Six Sustainable Practices for Success in Tomorrow’s Fashion Industry

2017 finished up as the warmest year globally on record, and extreme storms in the forms of hurricanes, nor’easters, droughts, and fires came at a non-stop pace. According to a 2016 Yale study, 69 percent of Americans believe man-made global warming is occurring, causing major environmental impacts that will harm future generations. In response, an increasing number of individuals and companies alike are looking to help mend the climate crisis. The fashion industry is learning to rework some of its most ingrained practices in an effort to make quality clothing sustainable for tomorrow’s consumer and planetary needs.

No longer will we only look to Stella McCartney, Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, and People Tree for responsibility in fashion. 75percent of companies we spoke to last year want to push their brands towards environmental responsibility, less waste, and overall more sustainable collections, with the starting point for many being the addition of organic or recycled-fiber fabrics. True innovation in the fashion industry will require us to rethink the majority of our production practices.

Let’s take a look at the prevailing and ascending techniques fashion designers and manufacturers are embracing to help reverse some of the damage. These are the six most systems-thinking practices companies can implement in their paths forward. The time is now. Your customers and our world will thank you!

1. Biomimicry

Just ten years ago, Janine Benyus introduced us to the biomimicry movement, an approach to fabrics that celebrates the imperfections in weaving, dyeing, and finishing as an emulation of nature. Every blade of grass and patch of bark is unique and different; the culmination of these idiosyncrasies makes nature breathtaking both from a distance and up close. The biomimicry movement urges us not to reject and discard fabrics that fail to meet our incredibly specific demands of coloration and texture. New and innovative biomimetic textiles came to the forefront in 2017 with biofabricated leathers, spider silks, and self-healing textiles. Appreciating nature’s designs and processes will lead us to a fashion industry that puts the planet first.

Innovators to research: Modern Meadow and Stomatex

2. Circular Fashion

The antidote to the classic make-take-waste model, circular fashion abides by the circular-economy model, meaning all waste generated from the production, distribution, and consumption of one product becomes the raw ingredients of a new one. Often seen illustrated as a circle, figure 8, or butterfly, production is visualized as a closed loop—never linear. No more throw-away materials. Everything is considered irreplaceable and matter recycles continually, mindfully designed free of chemicals and engineered for disassembly. Companies should avoid hazardous materials, dyes, or finishes and select fabrics that are not blended with synthetics to facilitate reprocessing at the post-consumer stage. Third-party certifiers such as Cradle to Cradle and Global Organic Textile Standard can guarantee sustainable materials, and brands should consider take-back or repair products to maximize longevity and true circularity.

Innovators to research: Climatex, Fabscrap, and Fashionpositive.org

3. Clean Energy

As engineers make clean energy more suitable for larger industries, fashion designers have no excuse not to hop on the bandwagon. Decreasing costs, technological improvements, and global-government incentives mean solar is as sure as the rising sun.

Solar is projected to be the go-to power source for new projects developed between 2017 and 2022. This past July, Morgan Stanley stated that solar and other renewables are becoming the most inexpensive forms of energy, and coal consumption will continue to decline. Mostly everyone is now aware that burning oil and coal for energy is the greatest contributor to our dangerously high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Customers are now demanding products that promise not to contribute to this climate crisis.

Metawear’s new solar-powered sewing and printing factory here in the U.S. is a great option for those seeking a solar factory. Google is working to support carbon-neutral brands that are purchasing carbon offsets, like Mighty Good Undies and Earth Positive Apparel.

For those who source globally, pay attention to the rising number of factories in China, India, or Myanmar that are installing solar for their cutting, sewing, and pressing lines. Though a slower rise in the U.S., other countries are setting big goals. India recently announced a goal of establishing 30 times more solar-powered factories by 2020.

Innovators to research: MetaWear and Murugan Textiles

4. Full Transparency

No one wants to feel ashamed for the products they produce or purchase. Full transparency means making customers aware of who made their clothing and what environmental impacts accompany its production. Life-cycle assessments provide truth and clarity for customers rightly wary of producers. Customers are shocked by the numbers: 1,600 gallons of water needed to cultivate the cotton for just one pair of jeans.

More and more, buyers are voting with their wallets. Sustainable and transparent brands that demonstrate that 1) they measure their impacts, and 2) they are making changes based on those measurements, are winning out. Brands can calculate how much water, energy, and trees have been saved by their sustainable efforts, demonstrate how they are reducing their CO2 emissions through shipping, and create spotlights of the sewers in their fair-trade factories. The details aren’t lost on consumers—in fact, buyers are paying close attention.

Innovators to research: Zady and Reformation

5. Water Awareness

Full transparency is meaningless unless a brand’s practices actually reduce water usage and CO2 emissions. As the world population continues to increase, the amount of available water simply does not. Nor can the waters polluted by mass manufacturing be replaced. There is only one solution as we move forward: reduce or eliminate fashion’s water usage. Zero waste fashion, which does not squander water, is no small feat considering how water-intensive it is to grow cotton and dye fabrics. Luckily, water awareness is increasing, companies are innovating, and solutions are forthcoming. Selecting fabrics, dyeing, and washing techniques that recycle water, using laser technology to create stone and sand-washing effects, digital waterless printing, and recycled-cotton-fiber fabrics are up trending solutions, as are wastewater recycling, rainwater dyeing, and better water management practices—across the entire supply chain.

Earth’s water is irreplaceable and fashion has used and abused quite a bit of it in our history. It’s only becoming easier to implement water-aware practices, so why not start right now?

Innovators to research: Jeanologia and Colorzen.

6. Mindfulness and Storytelling

Short and fast supply chains, digitization, and on-demand clothing bring us instant fashion gratification. Many consumers find themselves needing a break from the constant omnichannel marketing barrage, but on the design side, mindfulness is experiencing a slower rise. The time is now to incorporate mindfulness into your company culture and share this story with your customers.

The companies marketing their mindful and slow approaches to design as well as their loving attention to detail on social media are excelling. Customers want to connect with the process by purchasing from brands that allow them to be part of the journey taken by their sweater and jeans, not just the endpoint.

Being mindful of every design and production decision, and remembering that fashion is an art and a craft are ways to help your customers connect with your brand. Explaining the processes that go into crafting a garment from concept through delivery is a story that is key to customer engagement. Discuss the fabric and trims you select and where they came from. Tell your customer why you chose them and who made them. Describe how you achieved that perfect garment drape and fit and what inspired your design detailing. Shoppers are paying close attention to these details, and are looking for more than the same styles that have nothing to offer other than a marked-down price tag.

Appreciate the craftsmanship of creating clothes for human bodies. Show off the uniqueness of each garment and its story, and customers will take note of the quality, art, ethics, and longevity, all of which our industry desperately needs at the moment.

Innovators to research: Style Saint, Tradlands, and Krochet Kids

 

These six sustainable fashion movements will transform your line into a top-notch, earth-friendly company. Start assessing, measuring, researching, and implementing sustainable strategies and processes into everything you do from sketching, sourcing, cutting, and shipping. Then, celebrate your initiatives by marketing them on hang tags, labels, and Instagram pages. Let the world know your company is concerned about more than profit. Let everyone know you’re part of the solution—not the problem. In turn, your bottom line will increase. After a cutthroat year of store closings with many more forecasted and already announced for 2018, passion and responsibility may just be the secret ingredients for success: modern, forward-thinking and, fresh. All that fashion should be.

-Andrea Kennedy and Katelyn Marcus, New York, NY 2/28/2018

Thanks to Fashion Manuscripy who first published this article for Fashiondex, at: http://www.mannpublications.com/fashionmannuscript/2018/02/01/six-sustainable-practices-for-success-in-tomorrows-fashion-industry/

 

SUSTAINABLE, PROFITABLE, AND POSSIBLE

by: Andrea Kennedy

So you are thinking you want to take steps to become more sustainable. And maybe you’ve been thinking this way for awhile. So, what’s stopping you? Most often the answer is…. Cost.
Companies fear that moving to a more responsible design and production model will cost too much. They believe the customer will not pay more and they therefore will lose money. It’s really not possible, it’s thought by many, to be sustainable and profitable. Many businesses fear the expenses are too great in time and in dollars to research, initiate, and implement sustainable practices.

Photo byFabian Blank @blankerwahnsinn

Well…. yes, it certainly costs more to do things right. It costs more to pay workers fairly, to use natural or recycled fibers, and to inspect and audit factories. And, it does cost more per unit to manufacture with greener components and on the same hemisphere. But if we look away for the moment from the fact that each component and line item may cost more, and instead look at the total lowest cost, then things start to look different.
Just operating with less waste and more efficiency, which is the true essence of sustainability, will lower a company’s operating costs immediately. Efficiency and a no-waste commitment can be every company’s first step. And that costs nothing to implement! If you choose to use less energy, water and materials in your offices and supply-chain facilities, then immediately you will see usage rates decrease and will pay less in overhead costs.
This is an initiative already place at Mara Hoffman. Dana Davis, director of sustainability, notes they continuously strive to reduce energy consumption in the Mara Hoffman offices and on bright days work with the lights off and keep the windows open far into summer to consume less electricity. Lower usage bills have help offset some of the increased costs accrued in producing their responsible collection. This is something we all can do!
In terms of raw materials, with consumer environmental concern on the increase, and the waste of the fashion industry receiving so much media focus, it’s never been a better time to introduce responsibly-produced fibers, fabrics and trims. Organic, recycled, and low-impact fabric may cost on average 30-40% more per yard, but if you find innovative ways to use all leftover fabric scraps, you can balance the additional costs. For instance, companies can print on leftover fabric scrap squares and use as hangtags, then there is no longer a need to purchase cardstock tags. And utilizing all excess fabric and trim means less waste entering our factory-area landfills.
Companies can also cut all non-value adding (and wasteful) components from their practices and their cost sheets. Non-biodegradable items such as poly bags for buttons or individually plastic sleeves for garments can be omitted. In forcing themselves to commit to sustainability, companies are forced to think in more innovative ways, and although at first uncomfortable, innovation always leads us to more operating efficiency and cost-cutting practices.
Increased costs up front for using sustainable and responsible materials and production practices can save companies money in the long run, as customers are taking notice and staying loyal to green and sustainable companies. More and more businesses are showing positive financial performance, despite the increase in costs, due to an increase in sales. This growth in sales certainly balances the increase in cost of goods sold, especially if your overhead is lower due to decreased resource utilization, less waste and tax incentives.
Yes, tax incentives are another perk of sustainable business practices. State and local tax-breaks for businesses supporting environmental and human wellbeing initiatives are increasing every year, as well there are federal tax credits offered to US businesses for being energy-efficient.
A focus on sustainability equates to a competitive advantage like no other for those willing to go that extra mile to deliver responsible products. If you concentrate on the full value cost and not individual line-item costs, you will see that you can still be profitable while being sustainable. It may take a while, but if you are still doing business in the manner you have for the last ten-to-twenty years, then it is time for a change. As 66% of customers state that when given the choice they will select and pay more for sustainably-produced products manufactured by companies committed to positive social and environmental impact (Neilsens, 2016). And when surveyed this year in January, 78% of US consumers stated they “feel better” when they buy sustainably-produced products.  If you become a brand that is part of making a difference and no longer part of the problem, you will stand out to customers who are looking for products produced by companies that mirror their own concerns at this very moment in time. This will increase your sales, show in your bottom line, and create customer relationships for the long-term.
So you are thinking you want to take steps to become more sustainable. Don’t let costs stop you. The benefits of customers knowing you care and the advantage of customers thinking you are part of the solution, should help you realize that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to practice sustainability, and that any additional monies spent to develop and produce your products are certainly worth eliminating waste and treating people and our planet with respect. These actions in turn build brand-respect, create greater perceptions of quality and value to your products… and will bring you business!Thank you Fashion Mannuscipt for publishing this article in Fashion Mannuscript, April 2017 edition