At first, it’s hard to believe that the fashion and textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil. However, when you consider all of the chemicals and water used in production, plus the amount of waste and the sheer volume of garments being made, it’s hardly surprising.
I bought my first book on sustainability over 20 years ago (and yes that does make me feel old!) and at the time, it felt like sustainability was seen as something exclusively for hippies. I found it hard to find products that I was excited about, that were also eco-friendly. When I started my first business in 2010, finding ways of running a sustainable brand were difficult and it was a struggle to find a productive way of working. Fast forward to today and (thankfully) there’s a lot of companies out there who are doing research and developing innovative materials that are recycled and/or sustainable, which small brands can incorporate into their business.
If you’re a fashion brand wanting to make a positive impact, you might be wondering where on earth to start. Here’s 4 ways to make positive changes within your business;
- Make sustainability an integral part of your business model
First off, make a commitment to both yourself and your customers, to operate in a way that minimizes negative impact on the environment, people and animals. This initial step will help you in 2 fundamental ways. First of all, by communicating this to your customers and educating them on the meaning of sustainability, you’re giving them the information to make positive change themselves. They’ll also have an understanding of why sustainability is important and how this affects you as a business. For instance, they’ll no longer expect huge amounts of packaging, glossy but non-recyclable lookbooks or fast fashion products.
The second way, is to consider this commitment in everything you do. By making sustainability integral to your operation, you can make sure it’s on the agenda for every part of the development process – from designs, to fabrics, production methods used and distribution.
- Design with longevity in mind
By making designs multi-functional and high quality you can offer a better product to your customer, give them more reasons to buy and reduce the impact on the environment by making items long lasting rather than a one-season wonder that ends up in landfill.
You might have heard of the term ‘zero waste fashion’ and this is a great way to reduce the amount of trash created by production. If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘zero waste’, this means that a garment’s design and pattern is carefully considered, so all of the pieces fit together like a jigsaw and none of the fabric is wasted. It might not be possible to have every design as zero waste, but by considering your patterns and fabric usage you can help the environment and save money on fabrics.
Truly sustainable brands also consider the afterlife of the product; what happens after the item becomes unwearable? Can it be recycled, repurposed or will it biodegrade? Ask yourself what you as a designer can do to ensure the product doesn’t spend the next 200 years decomposing.
- Switch your fabrics for sustainable options
The production of the fabrics themselves is often very harmful to people and the environment in various ways. Chemicals pollute water making it unsafe to drink and the amount of water required in fashion production is unbelievable; it takes an estimated 1800 gallons of water to produce enough cotton to make just one pair of jeans.
Fabric production affects the environment in surprising ways. For instance, many people are unaware that an estimated 120 million trees are cut down every year to make fabric. As sustainable fabrics are such a complex issue, we’ll be covering this in a separate Maker’s Row blog post soon – stay tuned for that!
- Consider your packaging
First thing to ask yourself is, how much packaging do you actually need? Many brands receive deliveries of items which are individually wrapped in plastic bags, grouped and put in another plastic bag and sent in a cardboard box with plastic straps. Or when sending orders to customers, are you wrapping the item in a plastic bag and putting it in a padded envelope (which also has plastic)? Find ways to reduce the amount of packaging you’re using, it’ll even help you save money too, as you’ll be buying less.
For the items that you can’t do without, for example business cards, consider recycled options. Most companies these days offer a recycled card and by not using a gloss finish, the card can be recycled again later. You can use the same principle with day to day items too, like printer paper and envelopes.
Longer term investments are also worth thinking about. For instance, if you’re buying cheap hangers for your store or pop up shops and they keep breaking, you could invest in better quality (and perhaps, wooden) hangers. Although this is more initial outlay, long term you will save money vs repeatedly buying cheap items and you’ll have created less waste.
I hope this post has inspired you to think about ways you can make a positive impact with your brand. The most important thing to remember here is that any positive change is a step in the right direction. All of these steps might seem too overwhelming to take on at once and that’s ok, just choose one to begin with and work your way up to having a fully sustainable business.
Founder, 29andSeptember Studio