First of all, to be honest, it is still quite difficult to establish a sustainable brand in the fashion industry these days. The supply chain processes are still quite complex and non-transparent. Vlora and I know that very well, trying to establish a sustainable fashion brand. But that should never be an excuse to keep the status-quo. We know we are not a 100% sustainable and that there are always things that can be done better. We keep trying. One conscious step at a time. So, as we keep guiding our small company towards a more sustainable future, we thought we might give you some tips and guidance on how to spot sustainable brands.
For that, we need to understand what sustainable actually means.
What is sustainability with regards to fashion?
Sustainability is not just one aspect. Textbooks and the United Nations Economic and Social Council usually refer to the three pillars of sustainable development: Social, environmental and economical.
I don’t think that is self-explanatory, so here is a little graph to show you what it could mean:
But what does that mean for you while shopping for clothes? What we are trying to say is that there are different aspects to sustainability than “just” pollution or “just” animal welfare or “just” the exploitation of labor. Sustainability comprises all of it. And don’t worry, we are aware that it is quite impossible to shop for fashion that is completely sustainable. So, to focus on one or two aspects is better than none.
Tips to recognise and find sustainable fashion brands
No matter how many aspects you focus on, here are some tips on what you can do.
Check their website and social media accounts
The first step is quite obvious but very important and can be misleading sometimes. Check if the company of your choice talks about sustainability. Can you find anything about the following:
- Information on the material that they are using for their products?
- What kind of methods are used to dye their fashion garments?
- Are they transparent about the supply chain? Can you find manufacturers that they are working with?
- Where do they produce their garments? Does this brand perform any checks on their suppliers to make sure that their expectations and conditions are met?
- Do they use animal products in their manufacturing process? If so, how do they source them?
- Do they do any not-for-profit work? Do they collaborate with NGOs or do they support NGOs?
But of course, beware of what you read. Some companies try to make you believe in their green marketing when all they are doing is actually greenwashing their business practices. So, if you see terms such as “eco-friendly”, “green” or “pure” but no explanation to what that is or means, you better be a bit suspicious. Some companies also try to highlight small parts where they do well (e.g. sourcing eco-friendly materials), only to hide other bad business practices (e.g. exploitation of labour)
It sounds quite exhausting. But once you start digging a bit, you’ll see that it is also a way to connect with the company and find out whether it really fits your own lifestyle and beliefs.
Watch out for standards or certifications
Now, as with everything in life, watching out for standards and certifications is a double-edged sword. Startups or smaller companies might not care to be certified or they are not able to bear the costs although they might be way more sustainable than their bigger counterparts.
Plus, there are many different standards in different countries for many different causes. It can be difficult to find the right ones. However, it might still give you a better overview on how a product was made.
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
🚀 Mission. This standard is a leading global standard for organic fibres, such as cotton or hemp. Brands certified by GOTS must commit to follow certain requirements throughout their supply chain. They have to agree to meet the GOTS ecological and labour conditions in textile and apparel manufacturing using organically produced raw materials. GOTS certified products adhere to strict environmental and social criteria, and must contain a minimum of 70% organic fibres (https://global-standard.org/the-standard/philosophy).
📍 Location. International. GOTS was founded by four well-reputed organisations: Organic Trade Association (OTA, USA), Internationaler Verband der Naturtextilwirtschaft (IVN, Germany), The Soil Association (UK) and Japan Organic Cotton Association (JOCA, Japan). Two of these (IVN and JOCA) are textile industry organisations, while the other two (OTA and Soil Association) are organic organisations rooted in organic agriculture and food.
🗝 Key point. You can be sure that GOTS certified products contain fibres that are organic and the process of producing these fibres is ethical and sustainable.
🚀Mission. Bluesign aims to provide solutions in sustainable processing and manufacturing to industries and brands. The system behind the product sign guarantees the highest degree of assurance to consumers and ensures that the products were manufactured with responsible use of resources and the lowest possible impact on people and the environment (https://www.bluesign.com).
📍Location. Based in Switzerland but operates internationally.
🗝 Key point. Products certified by Bluesign ensure a high worker and environmental safety.
🚀Mission. Fairtrade aims to empower millions of farmers and workers around the world by tackling poverty and poor working conditions, as well as conserving the environment. It’s hope for a better future by making trade fair. It provides a minimum price to small-scale farmers, so that they do not have to sell below the cost of production. They also provide a Fairtrade premium, a fixed additional amount of money that provides farmers and workers with the capacity to invest in improving the quality of their businesses and communities. Plus, The Fairtrade Standards instill fair terms of trade between farmers and buyers, protect workers’ rights, and are the framework for producers to build thriving farms and organisations (https://www.fairtrade.net/about/how-fairtrade-works).
📍Location. Fairtrade operates globally.
🗝 Key point. As the name suggests, this organization ensures a fair trade. You can be sure that small-scale farmers are compensated fairly for their products.
MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX
🚀Mission. MADE IN GREEN is a traceable product label for all kinds of textiles and leather products that have been manufactured in environmentally friendly facilities under safe and socially responsible working conditions. The MADE IN GREEN label also reassures consumers that the textile or leather product is made of materials that have been tested for harmful substances (https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/our-standards/made-in-green-by-oeko-tex).
📍Location. Based in Switzerland but operates internationally.
🗝 Key point. Environmentally safe. Socially responsible. No harmful substances. And you can track the supply chain within their Oeko-Tex label check app and website.
Fair Wear Foundation
🚀Mission. We’re tackling complex problems by uncovering new solutions and driving step-by-step improvements that create real change for the people who work in garment factories. Four key activities make up the Fair Wear approach: brand performance checks, factory audits, complaints helplines and factory training sessions (https://www.fairwear.org/about-us/how-we-work/).
📍Location. With headquarters in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and representation in Germany, Fair Wear is represented in the main areas where its members are. The organisation also has staff in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Romania, North Macedonia, Tunisia and Turkey, as well as a diverse group of auditors and complaints handlers that work in the countries where Fair Wear is active (https://www.fairwear.org/about-us/our-team/).
🗝 Key point. Fair wear conducts performance checks, factory floor audits, training and offers a complaints hotline in order to create fairer conditions for all workers involved in the sewing and trimming processes of garment production.
Cradle to Cradle
🚀Mission. How we design and make products today shapes the world we will inhabit tomorrow. Cradle to Cradle is a global standard for products that are safe, circular and responsibly made. In order to achieve that, Cradle to Cradle assesses the safety, circularity and responsibility of materials and products across five categories of sustainability performance: material health, product circularity, clean air & climate protection, water & soil stewardship, social fairness (https://www.c2ccertified.org/get-certified/product-certification).
📍Location. Based in San Francisco (USA) and Amsterdam (Netherlands) but operates internationally.
🗝 Key point. The standard’s goal is to ensure that the impact of products on people and planet is a positive one.
There are many other standards and certification such as Better Cotton Initiative, B Corporation Certification and so on. So, have a look whether you find any standard for the product you are about to purchase.
Use apps or websites for sustainable brand ratings
There are a few companies out there that created sustainability ratings for brands and developed apps or websites in order to help you:
We hope that this will help you shopping more sustainably. However, we would also like to share one more thought with you. The best thing you can do for a more sustainable world is buying less. You can also check your parents or grandparents closet. Maybe you’ll find a fancy piece from back in the days. Or swap your clothes with your siblings or friends. Another possibility is to upcycle your wardrobe or go thrift shopping.
If you do shop for new clothes though, try to follow the above tips and make sure you shop for clothes that will last and make you happy for a long time.