There is no doubt that the fashion industry is influential to our global economy. It plays a huge role in the world, holding about 4% market share, with a value of $300+ billion dollars. With over 1.8 million people employed in the industry, it is an understatement to say that the fashion industry has its place in the world.
Another truth that cannot be ignored, however, is that the textile industry is responsible for 20% of the industrial water pollution around the world. Moreover, a report by NPR from the Environmental Protection Agency states that 15.1 million tons of textile waste had been generated in 2013. Of this, 12.8 million tons were discarded. With fast fashion focusing on speed and low costs, this problem is only getting worse.
Change needs to be made. With our planet becoming warmer every year and the effects of climate change being real, adding onto any form of environmental waste is detrimental for humanity as a whole. Realizing this, an aim for sustainability in fashion has emerged.
Understanding ethics and sustainability
By definition, sustainability is the act of developing our present world without harming the future – focusing on an environmentally friendly approach. Before understanding what can be done, companies first need to ask themselves the following:
- Where are the textiles being made?
- Are they from a developed country and are the conditions they are being made good?
- What are the materials being used?
- How much are the workers being paid to make these garments?
- Are the working conditions acceptable?
- What sort of standards are applied?
- Do the manufacturers use animal materials and how do they treat them?
- Do they reveal their fair work policies and factory locations?
- How transparent are they about other aspects of their supply chain?
- Are the materials upcycled or recycled?
- How are the textiles being packaged?
Moving forward with action
Upon asking ourselves some of the hard-hitting questions above, it becomes clear whether or not the company is doing the utmost best to uphold sustainability and ethical fashion.
Brands need to make sure that every single stage of the product’s life cycle – from designing to production – is executed through an environmentally conscious perspective. The ultimate aim for any sustainable fashion is to minimize inventory, not solely for revenue alone, but to create a cleaner, better, clutterless world.
Some of the key things that designers, manufacturers, and everyone involved in the process of creating a product line should be wary of:
- Making sure that the natural resources used in the process are all efficiently utilized.
- Ensuring that renewable energy resources are pushed forward at every stage
- Improve the working conditions of the workers, factories, transportation, and stores
- Establish a better, cleaner maintenance practice for washing and taking care of their products
- Recycle and reuse, aiming to reduce waste as much as possible
Starting from the very bottom
A lot of the times, it may be assumed that ethical and sustainable fashion starts with manufacturing. Instead, it should start even lower than that, from the point of picking the cotton from the fields and all the way through till the item lands in the customer’s home.
This means we should be conscious of what sort of materials we are using to create the item. A lot of conscious thought and calculations need to be made to achieve sustainable, ethical fashion. Some examples of things to be aware of are:
- Material – The use of environmentally friendly material, whether it be bamboo, hemp, or organic cotton. Any garment that is made from one fiber can be respun into fibers after it has been worn and used.
- Design – Ensuring that the quality of the fabric is good and whatever design is made can be taken apart later on.
- Production – There needs to be as little waste in the process of production as possible. Furthermore, to truly ensure ethical fashion, the working conditions should be good, with employees being paid fair wages.
- Distribution – When importing and exporting all across the world, this cannot be good for the environment, as it requires a lot of logistical transportation. For this reason, consumers and brands should try their best to support locally-made garments.
- Condition – The better people start taking care of their clothes, the less waste that will pile up. This goes the same for brands, as the more focused you are on making good quality products, the less chance of consumers being dissatisfied or making waste.
Brands and consumers should be wary
At the end of the day, there are two players to this game. While it is important for brands to be considerate of the environment and ensure that they do not keep leaving a negative carbon footprint on the plane, the movement of sustainable fashion does not succeed if its customers are not thinking consciously as well.
Brands need to make sure that they are creating their products with the environment in mind. But, consumers also need to be thinking about what they are purchasing. Everybody wants nice things, but the question needs to be asked: is the product that is being bought, going to be worth as much as it was made?
Challenges in building a sustainable company
While this move into sustainability is one extra step to building a cleaner, more beautiful world, it is definitely not an easy thing to do. The world has moved a certain way for decades, and to change all of that in a single year or few is impossible. There are definitely challenges that should be addressed when creating a sustainable company.
- Openness and transparency – One of the bigger issues with getting companies and organizations to be more sustainable is being completely transparent with how they do things. Although there is a growing pressure for companies to be more open, it is still not something that can be easily adjusted to, especially for organizations that have been around for many decades.
- Growth of inequality – According to a study by Oxfam, 7 out of 10 people live in a country where inequality has risen. Considering the emerging political tension and prevalence of groupthink all across the world, it is hard to fight for something as grand as sustainability and ethical fashion when everyone is concerned with feeding themselves first.
- Undefined metrics – Sustainable and ethical fashion is still something rather new and unfamiliar. Therefore, a metric to measure this by has not been fully established, making it harder for businessmen and women to see the benefits.
- The idea of increased costs – For many businesses that do not know the entirety of what sustainable fashion could do for the bigger picture of humanity, there are too many risks involved. For one, ‘greener’ practices tend to be associated with higher costs for the business, which in turn is placed on the consumers. There just aren’t as many companies that are willing to take that risk for their business for something they have a hard time measuring.
- Convincing management for change – Currently, a majority of the C-suite heads of major fashion companies are run by people of a different generation and mindset. They are less concerned with the environment as those born in the last 10-20 years. For this reason, it may be quite difficult to convince to change and adopt a sustainable approach. According to a survey by 2Degrees, 65% of respondents noted that one of the hardest challenges in establishing a model for sustainability was convincing senior leadership and management. Moreover, even if they were to be convinced, the next challenge was to execute on those practices.
Standing at the forefront of sustainability
The movement towards ethical and sustainable fashion is a long one. There are just too many companies and countries that have adopted the old ways of doing things and are not ready to make a change. Furthermore, one of the bigger issues is simply ensuring beautiful, ethical designs. However, the countries below are breaking the conventional norms and are standing as the leaders in this movement for a better, cleaner world.
- Australia – Besides being a complete nature-friendly country, brands in Australia have been thinking more about how to reduce waste and embrace sustainable practices. Companies like Cue Clothing – the biggest womenswear manufacturer in Australia – has been around since 1968 and makes it a point to maintain predominantly modern European fabric houses to ensure the highest-quality. R.M. Williams is another Australian-born company that has a zero-waste policy that “purposefully designs beautiful and sustainable clothing, boots, shoes and accessories to help you enjoy life’s adventures.”
- Denmark – Another Scandinavian country that joins its brothers and sisters in the sustainability movement has been Denmark. This was evident from big organizations such as the Copenhagen Fashion Week’s CEO Cecilie Thorsmark announcing their duty to ensure they move the fashion industry forward with sustainability. While they acknowledge that things are not going to change overnight, they hope to play a large part in moving things forward.
- Finland – The country has always been about ensuring the environment is clean. In fact, according to the WHO, Finland was known to have the cleanest air among the countries of Europe, with the third cleanest air in the entire world. So, with this being the case, it is no wonder that fashion retailers such as Vietto aim for sustainability all the way. According to the company, they express an “ambition for a more enduring and sustainable fashion,” as they use organic cotton, bamboo/lycra and different kind of merino wool knits.
- France – At the beginning of 2019, Paris, France announced that they would aim to become the world’s leader for sustainability in fashion by 2024, an initiative they are calling “Paris Good Fashion.” They aim to do this by initially improving sourcing and traceability, thereby creating a circular economy. Although this seems quite ambitious, it is not far from a possible reality, as the country itself has made an active shift to stray away from industrialization over the decades. As a result, France had taken the lead as one of the top G20 countries for renewable energy investments.
- Germany – Cities like Berlin are one of the forefront leaders in ensuring fashion is aligned with sustainability. Organizations like UrbanMeisters help to set up a fashion week that highlights ethical designers. Moreover, it is one of the only fashion weeks in the entire world to attract policy regulators and government officials. In the Berlin Fashion Week of 2015, influencers talked about many important issues of regulations in the UK, supply chains and transparency.
- Sweden – Back in 1991, Sweden had implemented a carbon tax and since then, has only increased this. This tax includes motor and heating fuels and has surprisingly not negatively influenced the economy. They also strive to have no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045. Being such an eco-friendly country, denim companies like Nudie Jeans are just a few of the brands that aim for sustainability – making their denim from 100% organic cotton.
- United Kingdom – The idea of ethical and sustainable fashion is nothing new in the UK. This is represented from the fact that there are plenty of brick and mortar stores aimed at selling solely ethical designed fashion. Fashion retailers like The Third State or Brothers We Stand are just a few of the many stores in the UK that place ethics as a priority.
We all have a part to play when it comes to making the Earth a cleaner place to live. It isn’t merely about our life, but the generations of lives that will come after us. Although it is a tough hurdle to go over, slow and steady steps into sustainability will ultimately be for the better.
While building up your business and increasing margins is important, none of it will matter if the environment around us plummets down the drain. It is for this reason, looking into other methods (besides depending on fast fashion to help costs) to improve the business while also making a difference, needs to be made. The world is changing and in that transformation, companies like Chain of Demand serve to help fashion brands increase margins, all the while reducing the insurmountable unwanted waste the industry produces.fashionfashion retailminimize inventoryreduced markdownssustainability