Written by Alexandra Palmer
Sustainable fashion has never been as ‘fashionable’ as it is right now. And we don’t just mean the fact that more and more people are looking for conscious clothing these days, but that more and more brands want to be a part of this movement. The government has already clamped down on other industries for ‘greenwashing’, and it’s only a matter of time before the fashion industry is held to similar, more legal standards. Here we’ve rounded up the best ways to know if a fashion brand is sustainable, just from doing some simple research.
WHAT IS THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY?
What are the issues we’re concerned about? From water contamination to soil degradation to carbon emissions there isn’t a corner of the planet unharmed by the fashion industry. Untreated water from factories are often released back into the environment harming aquatic life (and the people who live in surrounding areas). Extensive and harmful chemicals are used in the farming and processing of materials which not only affect the soil, but the surrounding ecosystem.
We’re not only talking about the manufacturing process but the disposal of unwanted and often unused garments. Putting wasted resources aside, 350,000 tonnes of fashion waste are sent to landfill each year, much of which will contain fabrics and materials that are non biodegradable.
1. WHO'S WHO?
First things first, is to understand exactly who you are purchasing your tee’s and tank’s from as it’s not always as straightforward as whose name is on the label, or above the shop door, especially in the world of collaborations and acquisitions. Take Pretty Little Thing who is now owned by Boohoo after the UK online retailer bought out the remaining minority shares, and Converse which was acquired by Nike in 2003.
It’s not only important to know who is making the decisions behind the brand, but it’s important to know who you are giving your money to and what impact that business has on the environment. Do your research and vote with your wallet.
2. DO THEIR VALUES MATCH THEIR ACTIONS?
Rewind twenty years or so, it was enough for a brand to say the right things in order to tick the CSR box and no one gave it much further thought. But today, consumer awareness, corporate governance and social media make it easier to hold brands to their values.
Are they living up to their sustainability claims? Or, are they shining the spotlight on one area of the business while discreetly sweeping another part under the rug. For instance, claiming that they only use GOTS certified cotton but also work with overseas factories with unethical employment practices and have high fashion miles due to global shipping.
Do your research. Most brands have a company profile, an ‘About’ page on their website, a social media presence so you can quickly find out whether their values are in line with yours and you can pretty much guarantee that if a brand is taking positive steps to reduce their impact on the planet, they are going to shout about it — and so they should.
Something to look out for though, is the brands who are silent on the matter, or worse still, those who spend more time and money on portraying the image of being sustainable, than on sustainable practices.
If you want to dig a little deeper some of the bigger brands will have investor information or Report and Accounts which will usually provide a more realistic account of their priorities than their public persona.
3. WHICH MATERIALS DO THEY USE?
One of the ways you can tell whether a brand is sustainable is by the materials they use which you can usually find out about on their website or their labels. We’re talking about the entire process from cultivation, to harvesting, to manufacturing and the impact on the planet such as water usage and the use of pesticides or harmful chemicals.
There has been a lot of innovation and experimentation in this area over recent years from bamboo to plant based leather and it’s something to keep a close eye on because what can be good for the environment in some ways, can be harmful in others.
In short, the most sustainable materials are those that have been repurposed or are second hand. Take SIRPLUS, a sustainable menswear brand which was founded upon the principle of using hiqh quality surplus fabrics to design their signature pieces or PANTEE who turn deadstock T Shirts into ethically and sustainably made underwear.
If you want to brush up on the latest developments in sustainable materials, read this guide for more info.
4. WHO IS IN THEIR SUPPLY CHAIN?
Transparency is key. Truly conscious brands will want to know exactly where their supplies and materials are coming from and will have gone to the effort of vetting each and every single one, from their treatment of employees, to the manufacturing techniques, to the materials that are used along the way - and where those materials come from. In order to minimise their impact on the planet and society, a brand needs to engage in responsible sourcing and will most likely be proud to share this journey with you.
5. CHECK THEIR CERTIFICATIONS
One of the easiest ways to tell whether a brand is sustainable? Check their certifications to make sure that their materials and supply chain meet sustainability standards. From the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) to Fairtrade to BCorp, make sure the brands you shop with are meeting the worldwide standards for ethical and sustainable practices. Helpful tools that certify a brand's credentials include Positive Luxury's interactive butterfly mark and apps like Good On You, that lists a brand's credentials rated using their comprehensive system.
6. HOW TO REDUCE YOUR OWN IMPACT
The best way to make your wardrobe more sustainable, is to reduce your personal consumption, make conscious, considered purchases, and where possible, buy preowned.
Once you’ve got your garments, rethink the way that you care for them from the temperature you wash them to going longer between wash cycles. Check out Fanfare’s guide for Planet Protecting care here.