The fashion industry is the second most pollutive industry in the world. With wasteful practices and processes at every step of the chain, it’s taking its toll on Mother Earth. And now fashion companies are looking to make their businesses more eco-friendly and reduce the amount of waste they produce. To find out what brands are already embracing sustainability and what sustainable practices your business can implement, we spoke to Andrea Kennedy, founder of Fashiondex and a sustainable fashion business expert.
1. What are some brands/designers that are embracing sustainable & ethical practices?
There are so many. Some brands that are walking the walk as well as talking the talk include: Mara Hoffman, who designs sustainable women’s swimwear and separates; Levis, who are well on their way to their goals of 100% renewable energy; Reformation, where environmental impacts for each garment are tracked on their RefScale; Everlane, known for their radically transparent production and pricing; Pact Apparel, making fair-trade knits and underwear; Zero Waste Daniel, where no scraps are ever wasted; Matt & Nat, producing vegan and ethical accessories; Nudie Jeans, producing and repairing socially-responsibly jeans; Kings of Indigo, creating innovative vegetable-dyed styles; and Bead and Reel, the online information and sustainable shopping community. Old brands are waking up and changing their ways and new brands are starting sustainable lines each year. With all these choices, there’s no excuse not to embrace sustainable fashion.
2. Why aren’t more companies trying to actively engage in sustainable practices?
I believe many companies haven’t shifted to sustainable practices and processes yet because they believe it’s too expensive or too hard. Many companies just don’t know where to start, and they think changing everything is difficult and pricey. Many companies get overwhelmed by all the options of sustainability, but all the options are positive. The truth is that any step towards social and environmental responsibility is a step in the right direction, whether it’s changing to recycled fibers and fabrics, using non-toxic inks, eliminating polybags, or producing fair trade. Making any change is a good start and gets the people in your company and supply chain talking about the good moves you are making. In terms of price, when you use fewer resources, you pay less of an overhead. Using selvedges to tie on your hangtags instead of trashing those textile edges is one way to reduce both costs and landfill ingress.
3. What are some of the biggest challenges that come with producing clothing in a sustainable fashion?
The biggest challenge is speed-to-market. Often we need to cut corners to get merchandise to the customers fast enough. Skipping fittings and airing goods in to meet a deadline creates waste and more CO2 in the atmosphere. If we slow down, we can make decisions that are smarter for our earth and all people involved in making out collections. Another big challenge is the minimum order quantities (MOQs) that are set by sewing and knitting factories. Having to produce 1,000 pieces or more per color creates overstock and waste. We need flexible factories willing to make 200 pieces per style, and those are generally in this hemisphere. Lastly, the culture in many of the companies in which we work is a big challenge. The mantra of “why mess with success” often stops new innovative practices from starting because companies fear if they change they will lose. And that’s just an outdated way of thinking.
4. What resources are out there for companies that want to start implementing sustainable practices?
Companies can become members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and use the HIGG Index to measure and access factories. Brands can join Fashion Positive and learn how to design and produce cradle-to-cradle, or tap into the Sustainable Development Solutions Network run by the UN. Companies can sign with the Fair Trade Coalition and learn the guidelines of ethical manufacturing, join Fabscrap to recycle their leftover fabrics, or contact Thre3fold to find a sustainable factory. Also there’s a cool new company, HOVE Social Good, which helps measure your brand’s positive impacts and tell the story of what you’re doing right for your customers.
5. What can the everyday person do to reduce their fashion carbon footprint?
According to friend and fellow sustainable Fashionista, Beth Fiteni, author of The Green Wardrobe Guide, we all can reduce our fashion carbon footprint by trying to repurpose our clothing more and by shopping at thrift stores more often. Beth states, “When you really want to buy something new, seek out plant-based, recycled, and organic fiber fabrics. And when you no longer want a piece of clothing, don’t throw it in the wastebasket—donate or recycle it.” I’d like to add that we should try to avoid purchasing single-use fashion products, and buy from sustainable and responsible brands like those I mentioned before. We can also reduce the number of times we wash and dry our clothing and try to iron less. Remembering to spot clean more reduces energy and water consumption and adds longevity to our clothing. We must keep in mind that sustainability in fashion involves the entire life cycle of a garment, so just as we want the designers to produce responsibly, the designers want customers to wear and take care of their clothing responsibly, too!