Thankfully, there is much conversation in the fashion world about sustainability. For most brands and customers, however, lofty questions arise around what exactly is sustainability, how to achieve it and how to communicate it. Between fair trade practices, eco-friendly fabrics, transparent supply chains, upcycled, recycled, carbon-neutral, carbon off-sets, organic fabrics, and circular supply chains, it can be a daunting landscape.
As consumers, we try to make conscious choices, but how can we be certain the brands we support are actually sustainable and not just 'green-washing' their sustainability statements with misleading, unsubstantiated claims about their product, company and practices? With so many creative approaches to sustainability, how do we know which ones actually are sustainable?
With no clear standard, current thinking aligns brands that put people, the planet and a purpose at the core of their mission as 'sustainable.' That sounds like a good place to start!
Luckily, change is afoot with new processes, companies and movements that promise to clear the muddy waters.
People: Fair Trade Certification
The food and beverage industry along with apparel industry leaders like Patagonia have advanced the fair trade movement and have laid the groundwork for change with 'Certified Organic' and 'Certified Fair Trade' labels. These labels allow consumers to purchase with confidence knowing the brands displaying the label have been well vetted. Fair Trade goes way beyond fair pay and ethical treatment and includes plenty of planet and purpose-friendly initiatives as well.
Sustainability: The Higg Index
Utilizing is Fair Trade initiative as a platform, Patagonia continues to forge new territory with it's Sustainable Apparel Coaliton, a group of 200+ global apparel stakeholders who, along with the Envirnomental Protection Agency, are creating the Higg Index, a self-assessment tool for brands to gauge their enviromental and social impact throughout their supply chain. The goal is to create a sustainability score that will eventually communicate to consumers, much like the Certified Fair Trade label, the actual sustainability of a product from cradle to grave.
Organizations are emerging everyday to help navigate this new-ish territory as well. Companies like PositiveLuxury.com and Mochni.com are creating product directories to help consumers identify sustainable brands. The team at FashionRevolution.com has raised awareness for fair labor practices with their brilliant #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign.
Yeah, but you're not TOTALLY sustainable.
Another complicating factor to sustainability is scope. There are so many facets in apparel production that no one brand will do everything perfectly every time. Does local production offset toxic dyes? Does a circular supply chain offset the water and energy usage to recycle the product?
"There is an easy route and there is a hard route, but the hard route involves doing the right thing," says Patagonia's Maya Spaull.
"Detractors are plenty, but just because you can't do everything doesn't mean you should do nothing," says ocean+main founder, Mary Price. "We don't ship any products in single-use plastic bags, but we do ship product which does have a fuel and transportation impact."
Transparancy is key to judging if a brand is making a concerted effort in the area they have decided to tackle and collectively, each of these steps moves us closer to change.
So, as we navigate the sustainability landscape, there will be new, exciting brands, new developments in technology and new practices along the way. We applaud everyone, regardless of their focus, in helping shift the conversation for change, a change that keeps People, Planet and Purpose as the reason for it all.