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Sustainability is a growing concern for all of us in the fashion industry. Our current model of fast fashion, energy inefficiency, and landfills filled with unwanted apparel and waste can leave any designer down in the dumps. 

This is one area where we think smaller brands have an opportunity to set themselves apart from larger corporations. Most large corporations like the idea of sustainability but are only able to enact sustainable options in very small, and often, superficial ways. They have factories, supply chains, and a company culture already in place and too much would have to change for them to truly become a sustainable brand. 

You though, you are just now growing your fashion line. You might not even have a manufacturer or fabrics sourced yet. This is a great opportunity to grow a sustainable brand from the ground up. This touches more than just fabrics but enters into every piece of the development process. 

We want to give you 3 ways you can create a sustainable fashion brand today.

Fabrics

This is probably the area most people think of when they think of sustainable fashion. Fabrics play an important role in how sustainable a brand is. There are also varying degrees of sustainability for each fabric choice.

Bamboo

While bamboo grows quickly without the need for chemicals, but unfortunately the process of converting bamboo to fabric can require harsh chemicals. Bamboo is very comfortable to wear since it is absorbent and moisture-wicking.

Organic cotton 

According to Green America, 25% of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton products. Organic cotton is grown without the use of harsh chemicals. Look for a GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification when buying cotton. 

Hemp 

Hemp grows quickly and does not require chemicals. This is a very durable fabric. The downside is that it is more expensive than other sustainable options leading to higher retails. 

Recycled Fabrics 

Recycled fabrics are normally created from used or discarded polyester fabrics and soda bottles. The fibers from discarded or donated clothing are pulled or shredded to create yarn. This recycled yarn then undergoes processing and cleaning so it can be knit or woven into a new fabric. 

Tencel 

Tencel is similar to Rayon in that it uses wood pulp. However, Tencel uses Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood pulp and less toxic chemicals. Tencel is also compostable and completely biodegradable. 

Wool 

Wool is highly renewable, fire-resistant, and a natural antimicrobial. Wool does not require any chemicals. Look for humane animal treatment when sourcing. 

Linen 

Created from Flax, Linen is a great sustainable option. Flax has no waste since every part of the plant can be used including the seeds and oil. Linen is also biodegradable. The downside is 100% linen can often feel rough and is prone to wrinkles. Linen is often blended with cotton or rayon to give it a softer hand but these fibers are not sustainable under normal circumstances. 

Deadstock 

These are fabrics that have been discarded or leftover from another brand’s manufacturing. By reclaiming deadstock fabrics, you are keeping these already produced fabrics from landfills. 

The downside to deadstock is that you often can’t choose exactly what you want. It’s better to purchase the deadstock and then design a style around the fabric properties and color. 

You might not even know the fabric content when purchasing and you will need to send the fabric to a lab to determine the composition since it is required by law to have this information on your care label tags if you are selling in the United States. 

A couple of accounts to follow for deadstock options: @newcrafthouse @fabcyclevan

Silk

A low waste option, silk is produced from silkworms who’s diet consists of mulberry tree leaves which are easy to grow and pollution resistant.

Like wool, it’s important to look at the ethics the supplier is using to harvest their silk since it is coming from living creatures. Ahimsa Silk or Peace Silk is non-violent silk breeding and harvesting. Normal silk is steamed to kill the silkworm before harvesting. This allows the supplier to harvest one long strand of silk instead of having multiple short fibers. However, no animal should have to die for fashion. 

Manufacturing

When it comes to manufacturing there are really two key factors to focus on. The amount of energy that is being used to manufacture your clothing and the amount of waste produced with your product. 

A manufacturer can reduce their energy output by running a lean sewing floor and optimizing each resource efficiently. Regular audits should be done to ensure everything is running as it should. 

Fabric waste is another factor to be conscious of if you are trying to build a sustainable brand. Your manufacturer will set up what is called a marker for your patterns based on the number of units you are producing. The more efficiently the patterns can be laid out, the less waste you produce.

Some sustainable designers have a focus on zero waste in their production and only use geometric pattern pieces to create their styles. Charlotte Bialas is one of those designers. Any leftover fabric scraps are used for accessories. 

Packaging

It would be such a shame to carefully select sustainable fabrics, find an eco-friendly manufacturer, and then deliver the product to your custom packaging that is not sustainable. And believe us, we’ve seen brands do it! 

Don’t miss this small but crucial step or you could come off as disingenuous. 

Recycled materials

Using recycled products can be a great start! There are poly bags created from recycled plastic bottles as well as paperboard cardboard that is created from paper pulp and formed into shipping boxes. 

Keep it simple

A simple shipping presentation can still be impactful. Use natural shipping materials as much as possible. Simple logo prints can go a long way. Print any information you want to relay to your customer on the shipping box instead of including a pamphlet. Send the invoice electronically instead of including a printed copy in the shipping box.

End of Cycle

 Print instructions on how you would like your customer to dispose of all shipping materials and how best to recycle them. It’s even better if it’s all biodegradable.