In recent years, sustainability has become a hot topic within the fashion industry. Climate change, environmental degradation, and increased awareness about the dangers of chemicals used in apparel have forced clothing brands and manufacturers to reevaluate their practices, in favour of sustainable ones. The garment and textile industry is one of the largest polluters in the world in terms of carbon footprint, waste, as well as soil, water, and air pollution. In the last decade, this revelation resulted in many start-up brands focusing on sustainable clothing, which prompted larger brands to join the sustainable fashion movement.
Whether you already launched your brand or you are in the initial steps of creating one, this article will help guide you on how to join the sustainable fashion movement and become a successful, eco-friendly brand.
Choosing the right manufacturer.
The first step on your journey to becoming a sustainable brand is to choose the right manufacturer. Your manufacturer should be a trustful partner with whom you share a common vision. If your goal is to be the most sustainable possible, make sure your manufacturer is also in that state of mind.
It is important to communicate with your manufacturer, ask questions about their processes. If possible, visit the facilities. It is always easier to see yourself the people and the work environment. Make sure they respect ethical norms: No child or forced labour, fair wages for employees, safe work conditions, etc. You can also ask for certifications such as Fairtrade, GOTS or Oeko-Tex.
Look for manufacturers that are geographically close to you. It will be easier and cheaper for you to visit the factory. It will also reduce the lead-time, and costs of the transportation of your samples or total production. And if this doesn’t convince you yet, think about the rainforest: It is a good way to decrease significantly the CO2 production related to your transportation.
If your brand is located in Europe, look primarily for factories based in Europe as well. It will be advantageous for you in terms of costs and taxation and there won’t be risks to see your goods blocked at the border.
Switching to eco-friendly materials.
Another measure to take is turning to more natural materials. Synthetic materials are made by a process that transforms petroleum, a fossil fuel, into plastic fibres, the same ones that compose disposable plastic bottles for example. This procedure is very polluting. Among these synthetic materials, polyester is the most used fabric in the fashion industry: Around 60% of textiles on our shelves are composed totally or partially of polyester. These huge amounts of polyester processed every year cause air and water pollution in the regions where it’s produced.
Cotton is a natural material but its production is very water-consuming and needs a lot of fertilizers and pesticides to grow. Moreover, most of the conventional cotton is grown using genetically modified seeds that provoke environmental problems such as soil and water pollution and biodiversity harm. Switching to organic cotton is a good option: It doesn’t contain chemicals that could be harmful to human health or the environment and is genetically modified-seed free.
To go further, you can choose even cleaner fabrics. Try to work with hemp or linen: They require way less water than cotton and don’t need fertilizers or pesticides to grow. Both hemp and linen are extremely durable fabrics and they soften over time. You can also work with wood-based materials such as Tencel, bamboo or rayon.
Another important thing is to make sure your clothes will be recyclable: Use fabrics composed of only one material, 100% cotton or 100% polyester for example. Indeed, only pure materials can be recycled: It is currently impossible to separate the fibres of a fabric, so blended or mixed materials won’t be recycled and will end up in landfills.
Last but not least, don’t forget to ban chemical dyes and use instead natural ones, derived from plants, invertebrates or minerals: Indigo, turmeric or even henna, Mother Nature is full of alternatives.
Think about the way you’re delivering your products: Packagings are a big part of the waste generated. Most shops still give or sell plastic bags to their customers and fill their delivery cardboards with bubble wrap, which contribute to non-recyclable waste by ending directly in the customer’s trash bin – plastic bags have an average life span of 12 minutes. Here are a few options to make your packagings greener.
For your in-store customers, switch to recycled paper bags. Paper is recyclable, reusable and biodegradable. Even better, you can offer tote bags made of organic cotton or hemp. They can be reused as shopping bags for years and they’re also an easy way to promote your brand.
If you were thinking about switching to biodegradable plastic bags, they are a good idea in theory only: They are indeed degradable under certain circumstances but end up most of the time in landfills where they produce a highly warming greenhouse gas.
If you have to deliver your products, cut off any polystyrene or plastic items from cardboard and choose instead biodegradable materials to protect the goods during shipping. Cornstarch packing peanuts are a good alternative: They are compostable or directly disposable in minutes by adding water to them.
Also, reduce the number of layers you use in your packages: No need to have a huge box filled with tons of paper or packing peanuts for just an article when you could use a smaller box and less paper.
And if clients ask for gift wraps, get inspired by Japanese Furoshiki, fabric gift wraps that you can make with the textile scraps resulting from your production.
What about going circular?
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy is based on three main principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems.
It means that what you produce should be designed for sustainability, longevity, and resource efficiency and that your sourcing and production processes should be ethical, efficient and local.
If you apply our previous advice on your production, you’re already halfway: Making sure your suppliers work in ethical conditions, that they are located close by, that your materials are recycled and/or recyclable and don’t present harm to human health or the environment, and making efforts to reduce waste when it comes to packagings are already a big part of the job.
You can take the extra mile by allowing your customers to return the clothes they won’t wear anymore at your shop. You will be able to recycle the materials and reuse them for your next line. You can also upcycle them in other items: Turn old cotton t-shirts into tote bags, leather jackets into wallets or large shirts into summer dresses. The possibilities are infinite and will give clothes another life; knowing that extending the lifetime of a piece of clothing by just three months will reduce its water and carbon footprints, and waste generation by 5 to 10%, it is a serious solution to consider.
All of this can seem a lot, and it is, but take it one step at a time. Mother Nature will thank you later. To find your ideal manufacturing partner and participate in the sustainable fashion movement, visit Sqetch.