Sustainability in the fashion industry is not a passing trend. Millennial and Gen-Z shoppers demand more from the companies they choose to clothe them and their families. Prioritizing sustainable business practices has become vital to not only attract customers in the current marketplace but also to protect future generations. Highstreet juggernauts and fashion solopreneurs have this in common: Their current market position and future growth depend on keeping sustainability as a core focus.
Fashion brands have cottoned on to consumer expectations. Customers have an increased awareness of how clothing impacts the environment. Some brands talk a good game in their marketing, but their practices are lacking. And sustainability is not just about protecting wildlife. Impacts on society, the environment and economics should be as important as profit margins. Only when a brand works these factors into each area of operations can it credit itself as truly sustainable.
Below are five aspects of sustainability for emerging and established fashion brands. I help build brands through acquisition and angel investing, and because I am currently looking at acquiring a fashion brand, the following elements are the key ingredients for which I am looking. As a mentor and coach for startups, these are also steps on which I've advised a new generation of entrepreneurs and founders. By keeping these considerations in mind, I believe you can revitalize your company's sustainability efforts.
Including a sustainable focus in your business strategy might take more time, cost and even a larger team. More research, planning and analysis can help ensure practices put in place are achievable and maintainable. Projects abandoned due to poor foresight are a blow for both the company and sustainability.
Larger fashion brands might be able to custom-build their facilities. This allows opportunities to handpick areas free of endangered species. Restoration and development of land damaged during construction can give back to the local environment and community.
Smaller brands will need to choose a manufacturer that adheres to environmental and social standards. Think about how the facility is powered. Is it possible to power with renewable energy? Is the manufacturer abiding by local environmental regulations? Perhaps you can also install a catchment system to stop microfibers from entering waterways. Protect the environment further by using nontoxic dyes and detergents.
Proper planning will help your brand use resources appropriately. The first step is to forecast demand so you can get the correct amount of material and avoid waste and an unnecessary drain on resources. Choose fabrics that use low amounts of water, land and energy supplies. Avoid any textiles made from fossil fuels. Aim to produce quality and long-lasting products.
Brands can minimize waste by optimizing pattern cutting and reducing errors. Fabric waste can be repurposed in some imaginative ways, and this doesn’t have to be in-house. Several charities accept fabric donations. Search for local crafting charities to get started.
I also believe single-use plastic has no place in any supply chain. Think about how the end-user will reuse or recycle any product or delivery packaging. Once the consumer stops using an item, offer to take it back. Some brands encourage the return of used items by offering discounts on future purchases. Once the item is back with you, can it be repaired or upcycled to extend its life?
5. Social Impact
There are all sorts of requirements and regulations to adhere to as a bare minimum. But hold your brand to a higher standard. It all boils down to treating each member of your team fairly and with respect and decency. Each worker should receive a liveable wage and work reasonable working hours with adequate breaks. Working conditions should be safe and comfortable with adequate lighting and ventilation. Provide opportunities for employees to advance.
True, you might not be directly responsible for the working conditions of each person who touches a product before it reaches the shelf, but you do have a say. Only collaborate with manufacturers and suppliers that have the same social values as your brand.
Setting such high standards does come with extra costs. For instance, I've observed sustainable brands often cannot compete in price with traditional fast fashion companies. But the price is no longer the chief deciding factor in the minds of many consumers. Customers are becoming comfortable with paying more for a sustainable product. The challenge is whether fashion brands are ready to produce less but produce better.
Today, corporate practice is more exposed than ever before. Profit-first tactics are no longer secretly agreed upon in boardrooms. The world is watching how brands navigate into a sustainable commercial landscape. Only the brands focusing on earth's limited resources, the environment and the people it affects will remain.