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. It includes 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”. That is, a special outfit that often had a sentimental significance to the wearer. This is 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, provide 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
Minney is the founder of People Tree and CEO of Po-Zu, both sustainable fashion brands. In this book, she 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 also been proven to be more profitable than the traditional business model plagued with the exploitation of cheap labour. Here, Rinaldi and Testa tells us why that is.
16. Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act (2021) by Orsola de Castro
Running out of space for the clothes you can’t stop buying? Curious about how you can make a difference to the environmental challenges our planet faces? This book equips you with a myriad of ways to mend, rewear and breathe new life into your wardrobe. By teaching you to scrutinise your shopping habits and make sustainable purchases, it will also inspire you to buy better, care more and reduce your carbon footprint by simply making your loved clothes last longer.
17. How To Break Up With Fast Fashion: A guilt-free guide to changing the way you shop – for good (2021) by Lauren Bravo
Fast fashion is the ultimate toxic relationship. It’s bad news for the planet, our brains and our bank balances. We can’t go on like this; our shopping habits need an overhaul. How To Break Up With Fast Fashion will help you to change your mindset, fall back in love with your wardrobe and embrace more sustainable ways of shopping – from the clothes swap to the charity shop. Full of refreshing honesty and realistic advice, Lauren will also inspire you to repair, recycle and give your unloved items a new lease of life without sacrificing your style.
18. Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes (2019) by Dana Thomas
In Fashionopolis, Thomas sees renewal of the clothing industry in a host of developments. This includes printing 3-D clothes, clean denim processing, smart manufacturing, hyperlocalism, fabric recycling—even lab-grown materials. From small-town makers and Silicon Valley whizzes to such household names as Stella McCartney and Levi’s, Thomas highlights companies big and small that are leading the crusade.
19. Life Less Throwaway (2018) by Tara Button
Life Less Throwaway is a revolutionary guide to the art of mindful buying. The book will teach you how to resist cheaply made goods and make smart, fulfilling purchases that last a lifetime. Button advocates a life of mindful buying that celebrates what lasts. The book also provides exercises to help curb impulses, ignore trends, and discover your true style.
20. Foot Work: What Your Shoes Are Doing to the World (2020) by Tansy E. Hoskins
In 2018, 66.3 million pairs of shoes were manufactured across the world every single day. They have never been cheaper to buy, and we have never been more convinced that we need to buy them. Yet their cost to the planet has never been greater. In this urgent, passionately argued book, Hoskins opens our eyes to the dark origins of the shoes on our feet. Taking us deep into the heart of an industry that is exploiting workers and deceiving consumers, we begin to understand that if we don’t act fast, this humble household object will take us to the point of no return.
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