What does it mean to be sustainable as a clothing brand?
by Sam Maas on Feb 17, 2021
According to various specialists the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, just behind the oil industry. A troubling statistic if you think about it. But what really concerns us is the unawareness of many.
Of some things you do, it is obvious that they are not really environmentally friendly. Like taking the plane, for example. However, did you know that the clothing industry emits more CO2 than the international aviation industry?
To be precise: the clothing industry is responsible for 10 percent of annual CO2 emissions. It is clear that the fashion industry lies at the center of various environmental issues.
But there is hope. Sustainability in the apparel business is gaining ground as a trend. More and more brands are committing to sustainable clothing. So does Haze&Finn. Our goal is to become fully sustainable by 2025.
However, what does it mean to be sustainable as a clothing brand? What can you expect? How do sustainable brands make a difference? We'll discuss this in more detail below.
What is sustainable fashion?
Okay, so what is sustainable fashion? Let’s start from the beginning. Sustainable fashion is a movement of fostering change to the fashion industry towards greater ecological integrity and social justice.
It refers to clothing that is designed, manufactured, distributed and used in ways that are environmentally friendly.
Sustainable fashion is the opposite of fast fashion: a term used to describe (clothing) companies that respond quickly to the latest trends by changing collections regularly and mass-producing them at low cost.
As a customer you might think this is great, but unfortunately it is not. In fact, it is destroying our planet. Luckily the slow and sustainable fashion movement is on the rise.
Below you will find some key priorities of a sustainable clothing brand. We defined these based on the sustainability wheel. Our goal is to achieve all the things mentioned. Some we have already achieved, for others we have a long way to go.
Use of sustainable materials and fabrics
A first step toward sustainability is to use low impact, recyclable materials and fabrics. Natural materials for example (like cotton, silk and wool) are generally preferable over synthetics like polyester acrylic and nylon.
This is because natural fibers are biodegradable and can compost cleanly back into the soil. In other words: those fabrics do not contribute to the giant plastic soup. Synthetics on the other hand does.
In addition, of course, it is also important to look at the extraction and production of fabrics. With that in mind, some natural materials are more sustainable than others.
Take cotton for example: a lot of fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals are used in the cultivation of cotton. This is bad for the environment and for the workers on the cotton plantations.
Organic cotton is a better alternative. They use far less water than conventional cotton and they aren’t treated with pesticides and chemicals.
Efficient use of resources
A sustainable fashion brand strives to minimize the amount of water and energy use from the manufacturing process. The fashion industry has a high carbon footprint and it is the job of sustainable brands like us to change this.
Some brands tackle this by making clothing closer to where it will ultimately be sold, rather than having to ship from overseas. We will discuss this more in detail later on.
Others try to lower their carbon footprint by installing solar panels and wind turbines to provide renewable power. If you’re working together with a foreign factory or supplier, make sure you get to visit the plant.
If you are dying fabrics for example, you will want to look out for a closed loop process: which means that water isn’t wasted and poisonous dyes aren’t released into local rivers.
Tip: always make sure to work with a trusted factory. If you can’t visit the factory yourself, you can arrange for independent audits to take place.
Supply chain and logistics optimization
Did you know that the average clothing piece travels as much as 1900 kilometers even before it reaches the user? That’s a whole journey. As a sustainable clothing brand, it is your responsibility to minimize the distance a product must travel.
One option is to produce the clothing closer to where it will ultimately be sold. By doing so, you are also supporting the local economy. The downside is that it is a lot more expensive.
Another option is to simply optimize the production and supply chain planning, maximizing the matching between in-time demand and in-time production. It is important to not to make useless transportations.
Extra: customers are expecting brands to be sustainable, not just their clothing. Therefore many sustainable clothing companies also offset the carbon on their deliveries and use recycled packaging.
Optimal working conditions and a safe environment
Whether your clothing is locally produced or not, it is important to provide optimal working conditions and a safe environment for your employees. Either at the office, store or factory.
In concrete terms this means that the clothes are made for fair wages under safe and above all humane conditions. This may sound obvious and it certainly is, but unfortunately people are still heavily exploited in the fashion industry.
They often have to work 80 hours a week for extremely low wages. As if low wages and long days weren't bad enough, the employees also work under very poor conditions. That means no unions and no ability to call in sick.
Sustainable clothing brands do not support this at all. Also child labor is absolutely a no-go. Again this sounds logical, but unfortunately child labor is still very much prevalent in the fashion industry. In fact, child labor is one of the most normal features of fast fashion.
Sustainable versus ethical
It is important to know there is a difference between sustainable and ethical. Many people tend to think that being sustainable and being ethical are the same thing. Although they’re often seen together, they are two different things.
Sustainable refers to a brands impact on the environment, while ethical relates to wellbeing of any people and animals involved in the production process. Clothes consisting of leather or wool are sustainable, because they do not consist of microplastics and they do not pollute the environment.
Nevertheless, these fabrics have ethical considerations. Some people are vegan and wouldn’t buy these products anyhow, while others may be willing to buy as long as good animal welfare can be assured.
As a customer it is important to take that in consideration. It is important to define what sustainable and/or ethical means to you.
As a fashion brand on the other hand it is important to be transparent about your manufacturing process, so that a customer can make an informed choice that matches his or her values and beliefs.
Sustainable fashion focuses on clothing that is designed, manufactured, and distributed in ways that are environmentally friendly. Their goal is to minimize any undesirable environmental effect.
At Haze&Finn we have committed to becoming fully sustainable by 2025. In the journey to that destination, we need your help. We encourage you not only to buy, but to consume sustainably as well. At Haze&Finn, we give you the opportunity to do the first, the latter is up to you.Do you still have questions about sustainability? Or would you like more information about Haze&Finn as a sustainable clothing brand? Then feel free to contact us. We will be happy to assist you.