In developed countries, we have seen within the food industry, consumers embracing “slow food” movements, demanding organic, Fairtrade and transparency around how their food is produced. The fashion industry is starting to see small shifts and similar trends. Consumer opinion is starting to swell and even though it is by no means mainstream, there are examples of it starting to take effect. For instance, the demand for organic and Fairtrade cotton is now outstripping supply.

Consumers are no longer demanding products. They demand transparency and they buy into a brand’s entire identity and set of values. For an increasing number of individuals, the values they look for include ethics and sustainability. Sustainable and ethical fashion is not a niche market anymore and the business case for sustainability is strong.

3. The Growing Community Stands Up For Sustainable Fashion

The wonderful Lucy Siegle wrote in her book, To Die For; “it has never been more critical for us to consume with care and intelligence” and it rings so true, sustainable fashion is about being conscious of our choices.

The fashion world can have a vital role to play in delivering a sustainable future simply because of all the areas and industries it touches. It contributes huge amounts to economies, creates jobs and holds a significant influence over society and global supply chains. It’s because of this that there is a huge opportunity for fashion to create change.

People will always need clothes and it’s an important aspect of any human culture to have a creative society and to express themselves visually through what they wear. The future of fashion needs to be more about combining the collective energy of an industry that is notoriously innovative and adaptable and using this to stimulate creating a more sustainable and fair world.

4. The Role Of The Fashion Industry Will Change

As natural capital decreases and population swells, the future holds many challenges for the global fashion industry. We simply will not be able to sustain this cycle of careless consumption.

The threat of climate change and resource shortages amongst an ever-expanding population will create demographic changes and profound shifts in the global economy. This will affect the world in ways we probably can’t even accurately anticipate yet.

The role of the fashion industry will change; it will have to adapt when resources become scarce and precious land will need to be allocated for edible grain, not wearable fibers. Its size and impact means there is an opportunity for the industry to have a positive effect on the environment and society that is just as significant as its economic influence.