The negative effects of the fashion industry on the environment are well known. The industry’s current operations have a devastating environmental impact. Natural resources are being used at a faster rate than they can be replenished, and there is more clothing produced by brands than ever before. Kristy Caylor is the CEO and cofounder of For Days. For Days sells organic basics with zero waste. “When clothes break down, they release methane, which is more dangerous than CO2.”

assorted-color clothes hanging on metal racks

Many fashion brands have been rethinking their practices in the past few years. Mara Hoffman, founder of the eponymous fashion label, decided to go sustainable in 2015. “The change was caused by discomfort. Hoffman tells us that when I learned about the negative effects of the fashion industry on the environment, it was clear to me that I couldn’t move the company forward in such a way anymore. It was also a result of having a three-year-old son at the time. Understanding my ‘legacy’ and his reality, as well as dealing with what I had left behind, helped me to make this decision. We had two choices: close down or change our methods. We chose to modify our methods.

She is now a leading voice in sustainability fashion and her aesthetic is well-known. She admits that it wasn’t an easy transition. Hoffman says that six years ago, there was a new world of sustainability. It was difficult to convince wholesalers who had been purchasing from us for many years that the new system was the best. Hoffman has proved she is right. In 2020, consumers are more interested in sustainable brands and secondhand clothing.

“We have witnessed shifts in the way our customers think about sustainability. “In the mid-’90s, customers used to inquire about the origin of the product or whether it was made in a sweatshop. “When we started celebrating Earth Day in our retail shops [in the mid 2000s], with a focus of organic products], the customer would ask about the differences between ‘organic’ and ‘natural’,” Amy Hall, VP for Social Consciousness at Eileen Fisher. Eileen Fisher has long been a champion of this movement and its sustainable practices include the fabric selection to its take-back program. We hear from customers about animal welfare, living wage, and chemical toxicology. The customer today is more informed and educated than they were a decade ago.

woman wearing red dress

Cassandra Dittmer is a sustainable brand consultant. She also works as a stylist. Although we understand it conceptually, access to responsible brands isn’t always easy. She points out that price is one of the main factors that discourages shoppers from purchasing sustainable fashion. It is usually more expensive to buy new. Dittmer says that being able shop sustainably is an enormous privilege. Many people don’t have the resources or time to make sustainable decisions when trying to provide for their family and themselves on living wages. If we want to make it easier for the masses to join the bandwagon, then we need to find more options.

It’s also important to note that consumers often have difficulty discerning between brands who are actually following eco-friendly practices or those who are simply exploiting their popularity. Dittmer says that it is important to ask brands if they are using buzzwords, or if they actually describe and detail their practices. You can tell if sustainability is a core part of the brand’s mission by the way they speak about their clothing and manufacturing processes. If I cannot find information online about a brand, it usually means that sustainability is not a priority.

Transparency is therefore key. It “creates an architecture of accountability, both internal and external, and invites your community to the journey and the joy behind creating the product,” says Vanessa Barboni Hallik. Another Tomorrow’s founder and CEO, Vanessa Barboni Hallik, allows customers to scan the QR code on their care labels to see the origin of each garment as well as the choices made during its creation. Transparency is essential to sustainable fashion’s future. It raises the bar by changing customers’ expectations, creates accountability, restores that relationship between the customer, the person who made the clothes, and creates respect.

people sitting on chair inside building

However, fair wages and the treatment of garment workers are still important topics that often get overlooked in discussions about fashion sustainability. Sami Miro, founder and CEO of Sami Miro Vintage, which uses vintage (as much as organic) fabrics in its collections, believes that the two are intrinsically connected. “If we’re speaking about sustainability, then it is about the planet. The people aspect is, however, another subject. However, it is essential that you are good to the planet and the people living there.

Fashion brands will continue to be challenged by consumers to demonstrate transparency and follow ethical practices. This will drive them to become more sustainable, if only to remain relevant. Chantel Davis, designer and founder of Castamira swimwear, said that she sees more brands adopting sustainability practices. It’s a win-win situation when a brand realizes that it can both make a profit and make a difference.

What does it look like to be a truly sustainable brand? Dittmer says that “being truly sustainable varies from region to region, and it’s no one-size fits all label.” “Personally, before I recommend any brand or work with them, I always think about the three E – ethics, environment, and economics – that go into creating a new product. It’s all about making the best possible decision.

We will be discussing some of the most important things sustainable brands should consider when creating their brand.

What are Sustainable Fabrics?

Every brand must make the right fabric choices when operating in a sustainable way. Many eco-friendly brands choose natural materials and avoid synthetics that can contribute to microplastics. They also support local farmers who use innovative methods to restore the ecosystem. They look for durable, high-quality fabrics.

Hoffman says that we began slowly replacing old fabrics in 2015. You want to make sure that your investment in fabrics and materials will last. This has led to an increase of price. Miro believes that consumers need to be more aware of why it is more expensive to do things ethically. This will help create a more sustainable future. The biggest problem with sustainability is that many people don’t get it. She says that some people wonder why this item is so expensive for their brand. The first is that we purchase high-quality, upcycled fabric. When you add fair wages and a short supply chain, it becomes even more clear why costs add up. And why a T-shirt shouldn’t cost $7.99 at a fast-fashion shop.

gray metal tool on white textile

Organic is more than just a term when it comes to cotton material. “The cotton industry is a significant user of chemical insecticides and pesticides, including some the most dangerous pesticides available. Barboni Hallik says organic and regenerative agriculture are crucial in reducing chemical use for the sake biodiversity, soil health, as well as the health of local farming communities.”

Miro also uses organic fabrics. However, Miro also uses vintage and upcycled materials. This is a trend that has been growing in popularity among brands trying to reduce waste. “Upcycled fabrics” are fabrics that have been used by other brands. These fabrics are essentially waste. They’re leftover fabric from other brands. Miro says that upcycling fabric is better for the environment because it eliminates the need to make new fabric. This is one of the main reasons fashion is so harmful to the planet. You’re creating beauty from fabric that would otherwise be going in our landfills.

The environment is better if the fabric can be kept in a rotation for longer periods of time. A product can be made of upcycled materials and then worn by customers. Then, the product is reintroduced into the product cycle. Hall says that the primary goal of any product should be to keep it in circulation as long as possible, before breaking it down and recycling it into new materials. Hall states that once that has occurred, the goal is to keep the upcycled product in circulation as long as possible. To reduce, or even eliminate, the use of virgin materials in any new material.

Some have even taken to using fabric made from actual waste. Girlfriend Collective, an activewear brand, has made a name of itself for its use of recycled post-consumer plastic bottles in their products. Castamira uses Econyl(r), for some of their swimsuits. Davis explains that the yarn is made from fish nets taken from the oceans as well as fabric scraps from carpet mills. “This was done to recycle the materials from landfills and fill the oceans.

What Does Labor Practices Have to Do with Sustainability?

Consumers have been becoming more aware of the poor treatment of workers at the top brands since the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013. “The fashion industry has become increasingly dependent on fast and cheap fashion. It seems that we forget that without garment workers, no of our products could exist. Hall says that we collectively forget to recognize that the workers who make trendy, cheaper garments might not have received enough money to feed their families.”

Consumers are trying to improve their shopping habits and it is difficult to ignore the inhumane treatment workers receive. This has become a more important topic in 2020, when several brands refused orders for COVID-19-produced products. This resulted in a decrease in income for workers who rely on their small wages. Miro invites you to reflect on the process of making that $7.99 T-shirt.

“You pick the fabric and create it. The fabric is then washed and dyed. The fabric is then sewn by a person. The fabric is then shipped. Think about all the steps: how much fabric it costs, how much it costs for the product to be made, how much it costs you to wash it, sew it, and finally, how much it costs to ship it. These fast fashion brands still make a profit, even at a $7.99 price. They are worth billions. How much does the person sewing those garments get paid to keep it at $7.99? It’s frightening.”

A brand must make labor practices part if it wants to be truly sustainable. It should also ensure that people who wear the clothes are earning living wages and working in good conditions if they want to be truly sustainable. Hoffman states that a brand cannot be considered sustainable if it doesn’t advocate for the people behind it. All companies should make human rights a priority in all aspects of their supply chain, from farmers to factory workers to employees at distribution centers to staff at HQ.

What does it mean to have a short supply chain?

There are also CO2 emissions when items are manufactured in countries other than the country where they were purchased. “Moving things around requires a lot more energy, and our current global logistics system still relies on a lot fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming. Barboni Hallik says that the fashion industry is known for its long supply chains. This means that components of one garment can travel across the globe before it is shipped to the consumer. We try to minimize that by keeping our supply chains as short as we can. We try to manufacture our garments close to the factories that make them and are always looking for local raw materials.

Miro also keeps the supply chain small. She says, “My supply chain begins and ends in Los Angeles.” It’s made in Los Angeles and shipped from L.A. This eliminates all production in other countries and allows us to ship it here.

What can fashion do to make eco-friendly packaging?

The making of a product is only part of sustainability. It still has to be packed and shipped to its intended destination. Although brands cannot control where their customers live, they can make sure that the packaging used to ship the product is recyclable and recycled. Davis says that EcoEnclose is an eco-friendly shipping supplier for our polymailer bags, which are 100% recyclable. Plastics and other trash can take as long as hundreds of years to degrade in the environment. That is why many people are trying to get rid of plastic. Mara Hoffman, for example, introduced a paper bag in this year’s campaign to eliminate all plastic packaging. For Days, on the other hand, tries to use reusable packaging as much as possible.

closeup photography of brown cover

Barboni Hallik, of Another Tomorrow’s initiatives, says that packaging is an important part of any product’s impact. She started with organic cotton garment bags, hangers made of 100% cellulose fiber from pulp, and then went on to compostable stickers. The details are what make the difference. For example, a lot of packaging that is labeled “compostable” can only be composted in industrial facilities. This is something most consumers don’t have access to. You really need to do your research.

Fashion can Close the Loop

Recently, sustainability in fashion has been discussed more often with the idea of closing the loop. Closed-loop systems ensure that products, materials, or resources remain in circulation, retain maximum value, and don’t end up in the landfill. Caylor says that For Days makes it simple and encourages customers to close the loop. Customers can send their old clothes to us and we will take care of the rest. We sort, grade and decide if the fabric can be reused or needs to be recycled. The fabric is then recycled by post-consumer partners.

They’re not the only ones. Hall says that Eileen Fisher’s Renew program and Waste No More are two of the pillars of its circular efforts. Eileen Fisher Renew is one of our most proud initiatives. It was started in 2009 as a clothing-take-back program. Hall says that Renew now has nearly 1.5 million Eileen Fisher clothes. Half of these garments can be easily cleaned and resold. The rest are separated and sent to different channels. Some are resold as not quite perfect’ pieces. Some are cut up and reassembled to create limited-edition, fun collections. Some are used in our Waste No More brand for felted pillows, wall hangings, and furniture covers.

Mara Hoffman has a partnership with Renewal Workshop that offers a take back program. This involves cleaning, repairing, and returning the brand’s clothes for resale. Hoffman says that the goal is to keep items out of landfills as long as possible. Brands are now partially responsible for what they put out in the world. This is partly a way of taking some of the burden off the customer, who may have been left stumped as to what to do with their clothes after its end.

A sustainable fashion brand must design with longevity in mind. Barboni Hallik says that circularity is ethically produced, high quality products with long life cycles and extended resale. On average, a garment’s lifespan of nine months or more reduces its carbon footprint by 25%. Imagine this for many years.

How can brands extend the life span of clothing?

More brands are beginning to consider resale as part of closing the loop on clothing and increasing its shelf life. Mara Hoffman joined forces with The RealReal in July 2020 to offer its pieces at a discount. The brand partnered with Recurate to create Full Circle Marketplace, an in house resale marketplace that purchases and sells Mara Hoffman clothing. Hoffman says that Full Circle allows customers to recirculate their clothes on a community-centric platform. All brands should incorporate circularity into their business models, even if they produce products. The popularity of resale is increasing. There are many brands that partner with secondhand businesses and resell clothing through their own platforms, such as Mara Hoffman or Eileen Fisher.

Although the initiatives of take-back and recycling are admirable, the responsibility for completing the garment’s lifecycle rests largely with the customers. Brands cannot close their loops without customers. Customers are responsible for bringing back any garments they have worn previously to the brand, or to another reclamation site, in order to allow brands to choose a new route. Hall says that customers want to be able to recycle their old clothes in a convenient and efficient way.

So what can brands and consumers do next?

Brands and consumers have a lot to think about when making sustainable choices. But it is important to remember that this change will not happen overnight. Dittmer says that while there’s a lot of greenwashing going on right now, she doesn’t believe in shame brands that aren’t able to make every part of their supply chains completely sustainable. Dittmer believes everyone can improve their habits by taking a closer look at their present ones. She says that every brand and consumer can rewire their brains and business to be more aware. The best thing you can as a consumer is to buy less. You can take a step back from the fast-fashion rush and not be consumed by the desire to buy. Instead, integrate mindfulness into your buying decisions.

womens black and white traditional dress

Miro also agrees with the statement that fashion should not be considered disposable. Miro says that this is a common assumption when people buy something from fast-fashion brands. People think they’ll only get one or two wears out of the dress or whatever it may be, then they’ll throw it away. My focus isn’t on creating an abundance of pieces or pieces that aren’t necessary. It’s about what my customer wants and something she will wear often. High-quality garments are not just for one-use. My customers will treasure the pieces I make for many years.”

The need to create fashion that lasts was stressed by all the brands that were interviewed. Climate change is a fact of life. Just look at the current climate in California. We knew there was no way to go back once we had learned the devastating effects of the fashion industry on the planet. Hoffman says that clothing is not sustainable. Therefore, Hoffman says that Hoffman’s focus is to create the most beneficial impact on the earth and its inhabitants. We design every piece with longevity in our minds. We ask the following questions: Is this garment timeless? It will be able to be re-worn over and over again. “How can we make sure we offer an option for end-of-life?” These are the same questions consumers should ask before buying.

Hall says that brands can assess their production and sales, the frequency with which they introduce new styles or collections, where each fiber is from, how each item was made, as well as how purchasing decisions and decision-making affect their supply chains. We believe that it is not enough to limit the damage we do. We must make the places we touch more beautiful than they were before we left them.

Or, at the very least, do our best to make it happen.

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