How to Create an Ethical & Sustainable Clothing Line
Ethical, sustainable clothing is on the rise– and for good reason. More and more consumers are becoming aware of their impact on the environment, people, and animals that make up our home planet. These days, especially, reducing our carbon footprint and promoting the fair treatment of workers needs to be at the forefront. But, you already know that. And as a fashion designer, you also know that change starts with you, one clothing piece at a time.
However, you might be wondering how to make sustainable fashion in the first place. There’s a lot that goes into sustainable apparel production. So to ensure an easy decision-making process for your designs, here’s everything you need to know on ethical and sustainable fashion.
What Does Sustainable Clothing Mean?
What does sustainable clothing mean? In a nutshell, it’s fashion created in an intentional way: environmentally-friendly design, production, and distribution. It describes everything from individual clothing pieces like shoes and shirts to converting the whole fashion system to promote social justice and eco integrity. To produce sustainable clothing, it’s important to consider every aspect of creation, down to the types of fabrics and how production impacts both the environment and people involved.
In recent years, consumers from markets large and small realized the urgent need to focus on ethical and sustainable clothing, and they use their buying habits to voice the importance.
And since they don’t necessarily want to give up convenience and accessibility, they’re on the lookout for stellar businesses who share their environmentally-conscious values. To top it off, a 2017 study shows that a vast 81% of the global population feels strongly about businesses stepping up to decrease ecological pressure.
This is huge for fashion designers looking to make their mark in the modern world. The new age of business isn’t just about product quality; it’s also about the specific values that make up the company, which makes sustainably produced clothing highly desired.
Understand the Impact of Manufacturing Processes on the Environment
The production process of sustainable apparel plays a massive role in cleaning up the environment and reducing negative health effects. For example, EcoWatch mentions that the most prominent factory location in the world, China, has an estimated 70% of its lakes and rivers polluted with 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater, specifically from fast fashion.
It’s becoming more and more apparent that the unregulated textile industry is a global crisis, as consumers feed their fast fashion fix and large corporations rake in profits. Along with harming the planet, the production process can also directly affect the people living nearby to the factories. “Cancer villages” are a rising problem in China as well.
These communities are largely affected by chemical, paper, and resource extraction factories and are thought to have a greater risk of getting cancer due to their irregular exposure to pollutants. Combine this issue with water sources being affected, it’s plain to see that when mother Earth is hurting, its people are, too.
Another problem here is product afterlife. Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, a recycling company, says that only 50% of what you throw in the recycle bin is actually recycled. So even after manufacturing a product and crossing your fingers that it ends up being recycled, isn’t enough.
At the end of the day, it’s been said that factories contribute to nearly ⅔ of the pollution linked to climate change. From polluting the air with toxic gases, dumping materials into waterways and landfills, destroying wildlife, and decreasing overall human wellbeing, the current manufacturing process is a massive contributor to environmental destruction. Hence, why sustainable clothing design is becoming so popular.
Where Should You Source Your Materials From?
So what makes a fashion brand sustainable? How do you create eco-friendly clothing? Well, one of the first steps is to decide where you want to source your materials from and what kind of material you’d like to use. As said above, using eco-friendly materials is very important, since half of the time recycling doesn’t happen.
Let’s start at the beginning by making sure your materials are ethically sourced. Do your research to ensure your materials are sourced with little impact on Earth and people. Then, go for organic materials over synthetic, since they’re biodegradable. You can also use recycled materials here.
When it comes to textiles, check to see that they’re eco-friendly. Lastly, look for the use of natural dyes, rather than of chemically-infused ones.
What a sustainable fashion brand needs to look for:
- Ethical origin
- Organic materials vs. synthetic
- Recycled materials
- Eco-friendly textiles
- Natural dyes
Are the People Producing Your Materials Fairly Treated and Paid?
So far there’s been a lot of sustainable talk, but we’re still missing the other side of the story: ethical fashion. While it’s crucial to consider impacts on the environment when it comes to fashion production, it’s also essential to understand the impacts on those working in factories.
Unfortunately, sweatshops and forced child labor infiltrated the fashion system long ago. And now, it’s up to current brands to make the ethical choice: ensuring factory workers are being paid well and treated fairly.
Watch for things like:
- Safe and hygienic work conditions
- Appropriate pay and working hours
- Full transparency
- Freedom of employment and association
- The eradication of child labor
- Anti-bribery and corruption
- Environmental awareness
- Humane and non-discriminatory treatment
This is where fashion designers can make some of the biggest impacts on the world, using sustainable clothing manufacturers that advocate for human rights and follow through with fair treatment of their people.
Have a Clear Understanding of Your Supply Chain
To create sustainable fashion methods, keep in mind the entire process, from start to finish, design to distribution. Every aspect of the system needs to be both ethical and eco-friendly. This means not only revising materials used and manufacturing operations but also taking logistics and other supply chain processes into account.
For instance, is your shipping process sustainable? What about the packaging of the clothes? What are the current laws and regulations in every country along your supply chain?
Know your suppliers, and do your due diligence to investigate all parties involved, especially ones overseas that are harder to monitor. You can return to your supplier contracts and codes of conduct often to reserve the right to audit suppliers and enhance transparency between parties. This way you have more of a handle on what goes on throughout your entire supply chain.
Choose the Right Production Partner
When it comes to producing ethical, sustainable clothing, choosing the right production partner who shares your brand’s values is key. Go for local manufacturing to support local jobs in your state or country. After all, it makes more sense to have face-to-face meetings when you need and not have to move your pieces around the world.
Also, remember that fewer garments of higher quality are the way to go for sustainability. Less is more!
The Evans Group (teg) works hard to provide all sustainable, ethical options for our fashion designers and have for over 15 years as clothing line manufacture experts.