Factoring sustainability into your business
As early as possible in your business journey, you should take stock of what parts of your business sustainability might relate to. The earlier you start thinking about it the easier it is to build a sustainability mindset and practices into what you do and the more positive impact you will be likely to create.
Choosing your business structure
You will need to think about how your social and environmental values factor into the way you operate at the very basic level. Every situation is different and you need to think long and hard about what set-up is right for you. Think carefully about what might be your future needs rather than what you need to get your business off the ground. Have a long-term vision, not a short-term view. Who is going to be invested in what you are doing? You might consider whether setting up as a social enterprise or as a cooperative depending on your values, aim and mission as a fashion business.
Designing and product development
According to the Danish Fashion Institute, up to 80% of a garment’s environmental impact is defined by choices made in the design process. The design decisions you make in the very beginning of product development and throughout the production process can have a huge impact on the people making your products, the way people use your product and how your product impacts the environment. Even a seemingly small choice like the way you cut a pattern or what sort of stitch you choose can impact the number of hours required to create your product and how someone will use, care for and dispose of the product when they are finished with it. Do you want your customer to wash it with care? Do you want your customer to mend it, wear it forever and pass it on to loved ones? Is someone able to manufacture your design, at what cost?
There is now a wide range of sustainably made materials on the market. What materials you choose will depend on what is most important to you. For example, if you are most interested in supporting local communities, you might look for materials that are handcrafted, artisanal or have been made by people that would hugely benefit from your patronage. If you are interested in waste, you might look for a recycled material. If you would like to tackle water issues, you might look for materials that have been made in way that requires little water.
Manufacturing your products
This is another area where you can have a significant social and environmental impact. The processes you choose should be as environmentally responsible as possible. The place you have your products made ideally would have policies and processes that address water, energy, chemicals and waste issues. You will also want to ensure that your producers are respecting and supporting the people who make you products. Find out what their policies and practices are on wages, working hours, health and safety, education and training. You will learn more about building your sustainable supply chain during Week 4.
Relationships are absolutely crucial to building a sustainable fashion business. You cannot start or grow a business entirely on your own. You will need to work with people to design your brand and products, to make them, to sell them, to build a website and much more. Taking care to build solid, long-term relationships with your business partners, suppliers and customers will help you both commercially and when it comes to sustainability. The better relationships you have with your suppliers, the more likely you will be able to influence the way the people who make your products are treated. Good communication means everyone has a better understanding of what it takes to get your product to market and can plan accordingly. Treat all your business relationships with dedication, openness, honesty and appreciation.
Recycling and waste
Fashion can be a very wasteful business. Last year the worldwide consumption of textiles reached about 73 million tonnes, yet only 20% of textiles are recycled each year around the world (Soex, 2014). Think about how you might minimise waste in whatever it is you are doing. Can you re-use materials? Can your offcuts be used to make an accessory? Can you use recycled materials instead of new virgin materials to make your product? Will your products be a quick trend or are they designed for longevity? Can you design your product in a way that makes it easy for recycling at the end if its life?
Sustainability can be a powerful message when telling the story of your brand and products. Your social and environmental efforts will build customer trust. It lets them know that you care about your products, the people who make them, and that you want to give your customers the best product you can. However, you will need to make sure that you practice what you preach. You will need to be able to back up any sustainability claims you make. But if you get the message right, sustainability will help you reach new customers and boost brand loyalty.
Further optional reading:
10 Ways To Be More Sustainable (EFF, 2014)
Sustainability And The Role Of A Fashion Designer (EFF, 2015)
Mainstreaming Sustainable Fashion - Define (EFF, 2014)
Waste & Recycling (EFF, 2010)
Organic & Eco Fashion (EFF, 2010)
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