By Flora Davidson, Supplycompass
Stella McCartney, Finisterre, Patagonia, People Tree, Reformation, Kowtow, and Veja are just a handful of the names leading the way towards a more ethical and sustainable future within the fashion industry.
As the number of fashion brands describing themselves as ethical or sustainable is on the rise, the number of consumers prioritising the ethics and sustainability of a brand is also growing.
So, how can you ensure that your fashion brand is genuinely responsible and catering to the needs of both consumers and the planet?
1. Positioning your brand
Consider how you will interpret sustainability for your brand by thinking what is consistent and in-line with your brand values, brand story and the products you make. It’s impossible to be 100% ethical and sustainable, plus perfection is also not necessarily what consumers are expecting or looking for. But they are looking for clarity – consumers want (and need) to know what it is you stand for and what you are doing to be sustainable and ethical.
Don’t over complicate it; keep it simple. What stands out for consumers in a busy marketplace is a clear, singular approach to responsibility that cuts through and resonates with them. Pick your area of focus and stick to that. Not only will this help you when looking for supply chain partners, but this singular approach will help you stand out more and stick in consumers’ minds.
2. Choosing your focus
With terms like ethical, sustainable, conscious, responsible, transparent, and organic often being used interchangeably, it can be confusing to know which is right for your brand and products. Plus, with an increasing number of brands out there offering sustainable and ethically sourced products, how do you differentiate yourself and position your brand in an increasingly competitive playing field?
The key is to choose the areas and terminology that are right for you. Focus in on one or two that are just right. Be clear, be consistent and ensure it makes sense in the context of your offering and your brand.
Here are four possible areas you could focus on:
Sustainability & materials
Focusing on the origin and impact of the raw material you use for your products, ensuring fibres are sustainably and ethically sourced and manufactured into fabric. Fabrics considered to be amongst the most sustainable are linen, recycled PET, organic cotton and tinsel. Keep an eye out for new innovations within the fabric and dye industries, like synthetic spider silk by Bolt Threads, fabrics made from orange and pineapple fibres, and low impact and biological dyes.
Brand focusing on sustainability and materials:
– Reformation’s goal is zero waste, they have created the RefScale to monitor their carbon footprint and work with a range of recycled fabrics.
Creating high quality products that don’t go out of fashion and are built to last a lifetime, products that you encourage your customers to use them again and again and to love forever. This can mean thinking about end of life and supply chain circularity, working out ways for your customers to recycle, reuse and repair your products.
Brand focusing on durable design
– Patagonia and Nudie Jeans both offer a repair service.
People and ethics
This means more focus on your supply chain partners and working exclusively with those who are focused on having positive social impacts and caring for the wellbeing of their workers. This could be; offering benefits such as bonus schemes, crèches, and free health care, or giving back and supporting the local community. Certifications such as Fairtrade, SA800 and GOTS indicate social compliance, though, make sure to take the time to visit your supply chain partners to understand what they are doing, and why, first hand.
Brand focusing on social impact
– Toms – For every shoe you buy, they give a pair away free to someone in need.
Positioning your brand as open and transparent means telling your consumers not just who your key manufacturers are, but providing details on all your other suppliers; from zips and fabrics to labelling and packaging. Transparency can also mean offering a full break down of costs on your website, splitting out labour costs, material costs, logistics costs and taxes.
Brand focusing on transparency
– Know the Origin are committed to a 100% transparent production process, presenting information on every manufacturer and supplier they work with.
3. Working the right manufacturing partners
Picking the right manufacturing partner is key; it is one of the most important relationships for any fashion brand. Certifications are a good starting point to help you identify who might be the right fit, but go beyond this. Find out if a potential partner shares similar values, visit them in person, tell them what’s important to you, the things you are willing to be flexible on and things you are not.
4. Stay well informed
The best way to start improving your supply chain is by asking questions; stay informed and understand what is achievable. Being a more responsible brand means being more conscious of your social and environmental impact and constantly striving to improve every aspect of your supply chain. Every step of the way, question your decisions and think whether there is a more responsible option. Ethics should be front of mind for every decision made; from finalising design details and picking raw materials, to selecting material suppliers, and finding manufacturing partners.
For your shift towards being more a more ethical and sustainable brand to be authentic, it can’t be something pushed just for a marketing campaign. To make a real, lasting impact, to appeal to a more conscious consumer, and for your approach to be (and to appear) genuine, it needs to become part of your brand DNA and to influence every decision you make throughout your business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Flora Davidson is co-founder of Supplycompass.
Supplycompass is tech enabled end-to-end production management platform for responsible brands that want to find and work with the best international manufacturers. It enables brands to find their perfect manufacturing partner at home or overseas. Brands can create tech packs, get matched with a manufacturer and use the platform to manage production from design to delivery. Supplycompass works with brands and manufacturers to embed responsible and sustainable practises in their businesses and deliver value and create opportunities for growth.