Sustainability In The Fashion Business

Interesting article in the Guardian with an overview on how fashion businesses can incorporate ethics, particularly sustainability, into their operations.

By, Jenny Purt for the Guardian Professional Network

Wednesday 28 September

What should the priorities be for the apparel business?

• Labour conditions, water footprints, fibres and carbon.

An initial step would be for companies to make a concerted effort to adopt a few fabrics that are more sustainable but which may cost 5-10% more in base price. This would cause a chain reaction in the rest of industry. As big brands source more responsible textiles for their collections, there will be a bigger volume of orders which will lower the overall manufacturing cost (and therefore retail price), making the product more accessible to the mainstream market.

Brands and retailers need to work with their suppliers to understand what the problems are and how they can be improved. Many suppliers are based in the developing world so most factories do not have good environmental or social management systems in place.

The two major hotspots in the life-cycle of a garment are raw materials and use phase (washing and drying). Dealing with sustainable raw materials is key and this means working down the entire supply chain. Whilst most big brands understand this, getting to grips with extended global supply chains can be very difficult.

How can companies increase sustainability throughout their supply chains?

In order to implement systemic change, there must first be a market for sustainable products, and currently that is quite small. Companies need to heighten customer awareness of where clothing comes from, how it is made and the social and environmental impact of its production. One panellist commented that there is a market for sustainability but currently consumers just don't know enough.

The first step is internal transparency. Blood, Sweat and T-shirts, the BBC Three series, showed that a lot of brands did not know where their clothing originates from or how it was made. It is crucial to run through the supply chain to ensure sustainable practice is embraced across the board and to communicate this within the company. If this is not done, how can brands communicate sustainable values to their customers?

Address the issue of raw material production. This area presents a big challenge to the industry because the use of raw materials is at the bottom of the supply chain and is the least visible process. It also includes a range of industries from agriculture (cotton and linen) to oil extraction to refining (polyester and nylon). A good example of a company addressing this is Marks & Spencer which has recently committed to complete supply-chain transparency for all non-food products.

Any solutions will be reliant on traceability in the supply chain, and must be applicable to developing world contexts. For smaller brands and retailers it will be difficult to make an impact as suppliers will need to be convinced of the benefits of investing in new technology and processes that are not easily visible.


Can collaboration help?


How can brands bring ethical fashion into the mainstream?


What steps are being made across the apparel industry to encourage people to value quality and longevity over quantity and trends?


Other examples of best practice in swimming against the fast fashion tide


Is organic cotton a sustainable solution?


Adopting more than one fibre type


How can brands communicate sustainable approaches to consumers?


How can companies change consumer behaviour?


How can businesses work with suppliers to increase sustainability?


What comes next for the fashion industry?

Key issues are:

• Consumer behaviour change – especially in how we clean and dispose of clothes.

• Making sustainable development desirable.

• Climate change adaptation – as the planet's temperature changes, consumers needs from clothes will change.

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