What Is is A Sustainable Fashion Brand?
Most of us see sustainable fashion goods as products made from non-leather materials or leather-like alternatives. However, the so-called ‘sustainable value’ of such products is debatable. As such, ethical consumers are caught between clever marketing tricks and brands with a genuine desire to shift buyers from leather to less polluting alternatives.
From a manufacturing perspective, the fashion industry has reached the level where it can produce non-leather materials and alternatives of leather, suitable for high-quality fashion and luxury goods. However, the final decision lies with the buyers. In their eyes, not only that leather is a great material; flexible, washable, wears well but most important, only leather is ‘real‘.
The truth is, most buyers are unable to conceptualise and express the differences between ‘real’ leather and leather substitutes. And yet, consumers have high expectations from sustainable brands and this article details on that.
End The Use Of Animal-based Products
Unfortunately, over a billion animals are slaughtered each year, as the main sources of leather and fur in luxury and fashion. Even worse, to manufacture an animal-skin jacket or fur coat there is needed over twenty times the amount of energy required to manufacture a similar jacket made from leather alternatives such as synthetic materials and natural fibres. As such, consumers expect sustainable fashion and luxury brands to:
- Put an end to the use of animal skins, feathers, and fur in the manufacuring of goods and accessories.
- Ensure that all wool suppliers are from certified and animal-friendly farms, where only cruelty-free wool is produced.
- Moreover, end the use of animal-based adhesives in the manufacturing process of fashion and luxury goods, and end the testing of cremes, solutions, diluents and other products or fragrances on animals.
Eliminate The Use Of Toxic Chemicals
It is now known that the apparel industry uses, in the production of cotton fibres, obscene quantities of toxic chemicals. At the end of the manufacturing process, all that toxic waste and residues are discharged back into water streams, polluting rivers, oceans, flora and fauna, and indirectly, us.
- As such, consumers expect all sustainable fashion and luxury brands to adhere and respect the globally recognised and accepted lists of restricted substances.
- To actively contribute to programs designed to reduce harmful residues and toxic waste.
- To improve the transparency of their fabric mills.
- If and when possible to source only organic fibres with minimal impact and toxicity to nature, such as organic cotton and other certified organic fibres, with the ultimate aim of ending the use of toxic chemicals from all steps of production.
Protect And Preserve Clean Water
It is not only toxic chemicals that the apparel industry requires in large quantities but also clean water, during the multiple stages of production. For example, it takes over 22,000 litres of water to produce just a plain t-shirt. Yes, you’ve got that right: 22,000 litres of water for one kg of cotton! Therefore, ethical consumers of fashion and luxury goods expect:
- Sustainable fashion brands to use dry dyes and other similar ‘waterless’ dying technologies or, to replace the use of water with pressurised carbon dioxide techniques.
- Also, to form partnerships only with fabric producers governed by strict rules on water management, pollution and with transparent manufacturing lines.
Cut Down On Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Apart from large quantities of toxic chemicals and clean water the apparel industry consumes significant quantities of fossil fuel as well. As most of it is used in the making of fibres, textiles and attire, the quantity of fossil fuel burned in the process accounts for almost fifteen percent of the global emissions of carbon. In this light, consumers expect sustainable fashion brands to:
- Use only renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power.
- Also, consumers expressed their belief that sustainable fashion brands must draw partnerships only with suppliers that show reduced energy usage and waste creation and lesser carbon impact during the raw material production.
Create, Maintain, And Use Only Sustainable Supply Chains
Recent news brought to the media attention some of the worst environmental disasters originating at the farm level in general during the production of viscose, cashmere, wool and cotton in particular. Accordingly, ethical consumers expressed their desire for sustainable brands to:
- Be transparent about their supply chains and the people behind the manufacturing process.
- Show the working conditions and the people behind the final products.
- Previous research highlights that recycled materials are not well received by the buyers of personal luxury goods, however, recent studies show that consumers welcome the use of recycled materials in certain parts of the goods such as the soles of the shoes, handbags lining, sunglasses frames or in the manufacturing of accessories in general.
- Increasingly adopt innovative materials such as mushroom, hemp and other suitable alternatives to ‘real’ leather and cellulose fabrics, aiming to stop the end of endangered species and the total destruction of ancient forests.
More About Garment Care And Consumer Education
More consumers realise that the way we clean and care for our beloved clothes impacts the usage of water, energy, and many other resources, on a global scale. As such, modern consumers of fashion demand from sustainable fashion brands to:
- Make fashion products last longer. By nature, the fashion industry is designed to keep up with the latest trends, to stay ‘fashionable’. Thus, the garments and personal goods have a short lifespan, indirectly destroying the environment, not only during the production phase but also during the recycling and post recycling stages.
- The solution here, according to the buyers, is a higher form of education through the use of smart labels which detail and educates consumers on how to reduce excessive washing, drying and disposing of (donate) their goods. Moreover, the need for extra media advertising that allows the buyers distinguish the differences between goods with a timeless form, such as luxury goods, and fast-fashion products that exist only for their seasonal perceived value.
To conclude, it seems that while confused by the wide terminology used to describe sustainable fashion and luxury goods, such as bio, sustainable, fairtrade, ethical, green, and eco products, most consumers have a clear idea of what to expect from sustainable brands. Moreover, in order to help them in their path from consumerism to more ethical and more meaningful ways of consumption, brands must engage in better forms of advertising and product labeling, by accentuating the benefits of sustainable goods at personal and social levels, such as the healthier alternatives for one’s self and environment.