Fashion stories

What defines a sustainable fashion brand (and why do we need to support them?)

Have you come across stories about the damage that fast fashion brands are doing to people, planet and animals? If you haven’t, you can read more about it in the two short articles I wrote on the topic (The Story that needs to be told: ‘The Failings of the Fast Fashion Industry’ & The Story that needs to be told: ‘The Failings of the Fast Fashion Industry’-II).

If you have, then maybe you already know all the ins-and-outs of why we need truly sustainable brands and why they need our support in return.

Before carrying on, I must say that there is no such thing as an item of clothing which is 100% sustainable: any new item of clothes uses resources. The most sustainable thing you can do is following the philosophy of the 5Rs: Reduce, Re-use, Rewear, Repair, Recycle.

No Nasties

But since we all occasionally need something new that can’t be found, re-used or repaired, we need sustainable fashion brands. How do you know if a brand is sustainable? Can you just check the labels to find out? It is not that simple but with the checklist below and the help of some good online resources, you can get a pretty good idea.

The general idea is that when producing an item of clothing, people, planet and animals (PPA) are protected, unharmed and well-paid and well-treated in the process of making the clothes. When in doubt, check the brands on this site or on www.goodonyou.com. Here you can find information on how the brand is scoring on the PPA-scale.

So there are hardly any brands that score 10 out of 10 on the sustainability scale. What you are looking for is at least 5 out of 10 on the checklist below. What you need to be aware of is greenwashing practiced by a lot of mainstream fast fashion brands. Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly.

Have a look at the list below and follow the links for some good examples of sustainable brands:

1. Organic, natural, biodegradable fabrics

This can be either organic cotton, hemp, bamboo-rayon, wool (ethically made without mulesing)

People Tree is a good example of a brand where you can find items made from 100% organic cotton or other biodegradable fabrics. Check out there site here.

People Tree

2. Recycled, upcycled or repurposed materials

As soon as material is being re-used, an item becomes more sustainable than when it uses virgin resources. When the material is synthetic there is still the fact that it will not degrade and when you wash it, microplastics will get into our waterways. A way to solve this is to use a Guppy Friend bag.

A great example of the use of repurposed material is the award-winning brand Elvis & Kresse, who make the most gorgeous bags from upcycled firehose. Check our their site here.

Elvis & Kresse

3. Non-toxic dyes

Brands that care about people, planet and animals refrain from using toxic dyes. Rivers in China are coloured in next seasons colours due to the waste water from factories; fish dye and the people working with the dyes have cancer, babies are born with birth defects and lung problems are very prevalent. Look for brands that are specific about the dyes that they use.

4. Zero waste pattern cutting methods

Zero-waste is a design technique that eliminates textile waste at the design stage. It has been estimated that 15% of textiles intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor.

Swedish Stocking is an example of a brand that uses this practice. The sustainable fashion brand produces their up-cycled hose in a zero waste factory that conserves and reuses water, minimizes emissions, and reduces and recycles waste. Swedish Stockings also has a take-back pantyhose recycling program that ensures there isn’t even waste at the end of the lifecycle of their products.

5. Plastic-free packaging

A lot of brands are embracing this practice where they do not use any plastic for their packaging and sending. A good example of a brand which I love that uses no plastic is No Nasties. Their clothes are individually packed in reusable, organic cotton drawstring bags and then shipped in a recycled cardboard box that is self-sealing and doesn’t need any plastic cello tape even.

6. Carbon-neutral production or supply chain

There aren’t many brand that have already achieved this. Some brands reduce their CO2 output, some focus on supply chain efficiency and helping their suppliers to improve their processes and energy efficiency and introduce innovative ones. One example is Ecoalf, a brand that belongs to the #zeronet2030 commitment of the BCorp community. Their objective is to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

7. Use of traditional or community craftsmanship techniques

Traditional hand craft skills and techniques are dying out due to mechanisation. Design, technical input and marketing support through Fair Trade is helping thousands of artisans keep their craft tradition and their communities alive. A great example of brands that use this or sell handcrafted products are People Tree and Kitty Clogs Sweden.

8. Slow-fashion models

Seasonless, timeless pieces and limited collections is one of the defining features of a slow-fashion brand. A great example is Joline Jolink, a Dutch designer that was a pioneer in having a small, season-less collection with limited items and no sale. I personally love her designs, use of colour and timeless pieces.

9. Circular economy models

Circular economy models like rental or closed-loop recycling include design with the end of life of the product in mind: low impact materials selection, timeless and essential design with less materials & number of processes to reduce the impact in the value chain. Quality and durability are kept in mind to maximize the product life cycle. MUD Jeans is a great example. This leading denim brand founded in the Netherlands incorporates a circular business model to produce its popular items. It creates high quality, long lasting pieces designed from eco-friendly materials including GOTS certified organic and recycled cotton. Its ethos encourages customers to wear MUD jeans for as long as possible, and it even provides free repair services within the first year to free shipping areas. You can also rent a pair of jeans and exchange it for a new pair.

10. Vintage/thrifting and buying second hand

This is a phenomenon that really took of in the last couple of years. Apps like Vinted, charity shops and Instagram profiles showing second-hand/vintage looks are booming. This is the most sustainable option in this list. See it as a treasure hunt and let yourself be surprised by what you can find.


 

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