How to build a more responsible fashion brand
As the number of fashion brands describing themselves as ethical or sustainable is on the rise, the number of consumers prioritising the ethics and sustainability of a brand is also growing. Movements pushing for positive change, like Fashion Revolution, and the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, are putting the ethics and sustainability of brands and their supply-chains, centre-stage.
So, how can you ensure that your fashion brand is genuinely responsible and catering to the needs of both consumers and the planet?
1) Positioning your brand
Consider how you will interpret sustainability for your brand; what is consistent and in-line with your brand values, brand story and the products you make? It’s impossible to be 100 per cent ethical and sustainable, but consumers are looking for clarity – they want (and need) to know what it is you stand for and what you are doing to be sustainable and ethical.
Don’t over complicate it or over promise; keep it simple. A clear, singular approach to responsibility that cuts through and resonates with consumers will make you stand out. Pick your area of focus and stick to that. For example, being a brand that is all about discovering and working with the most innovative and sustainable fabrics around the world. This clear focus will help you when looking for supply chain partners, ensure you stand out and stick in consumers’ minds.
2) Choosing your focus
With terms like ethical, sustainable, conscious, responsible, transparent, and organic often being used interchangeably - it can be confusing to know where to position your brand to differentiate it.
Choose one or two areas and terminologies that are right for you. It doesn’t have to be everything or suit everyone – but it does need to be clear, consistent and make sense in the context of your offering and your brand.
Sustainability & materials
Focusing on the origin and impact of the raw material you use for your products, ensuring fibres are sustainably and ethically sourced and manufactured into fabric. Fabrics considered to be amongst the most sustainable are linen, recycled PET, organic cotton and tencel. Keep an eye out for new innovations within the fabric and dye industries, like synthetic spider silk by Bolt Threads, fabrics made from orange and pineapple fibres, and low impact and biological dyes.
Brand focusing on sustainability and materials:
Reformation’s goal is zero waste, they have created the RefScale to monitor their carbon footprint and work with a range of recycled fabrics.
Creating high quality products that don’t go out of fashion and are built to last a lifetime, products that you encourage your customers to use them again and again and to love forever. Think about end of life and supply chain circularity, working out ways for your customers to recycle, reuse and repair your products.
Brands focusing on durable design
- Dr Martensshoes come with a lifetime guarantee.
- Patagonia and Nudie Jeans both offer a repair service.
People and ethics
Focus on your supply chain partners and working exclusively with those who are committed to having positive social impacts and caring for the wellbeing of their workers. Certifications such as Fairtrade, SA800 and GOTS indicate social compliance, but make sure to take the time to visit your supply chain partners to understand what they are doing, and why, first hand.
Brands focusing on social impact
- Toms - For every shoe you buy, they give a pair away free to someone in need.
- Carcel - Their clothing is made by women in prison; providing them with better jobs, new skills and more opportunities.
Positioning your brand as open and transparent means telling your consumers not just who your key manufacturers are, but providing details on all your other suppliers; from zips and fabrics to labelling and packaging. Transparency can also mean offering a full break down of costs on your website, splitting out labour costs, material costs, logistics costs and taxes.
Brands focusing on transparency
- Everlane tell you about their factories and break down the cost of each garment.
- Know the Origin are committed to a 100 per cent transparent production process, presenting information on every manufacturer and supplier they work with.
3) Working with the right manufacturing partners
Picking the right manufacturing partner is key; it is one of the most important relationships for any fashion brand. Certifications are a good starting point to help you identify who might be the right fit, then find out if a potential partner shares similar values to you and your brand. Visit them in person, tell them what’s important to you, the things you are willing to be flexible on and things you are not. For example, if it’s complete transparency you want, ask your partner at the start and if it’s not something they can offer, then they aren’t right for you. Look for a better fit.
4) Stay well informed
The best way to start improving your supply chain is by asking questions, so that you are well informed and understand what is achievable. Being a more responsible brand means being more conscious of your social and environmental impact and constantly striving to improve every aspect of your supply chain. Every step of the way, question your decisions and think whether there is a more responsible option. Right from the birth of a design idea, ethics should be front of mind for every decision made; from finalising design details and picking raw materials, to selecting material suppliers, and finding manufacturing partners.
To make real, lasting impact, to appeal to a more conscious consumer, and for your approach to be (and to appear) genuine, it needs to become part of your brand DNA and to influence every decision you make throughout your business.
by Flora Davidson is co-founder of Supplycompass