Look local for sustainable fashion

The 'eco savvy' movement continues as local fashion brands promote a more sustainable and conscious approach to fashion. But with a third of the population unemployed and consumers trying to cut back on expenses, are local brands making sustainable fashion accessible?
Dylan Rothschild
Dylan Rothschild
According to Dylan Rothschild, managing partner of local fashion brand Lontana Apparel, “The industry can no longer ignore the fact that fashion and textiles are the world’s second largest polluters, second only to the oil industry. With the rise of ‘fast fashion’, it has become clear that fashion brands need to do what they can to bring about a more sustainable, eco-friendly approach, while still maintaining quality and affordability.”

As eco-consciousness increasingly permeates the social collective, consumers are doing their part to reduce the impact of fast fashion on the environment.

These measures include shopping less; buying higher quality garments to reduce waste; supporting eco-conscious brands; and shopping for previously owned, vintage clothing. Choosing to purchase locally-produced items is one of the simplest first steps to take in this direction.

Shopping closer to home

“Our products, like our famous Madiba shirts and now protective masks, are produced locally, made by local workers, with South African consumers in mind,” says Rothschild.

The sustainable benefits supporting local fashion:

  • Promotes community enrichment. Locally produced products provide much needed jobs to our South African communities. For example, during lockdown due to Covid-19, Lontana Apparel worked with over 20 external CMT manufacturers, providing over 1,000 people with work they otherwise might not have had.

  • Improves the local ‘ecosystem’. Buying locally keeps money in the community, benefiting the area as a whole and fostering togetherness. It also allows for local businesses to help each other grow – local clothing brands can supply local stores and other surrounding businesses may be able to use off-cuts or other recycled materials.

  • Reduces the use of fossil fuels. More than 80 billion articles of clothing are bought each year, and transporting these billions of items adds up to a massive expulsion of greenhouse gasses – in fact, the fashion industry contributes to around 5% of global greenhouse gasses. Supporting local fashion means not contributing to the massive amounts of pollution caused by fossil fuels used to transport textiles.

  • Ethical fashion. Knowing where a brand’s clothes come from means consumers can be comfortable in the knowledge they aren’t contributing to unethical practices such as sweatshops and the exploitation of workers and environmentally-damaging megafactories.

  • Prized possessions. Buying locally also means consumers are more likely to buy items that aren’t mass-produced, disposable bulk products but specialised, quality items that will last longer and reduce waste.

The rise of conscious consumers

Consumers are better informed than ever, and are doing their research when it comes to the environmental impact of various producers. Globally, many large fashion industry players have had to rethink their approaches after being labelled bad for the environment, and it shows – the US sustainability market is projected to reach $150bn in sales by 2021.

South Africans reuse and recycle clothing at a far greater rate than in first world countries. Unfortunately, this is driven more by economic need than a desire to be environmentally friendly.

Our clothing and textile industry has also faced devastating consequences from cheap imports and job losses in the sector, which have risen to almost 30%, as evident in the closure of the Edcon Group.

However, there are signs that more South Africans are shopping locally. Independent designers have seen an increase of about 10% since the previous year, according to SA Fashion Week’s 2019 annual report. The government is also doing their part to increase local textile and clothing sales, with a new plan to broaden locally produced fashion sold in stores from 44% to 65% by 2030, which could create as many as 120,000 jobs.

What are eco-conscious consumers looking for from local fashion?

So how should fashion brands be ensuring and improving sustainability?

  • Produce sustainable, quality items. Fashion items should be well-made, from quality fabrics to ensure length of use. Long-lasting items go a long way in reducing waste and the piling of items into landfills.
  • Recycle. Fashion brands can recycle and reuse fabric and textiles to create new items without adding to the global impact of water shortages and pollution caused by manufacturing and growing cotton and other materials.
  • Local for locals. Hiring locals enriches your community and lessens the environmental impact of transport.
  • Organic materials. Organically produced clothing reduces the release of damaging pesticides, dyes and toxins into the environment.
  • Transparency.Let consumers know the journey their clothing takes before they buy it – knowing where their clothes come from allows consumers to make a more informed ecologically conscious decision, and reassures them of the ethical nature of their production.

“We understand that our consumers are well-versed in the environmental discourse of today, and that they want ethically-produced, quality garments that are budget-friendly. It’s up to us, and the rest of the fashion industry, to do our part in creating sustainable and ecologically conscious products,” concludes Rothschild.

About Lontana Apparel

Lontana Apparel Factory was founded in 1999 in Cape Town and is one of the most established remaining shirt factories in the Western Cape. Lontana was acquired by the Presidential Group in 2017. To help fight the pandemic caused by Covid-19, Lontana is now and until further notice producing quality bulk disposable and reusable face masks. For more information, please visit lontana.co.za

Lontana Apparel
Lontana Apparel was founded in 1985 and is one of the oldest remaining shirt factories in the Western Cape. To help fight against COVID-19, Lontana is producing quality bulk disposable and reusable face masks.

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