5 ideas to become a sustainable fashion brand company

Transform the negative environmental and social impacts of fashion by forming a sustainable fashion brand company. Here are some strategies to get started.

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Do you want to make your designs come to life by creating your own fashion brand company? Good news–the fashion industry’s unsustainable operations make it ripe for reinvention. 

One of the biggest issues to tackle is the carbon dioxide emissions and the waste, both of which have accelerated in recent years. The system is highly inefficient and simply put: broken. 

Yet, there’s beauty in turning trash into treasure. Sustainable fashion offers incredibly relevant challenges for our time and plenty of room to innovate. 

Here are a few tips to help you get you started. 

🎀 A quick reminder about fashion industry

The fashion industry we know today is symptomatic of globalization, e-commerce, and fast-changing trends, thanks to social media. Consumers keep their style up-to-date with the click of a button. However, this endless stream of disposable fashion has immense consequences for the environment. 

Let’s first step back to understand the underlying framework that the fashion industry relies on to produce and sell garments. 

What is the fashion industry? 👗

Before clothing reaches our closets, it has passed through hundreds of hands to get there. Production begins with raw materials which are usually grown in agricultural fields for natural fibers or synthesized from fossil fuel feedstocks for synthetic fibers like polyester. 

These raw materials are transformed into textiles and trimmings that designers use as the building blocks of their designs. Fashion brands must source their materials wisely to keep costs down. 

Fashion companies create designs and sewing specs for their products to mass produce them in factories. Once the textiles are manufactured into garments, they are then shipped to warehouses or retail outlets to be sold. 

To sell these garments, fashion companies need to have strong branding to reach and engage their target market. They may undergo intense market research to establish the right price point, placement, and strategic marketing for their products in order to sell enough to earn revenue.  

All of these steps combine to form the fashion industry as we know it. 

Fashion market: some figures 📊

To understand the massive scope of the fashion industry’s global impact, let’s look at some key figures: 

The market size of the global fashion industry totals US $3 trillion or 2% of the world’s GDP. Fashion industry revenues in 2021 were US $1.55 trillion. 

A total of 3.3 million employees work in the fashion industry. 

The highest earning fashion companies are French luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), Nike, and Inditex (which owns Zara, Pull&Bear, and Stradivarius among other brands). 

About US $1.29 trillion in clothing exports were shipped in 2016. China exports more apparel than any other country, while the US is the largest apparel market in the world.

Estimates show that the total number of garments produced each year has doubled since 2000 and this trend shows no sign of slowing. 

Fashion industry’s impact on the environment 🌳

Along with these positive economic impacts, there are hidden costs to the fashion system. These costs deplete natural resources, exacerbate climate change, harm wildlife, and impact our health. 

CO2 emissions: More than flights or shipping, the fashion industry contributes to climate change. Estimates suggest that it is responsible for 10% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions each year.  

The reason? Fashion has become more dependent on polyester (plastic) fibers than cotton or other natural fibers. These synthetic fibers are made from fossil fuel feedstocks, and they require three times the amount of energy (282 billion tons of carbon dioxide) to produce than cotton. 

A fifth of all plastic produced each year–about 60 million tons–is used by the fashion industry. This amount is expected to increase as oil companies compensate for declining demand for gas used in transportation.  

The problem is we cannot afford to shift this fossil fuel burning burden from one industry (transportation) to the next (plastics and fashion). It’s time for industries across the board to lower their GHG emissions to avoid the disastrous consequences of climate change. 

Waste: In the US, 11.3 million tons of textiles get disposed of each year. This equals 2150 garments per second! 

Some of this waste comes from consumer behavior: people wear garments an average of 7 to 10 times before discarding them. A study in the UK found that a third of clothing buyers will discard an item after wearing it once or twice. 

After clothing is discarded, it faces one of three possible outcomes: landfilling, incineration, or recycling. However, the amount of materials recycled (13%) is minimal compared to that which gets landfilled (70%) in the US. 

Overproduction: Consumers aren’t the only ones contributing to the waste problem. Fashion brands also landfill or burn unsold stock, and these practices often take place in developing countries without high air quality standards or proper waste disposal infrastructure. 

How much unsold stock is there? In 2018, fast fashion giant H&M reported it had amassed $4.3 billion worth of items that it could not sell. Overproduction is as much a part of the problem as overconsumption. 

Impacts on health and wildlife: Once synthetic fibers reach the environment, they release microplastics into our water, soil, and eventually our bloodstreams. A study recently detected microplastics in human bloodstreams for the first time. 

While the full health consequences of microplastics are still unknown, some plastics are linked to health risks as diverse as cancer, endocrine disruption, birth defects, impaired immunity, and developmental and reproductive difficulties. 

Scientists have traced the 71% of microplastics sampled in river water and 35% of the microplastics in oceans to clothing fibers. This means textiles contribute more than any other type of plastic material to ocean microplastic pollution, where it impacts marine life as well. 

All of these environmental impacts reflect a vicious cycle in which clothing manufacturers encourage the fast turnover of trends. This allows them to continue selling vast amounts of disposable clothing to increase their revenues. What’s worse? Consumers buy into this “fast fashion” system.  

🌺 What is sustainable fashion? 

As stark as the challenges of the fashion industry may seem, there is an alternative: sustainable fashion. 

Sustainable fashion, definition 📖

Sustainable fashion is a broad term that generally aligns with the definition of sustainable development outlined in the 1987 Bruntland Commission Our Common Future report: It should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.  

In practice, this may seem somewhat vague, so The Centre for Sustainable Fashion lists a number of principles to sustainable fashion in its glossary. Key themes within sustainable fashion are: 

  • Business accountability: This broad phrase covers issues as diverse as transparent supply chains to disclosing executive pay. Create a CSR strategy to get started. 
  • Declaring a climate emergency: Pursuing carbon dioxide emissions reduction strategies in line with science. 
  • UN Sustainable Development Goals: A total of 17 global goals address the social and environmental impacts of development including poverty, gender inequality, resource use, biodiversity, and other. 
  • Fair Trade: Elliminating modern slavery from supply chains and ensuring fair wages and pay for workers. 
  • DEI: Fashion diversity, equity and inclusion in marketing, selection of models, sizing offers, designs, and other elements of the industry. 
  • Circular economy: Since most fashion business models follow a linear economy that centers on products whose value quickly depreciates, alternate models such as second hand clothing sales, clothing rental, clothing repair, or life cycle assessments to design for reuse or recycling. 
  • Limiting growth: Examples include minimal fashion, designing high-quality products for long-term use in classic styles, and promoting repeat wears in branding and advertising materials. 

Who are those consumers, looking for sustainable fashion? 👪

The good news is people have never been more passionate about sustainable fashion, especially younger consumers. 

A global survey of 10,000 Gen Z and Millennial consumers showed that 65% worry about the environment, 80% want to buy mostly sustainable products, and 40% believe the fashion industry is unsustainable. 

✌ 5 tips to become a sustainable fashion brand company

Here are some things to consider when starting a fashion brand company.  

Develop a strong know-how of fashion 📗

To break the mold in fashion, you’ll first need to understand how the fashion system works. Gaining industry experience is one of the best ways to start to understand the complexities of the fashion industry. Otherwise, you could make costly mistakes. 

There are numerous ways to expand your knowledge: earning a degree in fashion, working for a fashion brand, networking by joining industry groups, attending fashion shows and conferences, and reading trade publications. 

Ultimately, fashion is a business, so bringing transferable skills related to entrepreneurship such as business strategy, market research, team-building, and raising funds will all help you establish the basis to pursue your fashion brand. 

Define your own sustainability policy 📝

From the outset, establishing a sustainability mission for a new company will help establish the guidelines for operating a sustainable business. Two of the key elements in sustainable fashion are ethical production and sustainable materials sourcing. 

Identifying suppliers which meet your code of ethics is crucial to building a sustainable fashion brand company. This can take a lot of research as you compare the many variables. For instance travel distance adds a greater CO2 burden, while local suppliers sometimes cost more, but benefit your community. 

Finding the right strategic balance and mission alignment is key. 

Look for eco-friendly materials 🔍

Choosing eco-friendly materials is important for sustainable fashion brand companies. Whether this means selecting organic, biodegradable natural fibers or recycled synthetics, remember to consider not just the end of life of the product itself, but the energy and labor required to produce it. 

A wide range of eco-friendly materials are available such as linen, Tencel, bamboo, certified organic cotton, or pineapple leather. You can easily compare their attributes on websites like Good On You. 

Sometimes eco-friendly materials are sourced from the waste stream itself. This includes deadstock (unused) fabrics, or recycled materials. 

Choosing eco-friendly packaging is another important detail to consider. 

Create your brand design 👕

After you have a sense of the type of materials you hope to use and where to get them, it’s time to identify your ideal buyer. Their desires, lifestyle, and habits will largely inspire and influence your branding approach. 

This includes everything from your visual imagery to fonts, logos, and website design. Each element of your branding should express a consistent, unique approach to fashion that will pique the interest of your market. 

The more specific your buyer persona, the more influential your branding will become. This is because each brand has a personality as unique as an individual. Create mood boards, phrases of copy, and find real people who reflect this buyer persona. 

Finally, it’s time to make designs. This requires unique technical skills: patternmaking, garment construction, and prototyping. If you lack these skills, you can either learn, or hire people with the right knowledge to bring your vision to life. 

Once you’ve tested your patterns and created mock-ups, you can send them to a factory, where your garments can be mass produced. Factories require spec sheets from designers which dictate the specific construction details of a design for accurate replication. 

Set up your label ✅

Launching a label is so much more than stocking inventory. You’ll need to set up a website, social media accounts, photograph your designs, and a promotional strategy to get the word out about the fashion label. 

New fashion brands often start generating interest months in advance of their actual launch. Well before the brand stocks anything to sell, it can build a mailing list, find press opportunities, and take pre-orders. 

Using all of these platforms to communicate the sustainable mission of the fashion brand company is a must.

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