Heard the term ‘sustainable fashion’ but not sure what it’s all about? Above all, are you curious to learn more about ethical, conscious clothing production and why it matters?
The fact is the fashion industry is one of our world’s biggest polluters and if you love clothes (like we do!) that can be a pretty devastating thing to hear. From everyday shoppers to designers and makers, the good news is we can all play a part in making it a positive force. It all starts with empowering ourselves through knowledge.
So, in the spirit of enlightenment, here are 15 sustainable fashion books to add to your reading list. Deep dive into the ethics of the fashion industry, whether you’re a consumer or an aspiring entrepreneur.
1. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion (2012) By Elizabeth L. Cline
Great for newbies, this is an informative read that introduces the concept of sustainable fashion and the dark realities of fast fashion. Cline embeds her own personal experiences of shopping unsustainably and sustainably while offering insightful information on everything that goes on behind the closed doors of fast fashion brands.
2. Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Secondhand Clothes (2015) By Andrew Brooks
Written by a lecturer of Development & Environment at King’s College London, Brooks does not shy away from exposing all the hard data behind our consumption of fast fashion. He also deviates from the typical narrative of blaming our unsustainable practices and the perpetuation of poverty in the Global South on new clothes and conducts extensive research on the lifespan of our secondhand clothes as well.
3. To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? (2008) By Lucy Siegle
British journalist and environmentalist Lucy Siegle writes on the ethical and environmental repercussions of overconsumption in the fashion world. What’s more, it taught us that infamous unsustainable practices are not only carried out within fast fashion brands but also within luxury brands who intend to maximize their profits from their (already expensive!) products. Moreover, the book’s intent is not to end on a positive note — it’s meant to prevent us from averting our eyes from the atrocities unfolding in front of us.
4. Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution (2011) By Safia Minney
One of the more renowned publications by conscious fashion leader Safia Minney, this book untangles the intricate webs of the fast-fashion supply chain by including vivid images of the garment workers making our clothes as well as interviews with designers producing ethical clothing.
5. The Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, & Politics of World Trade (2005) By Pietra Rivoli
This book chronicles business professor Pietra Rivoli’s five-year journey around the world to trace the origins of a single t-shirt. Winner of the Business Book of the Year 2005, and a Finalist of the AAP Awards for Excellence in Professional and Scholarly Publishing, 2006, this entertaining read delves into the surprisingly complex politics, economics, ethics, and history behind the seemingly simple process of creating a t-shirt.
6. Wardrobe Crisis: How we went from Sunday Best to Fast Fashion (2016) By Clare Press
Before fast fashion became a trend at the turn of the century, people usually had a “Sunday Best”, a special outfit that often had a sentimental significance to the wearer — a stark contrast to the age of fast fashion where there are 52 seasons a year. Clare Press recaps the history of the fashion industry’s transition from traditional tailored clothing to mass-produced, factory-manufactured garments, all in an engaging, down to earth manner. A must-read!
7. Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics(2016) By Safia Minney
Another book written by sustainable fashion pioneer Safia Minney, this number discusses how slow fashion is now making its way to the mainstream as a countermovement against fast fashion, which has reigned over our consumer choices for over two decades. As a result of doing photoshoots of sustainable trendsetters and bloggers, Minney gives real-life examples of people striving to change the world step by step.
8. Zero Waste Fashion Design (2016) By Timo Rissanen and Holly McQuillan
Interested in upcycling and circular design? This one’s for you. In short, it is a guide primarily focused on educating up-and-coming designers on how to create zero-waste designs. This book also includes exercises on how to maximize fabric yield. Rissanen, who is currently an assistant professor at the Parsons School of Design and McQuillan, an educator at the University of Boras, provides actual design templates that could potentially solve the fabric waste issue today.
9. Wear No Evil, How to Change the World with Your Wardrobe (2014) By Greta Eagen
Part eco-guide, part self-improvement handbook, Eagen takes you on a sustainability journey to revamp your entire life. It’s subsequently divided into three parts. The first part answers why we need to have a more conscious wardrobe. The second segment tells you how to clear out your closet. Finally, the third part shows you how to start a natural beauty routine —all useful ‘how-to’s’ for getting on board with the sustainability movement.
10. Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys (2007) By Kate Fletcher
Geared towards future sustainable fashion designers but written in an engaging tone, Fletcher writes on the various environmental impacts of textiles and synthetic dyes. We think this is still a must-read for anyone considering running their own sustainable fashion business.
11. Governing Corporate Social Responsibility in the Apparel Industry After Rana Plaza (2012) By Anil Hira and Maureen Benson-Rea
In addition to exposing the realities of the fashion industry, Hira and Benson-Rea who are professors of Political Science and International Business, respectively, highlight the key changes that have happened since the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013. But it doesn’t just end at lauding the efforts of corporations. It’s therefore a critical review, emphasising that more changes can be made by large retailers.
12. The Sustainable Fashion Handbook (2012) By Sandy Black
Accompanied by beautiful images, this book is a hands-on guide to the sustainable fashion movement. As a result, this book is a definite must-read for those aiming to establish their own sustainable fashion labels. It also includes articles on fashion brands taking innovative measures to be socially and environmentally conscious.
13. Slave to fashion (2017) By Safia Minney
Founder of People Tree and CEO of Po-Zu, both sustainable fashion brands, Minney uses her expertise gained through working in the sustainable fashion industry to expose the realities of fast fashion. Through micro-documentaries and interviews of garment workers exploited in what is undoubtedly modern-day slavery, accompanied by haunting visuals of the dark side of fast fashion, Minney conveys a powerful message that will surely inspire readers to question their daily consumer choices.
14. We are what we wear: Unravelling fast fashion and the collapse of Rana Plaza(2014) By Lucy Siegle
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in 2013 should not simply be written off as a tragedy. It’s indeed a tragedy with deep roots. For instance, this devastating incident was a toxic business practice involving fast fashion that exploits cheap labour for the sake of keeping fashion cheap. The story of Rana Plaza has not ended. In fact, garment workers still suffer from exploitation six years after Rana Plaza. This well-researched book on what exactly was going on when Rana Plaza collapsed, serves as a painful reminder that we must take action against fast fashion immediately.
15. The Responsible Fashion Company: Integrating Ethics and Aesthetics in the Value Chain (2012) By Francesca Romana Rinaldi and Salvo Testa
Ever wonder how sustainability can financially benefit a company? This book talks about the sustainable fashion movement from a corporate viewpoint. Being a socially and environmentally conscious business has been proven to be more profitable than the traditional business model plagued with the exploitation of cheap labour and Rinaldi and Testa tells us why that is.
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