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Sustainable Fashion Starts With Ethical & Fair Trade Design: Clothing for a Better Future

Sustainable fashion starts with design and with you, the fashion wearer. A sustainable approach to making, buying and using clothes is key to protecting the planet, as well as the lives of those involved in the creation of garments.


At BARBARA I GONGINI, we believe that sustainability and fair trade clothing are not just trends, but a cause we can all become part of to secure the future of the upcoming generations.


If you’re interested in making a change, keep reading our views on this topic and discover more about sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry and how you can build a green, zero waste wardrobe.


Sustainable Fashion Design Barbara I Gongini 

Sustainability in Fashion

Sustainable fashion is created by those designers or brands that follow sustainable practices when producing their collections.


Sustainable development is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” according to the UN Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development


Therefore, a commitment to sustainability is a commitment to balancing the short and long-term supply and demand of resources. 


In this context, sustainable fashion is the movement and process of creating clothes, shoes, accessories and other textiles through sustainable practices that take into account environmental, social and economic implications - also known as the triple bottom line pillars. Therefore, sustainable fashion looks beyond product and fabric waste, taking instead a holistic approach to fashion and its interactions with all other systems - social, cultural, ecological and financial. As such, sustainable fashion considers not only users and producers but all living species, present and future generations.


When it comes to fashion, sustainability takes many expressions - sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, fair trade fashion and slow fashion being the most common. Although they have different meanings as you’ll see below, they are, ultimately, alternatives to the same movement - fast fashion.


We discard so many clothes every year, that not even charities and thrift stores know what to do with them. From an environmental point of view, fast fashion which encourages a throwaway mentality is very unsustainable

 Sustainability Fashion Design Barbara I Gongini


Why is Sustainability Important in Fashion Design?

Fashion is one of the biggest industries worldwide, accounting for about 2% of the global GDP. As it is still a growing industry, it’s important to take measures to minimize its negative impact on the environment. 


There are many production processes, such as fabric dyeing, which are very toxic to the environment. According to B2C, the fashion and textile industry is one of the top 3 water-wasting industries in China, discharging over 2.5 billion tons of wastewater every year. In fact, it’s the second most polluting industry in the world -- right after oil --.making it imperative to be aware of the implications and choose eco-friendly alternatives. 


Other prominent issues regarding the safety of workers involved in the making of garments because the true cost of fast fashion, when not paid by the end consumer, will most likely be paid by the workers. The only way that fast fashion can be so affordable is through cheap labor, which can be detrimental to the workers themselves, as well as the development of their communities. 


Incidents such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh have shaken up the industry, determining more companies to contribute to their workers’ safety or otherwise make changes in their supply chain.



At the moment, only a few communities have textile recycling programs. This means that about 85% of textile waste goes to landfills, where it occupies about 5% of the space. Since 95% of post-consumer textiles are in fact recyclable, there should be enough reason to take action in this direction. 


But, before even reaching the end of a garment’s useful life, there are other methods that can help the fashion industry become more sustainable. Initiatives such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and other forums such as the Ethical Fashion Show in Berlin or the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, provide platforms for innovation and exchange of good practices among green fashion designers. 


Sustainability cannot start at the end of a garment’s life cycle but must be applied at every step of the design process. The best green and sustainable fashion companies pursue this goal from the very beginning. Through designs made from long-lasting, ethical fabrics, they encourage longer use and challenge the throwaway mentality stimulated by fast fashion.


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Creating Sustainable Clothing

As mentioned above, sustainable and ethical clothing, also known as ethical clothing, is environmentally, socially and economically responsible. This concept of the ‘triple bottom line’ reveals how you can approach sustainability from a creator’s point of view, but also from a consumer perspective.  


The Triple Bottom Line: What does ‘Sustainable Clothing’ Mean?

To contribute to the well-being of our planet, sustainable clothing produced fashion is therefore made from environmentally-friendly fabrics (such as sustainably grown fiber crops or recycled materials), uses natural resources efficiently and carefully, and opting for renewable energy resources when it’s possible. Its main goal is to minimize waste throughout the supply chain via various forms of recycling.


In addition, sustainable and ethical clothing companies assume a role in defending the rights of workers involved in their production process (social pillar)


Sustainable clothing also carries a fair price. Economic sustainability is not often discussed in relation to the final product, but for a business, it means that it can offer ‘quality products or services that meet market needs and demands and are fairly marketed’(EFF).


Move Toward Sustainability: Forms of Sustainable Fashion

Looking closely at sustainable fashion, you can notice that there are many ways both companies and consumers can move toward more ethical clothing production and consumption. Green Strategy has identified seven sustainable approaches, as follows:

  1. On-demand & Custom-made (such as those made-to-order, tailored, DIY, etc.)

  2. Green & Clean (having an eco-friendly approach in all stages of the product’s life cycle)

  3. High-quality & Timeless design

  4. Fair & Ethical

  5. Repair, Redesign & Upcycle (to prolong the garment’s life)

  6. Rent, Lease & Swap (including donating to charities, giving them to relatives or acquaintances, etc.)

  7. Secondhand & Vintage


As a fashion brand that cares about its impact on the environment, this is how BARBARA I GONGINI approaches sustainability:


Sourcing Environmentally-Friendly Textiles

BARBARA I GONGINI creates avant-garde men’s and women’s garments clothing from ethically produced textiles that are sourced worldwide, as we look for the best options that can turn into sustainable clothing. 


We strive to work with suppliers who respect the EU legislation standards and source a range of materials approved by Oeko-Tex®. These are tested for harmful substances, for both health and environmental reasons.

Sustainable Fashion Design


Some of the garments that are not distributed before the launch of a new collection are upcycled and turned into new, limited-edition of one-of-a-kind designs. Through fabric treatments, new cuts and creative outbursts (paint interventions), old stock and textile waste are transformed into Limited In-house Produced items.


We have a zero-waste approach to garment production and seek to minimize waste in all our processes. Read more about this movement in our editorial on upcycling fashion.


Implementing Industry Standards

As sustainable fashion industry initiatives are still in their early years, we aim to implement them at the highest standard aligned with international codes of conduct, to protect our customers’ interests and determine more clothing producers to adopt them. As such, we urge our suppliers to use RSL testing (control of reduced chemical waste), as well as to reduce water usage and wastage while producing BARBARA I GONGINI designs. 


Additionally, we take pride in rating the collections according to the SAC´s HIGG Index, focusing on three pillars that sustain our approach: recycling, upcycling and byproducts. 


Defending Workers’ Rights

BARBARA I GONGINI’s commitment to creating sustainable and ethical clothing fashion also includes the social aspects of our production processes and store concepts. We aim to work only with suppliers that operate ethically and we visit production facilities on location every year. 


Our suppliers must comply with their national employment laws and regulations, with particular regard to:

  • Minimum age of employment

  • Freely chosen employment

  • Terms of employment: rates of pay, working hours, health and safety

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

  • No discrimination

  • No harsh or inhumane treatment

From sourcing to wearing, there are many ways to go about sustainability for fashion labels and consumers alike. To encourage the production of sustainable garments, the most important things you can do are to prolong the life of your clothes by recycling them, visit ethical clothing stores, as well as buy fewer, higher quality, longer-lasting products.

  Untitled Design 5

 Multiways designs by BARBARA I GONGINI from the Women's SS2018 collection. See all the designs here.


Designing Sustainable Clothing

As sustainability takes more and more meanings, young and established designers find new ways of approaching it. Initiatives go beyond production, distribution, marketing, and recycling practices and seek to revolutionize how we buy and use clothes and for how long.


To change patterns of clothing consumption and use from the very core, a fundamental change needs to take place. This is rooted in the design process. At BARBARA I GONGINI, we approach clothing design with sustainability and ethics in mind, striving to lengthen the life of a garment through careful design decisions. 


Multiways clothing designs

BARBARA I GONGINI’s avant-garde #multiway clothing designs are conceived to be used in many possible styling combinations. 


You are likely to use a versatile piece of clothing more often than other items in your wardrobe. At the same time, being able to personalize it to your own taste and create something unique every time you put it on leads to a special bond between you and that garment.


Timeless pieces of clothing over trends that come and go

The BARBARA I GONGINI approach to garment design rejects the concept of seasonal fashion trends. This idea is highly exploited by fast fashion manufacturers, who use it to sell more and more clothes every year.


The avant-garde attitude to trends goes against the simple pattern of inventing and discarding styles, and instead focuses on continual growth and renewal.


The Avant-Garde Wardrobing Concept

BARBARA I GONGINI clothes are part of numerically ordered collections and are created to fit items from future as well as past seasons, for a more cohesive wardrobe. 


Great fashion design is independent of temporary fads, can be worn across decades, and becomes perennial by virtue of its quality and adaptability.


Sustainable Design Nordic Fashion 

Ethical & Fair Trade Fashion

The Fair trade aspect of fashion production is focused rather on meeting ethical requirements regarding the rights and working conditions of the laborers employed by clothing manufacturers. 


Therefore, fair trade clothing is clothing that was manufactured according to ethical trade standards and was acknowledged and certified by independent organizations for it. 


Fair trade in general - fashion industry included - aims to support manufacturers in underdeveloped countries to get fair prices and proper workers’ rights, all while promoting sustainability. 


As such, the fair trade movement stresses out the importance of protecting the environment by pushing producers - locals and otherwise - to adhere to sustainable and ethical practices such as water conservation, prohibiting genetically modified organisms, making sure waste is properly disposed of, encouraging biodiversity and restricting various chemicals.


The Ethical side of creating clothes is an alternative approach to how clothing is made, from design to manufacturing, distribution and purchasing. It focuses on ethical practices that ensure proper working conditions such as how laborers are treated and paid, sustainable production like how the cotton was grown and the resources it needed, safety at work (aims to ban child labor, sweatshops, worker abuse, slavery), fair trade, environment conservation and animal welfare. In short, it’s a mix of fair trade and sustainable fashion.


Ethical Fashion Design


Initiatives to Dressing More Sustainably

If you want to be a part of the cause of sustainability in the fashion industry, it’s important to educate yourself to buy less and buy betterFiguring out how to buy ethical clothing is easy and nowadays there are many sustainable and eco-friendly fashion lines that offer quality garments at accessible prices. However, even if you find them expensive, consider that they’ll likely last longer and in the long-run, it may cost you more if you spend less money but more often. 


Here are some ways we take to improve wardrobe sustainability:


Opt for Minimum Waste Fashion

More and more people are adopting a no-waste lifestyle and zero-waste clothes are an important part of that ethos. Make sure you understand how your clothes are produced and choose garments made from recycled textiles whenever possible. 


To lower your carbon footprint even more, you can upcycle your own clothes, shop vintage and organize clothes swaps with friends. 


Closing Thoughts  by Barbara I Gongini

Sustainable fashion is not just a trend, but a holistic approach to fashion, that starts with design and carries on through all the steps of the sourcing and manufacturing processes. Fashion can only become truly ethical when it maximizes benefits to people and communities involved in making it, while minimizing its own impact on the environment.


Sustainability is at the core of the BARBARA I GONGINI brand and it constantly informs our approach to design. We wish to create a product that respects the planet, as well as the rights of everyone involved in its making. 


As a reputable and trusted business committed to offering high-quality products to its customers, we recognize our obligation to ensure that our suppliers operate ethically. Therefore, we expect our suppliers to consistently provide an environment which protects their employees' health, safety, and basic human rights.


Since consumers are the ones who power the fashion industry, the most effective way we can push for a more sustainable future is by transforming our consumption habits. This means adopting a mindful approach, that looks beyond instant gratification and towards long-term impact. 


If you find that your fashion tastes are as progressive as your consumer philosophy, have a look at our sustainable avant-garde clothing collections and get inspired by BARBARA I GONGINI’s cutting-edge designs. 

Find out more about BARBARA I GONGINI’s commitment to sustainability



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ImageSabine Kohlöffel