The fashion forecast is in and there is one trend that will weather the storm: sustainable and ethical production. Now more than ever, consumers want to wear brands that represent their belief in a better world — and the fashion industry is taking notice. Whether it’s recycled runways or clothes made of eco-friendly fabrics, ethical fashion is no longer a trend. It’s a movement. The question is: how do you join it?
Learn what Ethical and Sustainable means for your Business
Every week it may seem like there is a new buzzword: Ethical. Sustainable. Eco. It can be confusing when you’re trying to work out what this means for your brand. Industry experts may have their own definitions, but largely ethical fashion “covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.”
Don’t be put off by the scope of issues that you can tackle — instead, be motivated. “Sustainability is complex,” says Orsola De Castro — founder of Fashion Revolution. “And this complexity should not be frightening or limiting. It should be a source of inspiration.”
Pick which issues best suit your brand and create a plan to see how you can combat them for a more ethical and profitable business. When you have a clear goal, your customers can’t help but come on the journey. Especially when it leads to a more sustainable and transparent future.
Navigate the Material World
What fabric you choose plays a major role in how sustainable your brand truly is — and in order to join the ethical fashion movement, you need to reduce the impact of those materials.
This means avoiding fabrics that damage the environment such as acrylic, elastane (Spandex or Lycra), and nylon. All of these are made from fossil fuels and are processed into plastic thread. When they’re washed, they shed microfibers that make their way into oceans and marine life. On land, they take hundreds of years to degrade.
It also means considering things like fabric wastage. The Fabric Store is a great example of how to put sustainability at the heart of a business model. Instead of letting deadstock such as mill overruns, cancelled orders or designer excess go to waste, they created a whole new supply chain to repurpose this fabric and make it available for purchase.
The lesson? Become a material girl (or guy). Carefully choose fabric in the design phase of each product and get creative with any leftover material. You never know where it may be repurposed.
Know that you get out What you Put in
Understanding the environmental impact your business may have can be humbling, but it is necessary to truly become a sustainable business. The chemicals we use have a huge impact on the environment and the health of people that work with them. A well-known anecdote in the industry is that people working in the fashion districts of China can predict the color trends for the next season simply from the color of the river.
There are brands that are leading the way in dealing with these issues. Patagonia, for example, refused the anti-wrinkle properties offered by the chemical formaldehyde and chose not to meet the demands of some of its customers. “As a result, we have wrinkly lightweight travel shirts,” says May Dwyer, senior director of materials innovation. “Which I think we’re okay with.”
To be truly sustainable, know the risks associated with what you put into your products and how this will impact the world around you. It forces you to think creatively, trust your audience to follow your ethical vision and ultimately do better for the environment and your brand.
Recognise the Hands that are Hand-Making your Products
In April 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapse killed more than 1,100 people and sparked an investigation into human rights violations such as modern slavery, child labour, unlivable wages, forced overtime and hazardous work conditions.
Increasingly, consumers are calling for an end to these violations. Their petitions and boycotts are impacting fashion brands and the choices they make. Slowly, our society is recognising that “fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere, is paying.”
Whether your brand leverages it or not — your products are handmade by real people. Ethical fashion brands don’t simply ignore them. Instead, they empower them with safe working environments and liveable wages. It’s this type of leadership and vision that consumers want to support and brands can use to promote their products.
Keep track of your Supply Chain
With all these ethical and sustainable issues in the world, it can be hard to keep track of where there may be a problem in your business — particularly when you work with multiple suppliers. What if one of them has improper working conditions? Or are using chemicals you are unaware of?
Knowing the ins-and-outs of your supply chain is key in making sure your business is running ethically — and helps avoid any PR blunders. Fortunately, there are technologies such as automation services and lifecycle traceability that can help you keep on top of your suppliers.
Joining the ethical fashion movement should be filled with joy and excitement. “The key to all of these [sustainable] solutions is that they can be inspiring,” says Stella McCartney. “They don’t have to feel like a punishment.” If you can relish the challenge and rise to it, your business will be stronger than ever.