June 13, 2024

Emile Jenkinson-Ramirez, a 24-year-old freelance makeup artist from Ajax, Ont., says she was forced to re-examine her fashion choices about five years ago after watching a video on YouTube that explored the circumstances of underpaid employees in Bangladesh working in the fashion industry.

That was when she realized she needed to be smarter about the clothing she buys. 

Nowadays, Jenkinson-Ramirez practises sustainable fashion by shopping for pieces that will last longer from small businesses in her area — some of her favourite brands include Pashion Footwear and the Slo Fashion Company.

To her, sustainable fashion is clothing created in an environment with equitable pay and fair working conditions, while keeping its carbon footprint in mind.

“I’m happy … this is being talked about more, because people like myself didn’t understand the difference [between fast and sustainable fashion] for a long time,” she said.

According to the environmental news site Earth.org, the fashion industry is responsible for eight to 10 per cent of global carbon emissions. It takes about 2,600 litres of water to make one cotton shirt and 7,500 litres for a pair of jeans, and Earth.org says 80 billion pieces of clothes are produced every year — a 4,000 per cent jump from 20 years ago.

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Jenkinson-Ramirez is part of a generation that’s increasingly aware of the environmental consequences of fast fashion. Faced with both climate change and inflation, Generation Z is changing its shopping behaviour.

Sustainable fashion “needs to become more rooted in people’s everyday lives,” she said.

About more than shopping

According to a survey by Vividata, a Canadian non-profit research organization, 44 per cent of Gen Z respondents (people aged 12-27) said they were willing to pay more for sustainable fashion, while 45 per cent said they like to shop second-hand. (As a comparison, 32 per cent of respondents 18 and older said they were willing to pay more for sustainable fashion.)

But dressing sustainably is about more than just shopping, says Audrey Henderson, a spokesperson at Fashion Takes Action, a Canadian non-profit that promotes sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry.

“Being a conscious citizen — or responsible consumer — doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to spend a lot of money on a ‘sustainable brand,'” Henderson said. “The key is taking the time to be intentional with your actions. It’s the opposite of impulse-buying or purchasing something because the price is simply too good to pass up.” 

Earlier this month, Fashion Takes Action organized an event in Toronto called ReMode, which gave visitors the opportunity to engage with the community and different vendors that produce sustainable fashion.

A social media account for a climate content creator.
Canadian-based content creator Karishma Porwal espouses environmentally conscious fashion choices on her Instagram account. (@karishmaclimategirl/Instagram)

One of many designers practising sustainable fashion is Michelle Good, founder and creative director of Gemine Designs. Based in Toronto, Good created her collection from natural and sustainable materials such as tencel fabric (made of wool pulp), organic hemp and bamboo materials. 

“Sustainable fashion is an extension of who I am,” Good said. 

With attendees ranging from Gen Z to Gen X, the event featured talks by influencers and experts who explained how to reduce their fashion footprint. There was also a clothing swap, where participants donated unwanted clothes and sifted through what others had brought in.

One of the speakers at ReMode was Karishma Porwal, a 26-year-old content creator based in Kitchener, Ont., who uses TikTok and Instagram to discuss climate change. She proudly says she stopped buying fast fashion about eight years ago. 

“Sustainable fashion is a mindset,” she told CBC News. “There’s a term for people who don’t eat meat, but there’s not a term for people who don’t shop fast fashion.”

On her platforms, Porwal covers topics such as microplastics and climate law. She says she aims to provide answers to questions people may have while also discussing parts of the system consumers should be questioning.

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‘The Earth deserves better’

Isabelle Sain, a regional co-ordinator at Fashion Revolution Canada, which is part of a global non-profit that educates consumers about the fashion industry, says fashion “will never be sustainable because of the many resources it uses to make clothes.”

Sain believes while sustainable fashion can be a practice, consumers need to be more aware and educated about the ecological aspects of producing clothing. 

“Fashion is a medium that is used to express ourselves and tell our stories,” Sain said. “It has the potential to be a beautiful connector. The Earth deserves better.”

A rack of clothing in a store.
A rack of clothing in Bad Dog Co., a secondhand store in the Glebe neighbourhood of Ottawa. (Submitted by Luke Webster)

ReMode’s goal is to show consumers how to make the clothes in their closets last longer with what the organization calls the 7 Rs of Fashion, which include repurpose, repair and resale. 

“Being more sustainable means you’re buying because it’s something you genuinely need and know you will wear it for a long time,” Henderson said, “while also thinking about the impact your purchase will have on people, planet and animals.”


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