The more I learn about the fashion industry, the more I find it hard to sleep at night. The industry is guilty of some of the most sickening + inhumane acts + most consumers are totally unaware, or shy away from learning the truth, because they too will find it hard to sleep. In addition, clothing manufacture is the second largest polluter on the planet. This post isn't about guilting you into things, but instead, talks about simple, inexpensive changes that you can make to your business to make it more ethical and/or sustainable. It accompanies last weeks post, which talks about why being sustainable is good for business, not just the environment (you can click here to read if you missed out).
The days of ethical brands being solely for hippies + stores filled with incense are long gone, nowadays, on the surface of things an ethical brand looks just the same as a 'regular' one, just without all of the unsavoury things that go on during production. Being sustainable or ethical no longer has to mean sacrificing on your aesthetic, there's sustainable fabrics made that can replace traditional ones + suppliers operating on all levels who adopt ethical practices. So, as a small business, what can you change to make your business more positive, without having to spend a fortune?
Use certified products + services
There's a lot of organisations around who monitor production + manufacture. By using companies who are certified by these organisations, you can make choices that are better for your business, without having to spend time and money getting things tested for yourself, this is particularly useful when choosing fabrics. If you see a fabric that has been certified, a quick Google search should be able to tell you more about the origins of the organisation + what the certificate means for you + your product. There's certificates for different purposes, for instance GOTS (The Global Organic Textiles Standard) focuses on the origins of fibres + raw materials + whether or not they are organic, whereas Fair Trade focuses more on ethics + workers rights.
Use organic, low water cotton
Although Cotton is a natural fibre, it is often labelled the world’s dirtiest crop + requires a huge amount of water to grow + often fertilisers are used, which are packed with harmful chemicals. Cotton is used for lots of products, such as t-shirts and jeans + the amount of water used to make one cotton tee + one pair of cotton jeans is the same amount of water consumed by one person in 3 years. 3 years!! The UN estimates that if things continue as they are, half of the worlds population will not have access to clean water by 2040. So, by choosing an organic cotton, which doesn't involve the use of chemicals + therefore doesn't pollute water, you're already making a positive change. Organic cotton is widely available + often certified by GOTS, or another similar agency. It's also possible to buy 'low-water' fabrics, which means that considerably less water has been used during the production process. You could also consider cotton alternatives, such as bamboo + modal, both of which have some lovely properties. There's a great company called Offset Warehouse, who offer both of these fabrics, which are available in both low quantities suitable for startups + larger wholesale orders. You can visit their website, by clicking here.
Use recycled polyester
If you've been watching the news lately, you'll know that the world has a huge problem with plastics, as they take hundreds of years to decompose + are clogging up our landfill sites. What you may not know is that that a lot of fabrics, including the commonly used polyester, are plastic based. The good news is, a lot of companies are now producing recycled polyester fabrics - some are even made from old fishing nets that have been collected from the sea. This is a great programme to back, as not only does it support recycling, but it also protects marine wildlife like turtles + dolphins from getting caught up in plastic. Recycled fabrics are available for a whole range of uses, from swimwear to sportswear, stretch t-shirt fabrics + cosy sweater fabrics. So, if you're thinking of using polyester in your range, it's best to look for one that uses recycled fibres.
The best part is that a lot of eco-friendly, sustainable fabrics don't cost as much as you think + are often a similar price to a good quality 'regular' fabric. Perhaps even better, most of the companies offering sustainable fabrics also allow small minimums, meaning that even small companies + startups can benifit. Comapnies like Offset Warehouse have a minimum order quantity of only 1m!
Limit the amount of packaging you use
Not only is using less packaging better for the environment, but if you're using less, you're buying less + therefore spending less. Also consider how you can recycle the packaging you do use - not only sending it off for recycling, but also reusing things (which also saves you money, as you don't have to buy new all the time!). For example, do you need to wrap your items up in a plastic bag and then put them in an envelope for sending, or could you just put them in the envelope? Do you actually need an envelope with bubble wrap, or could you use a regular envelope? Clothing isn't breakable, so it doesn't really need to be wrapped in air filled plastic. If you're worried about what you're shoppers might think, communicate with them. As long as they receive the items in good condition, they won't be bothered about what it arrives in + if they'll probably be happy if you tell them that you're trying to limit the waste you create, for environmental reasons.
Use recycled paper
A good way to help the environment is to limit the amount of documents you print off. Do you really need to print that sales report, or could you read it on screen? Do you need to enclose a printout of a customers order in a package, or could you send an email instead? If you do have to print, use recycled printer paper, which is inexpensive + widely available. If you're having business cards made, or other stationary, most comapnies offer a recyceld paper opeion + many can print with enviromnetally friendly ink + can avoid using techniques which make it impossible to reycyle the cards/flyers/etc,
Check the source of any fibres with animal origins
Many of us know about the barbaric practices of the fur industry, which causes millions of animals pain + suffering throughout their life, not just when it comes to the end (which comes in a horrific, dark ages torture style for many, including the 2 million dogs a year who die for fashion). But did you also know that a lot of fake fur is actually made from real fur + there are a lot of products that are made from animal parts, even things like jumpers? If you're using fake fur it's best to check the source thoroughly, as sadly a lot of retailers have been finding out that the fur they purchased as fake, is actually real, even large retailers like Amazon. Also, products like angora are made from 50million rabbits per year, in a process so awful that many retailers had to drop it after boycotts following a video PETA released of the process. As with fur, it's worth following up on all animal based fibres, even with common fibres like wool. Even in the western, (generally considered more animal friendly) world, sheep undergo a mutilation process, so it's best to check that your wool has come from an ethical source. There's a lot of smaller companies starting to pop up, who work with local farmers + build a relationship with them to ensure animal safety + wellbeing. If you can't be sure, it's probably best to consider other fibres - remember that the majority of producers view animals as a commodity without feeling + treat them as such.
Visit your factory, or arrange an audit
I, like many people believe that it should be a basic human right to be paid for the work you do + work in a safe environment. Unfortunately for many people, this isn't the case. Contrary to popular belief, this isn't solely a problem for the developing world, even in my hometown of Leicester, England, there have been cases of slave labour + people being paid below minimum wage in garment factories. + even I've been subjected to working hundreds of hours in overtime, without pay. If you're able, try to visit your manufacturers + see what the conditions are like + speak to the staff whereever possible. Not just the boss, but anyone who you can find. If you can't visit, there are agencies around such as QUALSPEC who can do factory visits + audits on your behalf.
I hope this post has given you some ideas of how your buisness can operate in a more positive way, without having to spend extra money. In some cases, it even saves you money! Have you got any tips for operating a more sustainable/ethical business model? I'd love to hear them, so please feel free to leave me a message in the comments below...