Actualizado: 26 de ago de 2019
Lately, we are seeing a shift in consumer behaviour, with more and more people actively searching for options that are kinder to our planet and the different people who live in it.
This demand is taking brands to develop more conscious collections and is also motivating the birth of new brands dedicated to this specific segment. All of this is fantastic. However, as a consumer, it is not easy to navigate the different “labels” that brands use to promote their items, let alone understand if these claims are actually true or just a marketing strategy.
This article will help you understand what some of the most used terms for responsible wear mean, and what things to look out for in order to make sure the claim is funded.
The concept of sustainability revolves around the understanding that we have just one planet, and that resources are limited. Mass production has led to over-exploiting of natural resources and communities, compromising their future. From deforestation to aggressive mining or the contamination of rivers and oceans - for decades industries have been abusing these resources like there is no tomorrow. The sustainable mindset is about changing this dynamic so we can actually have one!
How can a fashion brand be sustainable?
It is all about thinking ahead, and understanding the consequences that our business activity has on the future of the planet. The classic “reduce, reuse, recycle” is key here, and what many brands are working towards is a “circular model” where leftovers and discarded pieces are reused or upcycled to avoid them ending up on the landfill.
But there is other -easier- a brand can keep a sustainable business model. Some of these are :
Reducing leftovers: Unsold items are a problem for the fashion brands as well as they are for the environment since these are usually either burnt or thrown in the landfill. Some brands are starting to work on smaller, better-planned collections to avoid this problem. Others are betting on “atemporal” collections, less dependent on trends and that can, therefore, can be sold at any time. Others, on the other hand, are making the commitment to donate all their extra stock to different charities.
Using recycled materials/biodegradable materials: Every piece of garment that is done out of recycled or repurposed materials already helps reduce the exploitation of limited resources.
Slow fashion: in contraposition with the fast fashion movement, who allows the user to buy cheap and discard fast in order to keep up with the different trends, slow fashion focuses on smaller productions and items made to last.
The eco-friendly umbrella includes all kind of initiatives which are destined to reduce or even counteract the negative effect that humanity has on the environment. Fashion has been claimed to be the second most contaminating industry on earth (although there is some controversy about whether or not that is true), therefore it becomes pretty clear that some change is necessary.
How can a brand be eco-friendly?
Being friendly to the environment can mean many different things. Some of the ways brands are trying to be kinder to mother earth are :
Responsible farming : The mass farming for the obtention of raw materials can take a huge toll on the environment and the rural communities. From the use of organic materials (see bellow) to helping the reforestation of certain rural areas, many companies are trying to come up with methods to reduce the negative impact of these activities.
Defense of animal rights: Many brands are now eliminating all fur and leather from their collections, and make-up brands particularly are making sure to use all vegan products and certifying that their products are not tested on animals. (see bellow “cruelty-free”)
Reducing the carbon footprint. Some brands are putting the focus on sourcing and producing locally as much as they can in order to reduce the carbon emissions.
Using recycled and biodegradable materials: Yes, I know we said this before, but this is a very important point for an eco-friendly brand. Every new button we make or yard of fabric we spin requires additional resources to be produced which means putting more stress on the planet.
The “socially responsible” label is the human approach to responsible consumerism. Its focus is towards the fight for human rights and equality, in all of its forms.
How can a brand be socially responsible?
No more sweatshops. The Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, where 1,134 people died due to the collapse of a factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, made the whole world aware of the precarious conditions textile workers were forced to live under. Since then, both international giants and smaller labels have made an effort to ensure that the people who make their collections have fair wages, reasonable hours and a safe working environment. Since then, the pressure of both companies and consumers has helped push the labor laws of countries like India, Bangladesh, and Cambodia.
Supporting local communities. The delocalisation of the production often happened to the detriment of local craftsmen and factories. We see brands now showing an interest in revitalising these communities, by recovering traditional techniques and traditions and showing it to the world.
Inclusion: Sadly, there are several groups in our society that struggle to fit in, and have huge problems finding and keeping a job or even feeling supported by the community. Thankfully, there are more and more brands who are actively trying to fight for equality, whether we are talking about the differently-abled, racial and social minorities, refugees or the LGBTQ+ community. A brand can support these groups by employing them, by creating products for them or even just by showcasing diversity on their catalogs and social media.
Making your employees happy: Although it might not be so attractive from a branding perspective, the change should start from those who are closer to you, and thus many companies are making an effort in making sure their employees are happy both at work and while they are out of the clock. Things as simple as flexible hours or the possibility of working from home can improve a lot the quality of life of the employees of a company, but there is much more that can be done. Including exercise programs or guided meditation in working hours can help boost productivity and motivation.
Hiut Denim Co. became popular for being Meghan Markle jeans of choice, however more interesting is the story behind the brand. For 40 years Cardigan was home to the largest denim factory in the UK, however due to this factory closing in 2002, hundreds of jobs were lost. Hiut Denim gave jobs back to local people who were already skilled in the field. They also initiated the “no wash club rules”, that encourage their customers not to wash their jeans for 6 months, and they offer free repairs for life.
This one is a bit trickier because it can include all of the above, and then some. When a brand claims that it´s ethical it should mean that they are very mindful of the impact that their activity has overall. This can be applied to almost anything, from avoiding child labor to using only recycled or recyclable materials.
How can a brand be ethical?
This tag is normally used to highlight the fact that the main focus of the brand is not to make money, but rather to fight an issue in order to have a positive impact. For one brand this issue might be body-shaming, which they can fight by displaying and servicing customers of different sizes and shapes. For another brand, the issue might be water usage and they might work on creating products that have anti-bacterial properties, which means you can wear them for several days without washing them.
For a brand to be ethical, they don´t have to necessarily tick all the boxes. In fact, in some cases, some of the causes might be contradictory. A very good example of this is the use of leather in clothing and accessories.
Leather shoes and bags are significantly more durable and sturdy than any vegetal fiber alternative, and they are far more friendly to the environment than artificial leather, which requires the use of fossil fuels and is not biodegradable. However, it required the use of animal products which many organizations consider unethical.
Whatever the focus of the brand is, they should be able to very clearly explain and document what is their purpose and how are they fulfilling it.
Swimsuits for all is one of the pioneers in body-positive branding. They want every woman to feel beautiful on their skin.
ORGANIC: When you see an item labeled as “organic”, what the manufacturer is telling us is that there have been no chemicals involved in any of the processes required to produce this item. In the case of a cotton t-shirt, for example, to obtain an “organic” certification the retailer has to prove that there have been no chemical pesticides involved in growing the cotton crops, nor chemical dyes or washes on the production of the garment. This is important because these chemicals end up on the soil and water, and can be harmful to plants, animals, and humans.
CRUELTY-FREE: When a company claims to be “cruelty-free” they are certifying that none of their products or the different ingredients that are used to produce them have been tested on animals. This term is mostly used for cosmetic and household product companies, and there are several organizations (including PETA-beauty without bunnies) that provide certifications.
ZERO WASTE: The concept of “zero waste” is part of the sustainability approach, and it focuses on the promise of not throwing anything away. Around the world, we are seeing more and more “zero waste” retail points where you can bring your own containers and buy food and household products. In fashion, some brands are also trying to join this movement by designing their collections in order to avoid any remnants of fabric or upcycling those fabric scraps to create new items.
FAIR TRADE: Fairtrade is used normally for companies that import products from developing countries, and it certifies that the producer has been paid a fair price for them.
But, how can we be sure, as consumers, that the brand is actually respecting these procedures? The key here is transparency and traceability. A brand that claims to be sustainable, eco-friendly or socially responsible has to be open about their supply chain and the dynamics of their production methods.
There are also several certifications that brands can apply for provided they ensure they respect the parameters. You can learn about most of them in this guide by ApparelEntrepreneurship.com.
We hope this guide can help you understand your options and be a more responsible consumer. However, it´s important to remember the most responsible thing we can do is limit what we consume and take care of the things we already have. Like or planet, for example :)