What to look for in an eco-friendly fashion brand
A Guide for the Conscious Consumer
Don't be a twat.
That’s what I thought when I started my brand. Don’t mess up the planet; don’t recreate some Dickensian workhouse nightmare. To phrase it positively, I wanted to create a business that was sustainable.
I just had no idea what that meant.
As I’ve learnt over the last eighteen months, nor does anyone else really.
Although this is one of the hottest topics in the fashion world at the moment, there is no standard global qualification which conclusively denotes: “I am a fully sustainable business.” You could substitute ‘ethical’ or ‘responsible’ and you’d get the same result.
Instead, we’re faced with a labyrinth of organisations, testing bodies, national and international regulations, reports, recommendations and guidelines. Add this to an industry which is built on extensive supply chains (we have a dozen separate suppliers in our business alone and we make boxers, not the most complicated of items) and the result is a confusing, at times opaque, landscape in which brands can pick and choose how they define their own environmental and social credentials, and the obligations it places upon them.
What you soon find, after a little digging, is that we must forget any notion of some brands being absolutely good and some brands being absolutely bad. There are no absolutes.
You might have heard of Everlane, the West Coast brand who took the fashion world by storm through their policy of ‘radical transparency.’ They only work with ethical factories, they source excellent suppliers and they tell you exactly how much every part of your item cost, including the margin they are putting on top of it. They are, without a doubt, a fantastic business.
However, many of their garments are made from cotton, which is coming under increasing scrutiny for its water consumption (it takes roughly 1300 litres of water to produce one cotton t-shirt). Everlane are doing a massive amount right, so this isn’t a criticism, but simply a way of emphasising that it’s impossible not to impact the world in some way when you make a product.
New organisations are emerging who are trying to address the lack of an all-encompassing certificate of ‘goodness’ (see B Corp https://bcorporation.net/about-b-corps). However, even this is about mitigation, not elimination.
As Patagonia, the standard-bearer for eco-conscious brands, say overtly on their website:
“We can’t pose Patagonia as the model of a responsible company. We don’t do everything a responsible company can do, nor does anyone else we know.”
As a consumer, the first thing to look for therefore, is a brand which is open about its weaknesses.
Once you know that they’re not trying to pull the sustainable wool over your eyes, then you want to consider the following main areas:
- Materials – how sustainable are the individual elements that go into the product and why have they been chosen?
- Processes – how much impact does the production stage have on the environment and what steps have been taken to mitigate this?
- Workforce – does the company provide a safe working environment where employees are respected?
- Packaging & Transportation (P&T) – how does the product arrive at your door? Does your beautiful eco-friendly t-shirt actually come in a plastic poly bag?
The textile industry is constantly evolving, so it’s not always easy for consumers to stay on top of the latest trends or to know what an eco-friendly brand should be doing, but if you see a brand talking about some of those areas, then chances are they are thinking about the right things.
If you want to see it in practice, this is how we’ve developed He Must:
He Must is pretty strong on materials, workforce and P&T. By using modal fabric we use less water and give you a softer, more breathable product. Our buttons are natural Corozo and not polyester. Our factories sign up to the charter on workers’ rights outlined by the Ethical Trading Initiative and all of our packaging is plastic-free and 100% recyclable and re-usable.
We still have more work to do on our processes, having started by ensuring all of our suppliers test each individual material for harmful chemicals. Over the next few months we will be looking into ways to minimise the impact of our fabric dyeing and offset the carbon emissions from our shipments with DHL.
But in addition to everything that we are doing to transform our industry, there’s one thing you can do that will also make a significant difference: buy better, buy less.
Cheap products cost the workers who make them, they cost the consumer who has to throw them away early, and they cost the earth.
So when thinking about conscious consumption, bear in mind the wise words of John Rushton, one of London’s finest shoe connoisseurs and a friend for more years than I care to admit:
“I can no longer afford to buy cheap shoes.”