23 Nov The hardest thing about ECO FASHION
In a recent article by dazed, “sustainability” is called the most boring word in fashion. “Nobody wants to talk about it. Articles written about it aren’t clicked on. When brought up in conversation, sustainability is met with a sustained eye roll.”
Go to Reddit, and you’ll find more subscribers to the subreddit called “farts” than the one titled “eco fashion”.
Go to Google trends, and it’s unlikely that sustainability and the fashion industry will even have enough search results to be rated against the likes of Lindsay Lohan’s bizarre new accent.
Being from a background of running an eco-fashion brand, I understand how many issues a designer will come across trying to lessen the carbon footprint of their label. It takes more time to source organic and sustainable materials. It is more expensive to produce garments that are made to last by manufacturers that pay their machinists fairly. Packaging the product without plastic is often more expensive, and then it becomes inevitable that a retailer or regular customer will raise an eyebrow when comparing an ethical brand’s prices with those of a mainstream fashion label.
It’s a sad fact that many businesses that start with good intentions tragically fail through a gross lack of cash flow, while large less sustainable companies run with one feel good “green” product and succeed exponentially.
We asked 4 eco-fashion labels about their efforts and their vision for the future.
From your personal experience, what are the hardest aspects of running your business with sustainability in the forefront Vs profit?
Tamika Bannister – The Spotted Quoll : The hardest thing is educating consumers & being under pressure to keep prices down to compete . We have become conditioned to cheap fast fashion we actually think that t-shirts are bought for under $5 with no thought to how anyone can make them for this! Yes sometimes you will pay a little more for a brand that is ethically produced but you are getting quality that you will have forever.
Jesse Clymer – Hemp Authority : Once you open the door to the concept of sustainability, the challenge just grows. From Eco-Friendly fabrics to fair trade practices, to natural dyeing, to localized manufacturing, they all encompass the concept of sustainability. Unfortunately, they all have a cost associated with them as well. Our company isn’t aimed at profiting billions, it’s aimed at provided consumers an alternative.
Thunderpants New Zealand : As we are based in NZ and only have a population of 4.5 million we have limited options for most things in our supply chain so our relationships have to be solid. Sometimes we simply cannot do what we would like to do as there is no NZ option and to bring stuff in from abroad is kinda counter intuitive not to mention prohibitively expensive. We then have to work on our suppliers to take a calculated risk on our behalf as their buying power is greater than ours. Sometimes we just have to compromise.
Suzan Dlouhy – SZN : The cost of fabric is higher; brand representation and presence in commercial media limited and access to educating the customer on the product is minimal. To counteract these aspects time and money can be spent to promote your business and consumer more, but it’s not always reflected in sales and or presence, so at present being sustainable is purely a personal motivation and basic standard.
Which manufacturing practices do you see as the biggest environmental threats, and which do you try to avoid?
Tamika Bannister – The Spotted Quoll : Cotton growing and manufacturing. Cotton uses a lot of water and so many chemicals to produce, which leaches into the ground, makes the farmers and their family’s sick and the end wearer unknowing put their children in chemical drenched clothing. We have swapped most of our organic cotton over to bamboo (farmed only). Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, yields more often from the same plot and thrives naturally without using any pesticides or fertilizers. Bamboo fabric is also 100% biodegradable.
Jesse Clymer – Hemp Authority : The amount we are currently consuming trees is frightening. Hemp based paper goods need to become more of a staple for our society as a whole to counteract global warming while we still can.
Thunderpants New Zealand : The whole textile growing and manufacturing process is a very high impact on the environment. By choosing organic / fair trade yarn and using knitting mills and dye / print houses with eco-friendly processes, waste management and water use awareness we can reduce the impact the industry has.
Suzan Dlouhy – SZN : Mass production, especially for products that are not guaranteed purchases or their lifetime use determined. SZN has tried different approaches with each collection, and as more information on environmental impact surfaces has evolved. For example our first collection used only pre-consumer waste, the second upcycled post consumer waste and current collection organic fabric in zero waste design. New information regarding the discovery of micro-plastic shed over the life-cycle of synthetic garments has informed our move to ultimately use the least toxic textiles available.
Do you believe that hiring labour in third world countries (upholding fair trade) is a positive thing? Or does come with its own social and environmental downfalls?
Tamika Bannister – The Spotted Quoll : We ONLY manufacture in our own factory right here in Tasmania, Australia. We have many reasons for this, we can guarantee 100% quality, sweat shop free fashion made ethically and upholding sustainable standards in everything we do.
Jesse Clymer – Hemp Authority : No, I believe a critical piece to sustainability is more localized economies and less global trade. We import $100 Billion in textiles annually. 1% of that localized would create 100,000+ sustainable jobs.
Thunderpants New Zealand : As long as the conditions and pay rates are fair we think there is a place for manufacturing in third world countries. Personally, we prefer to manufacture in our own country and support our own community with the parts of the process that can actually be done here. We cannot grow cotton in New Zealand so we feel it is appropriate that the processing to the spun yarn stage is done where it is grown.
Suzan Dlouhy – SZN : If companies forge good transparent relationships that can be monitored and provide for a healthy lifestyle for all of their labour force then I see that the skills, traditions and existence of international labour markets as necessary for the fashion industry. Unfortunately, Australia has a limited manufacturing capacity and has not been able to technologically evolve to meet the standards, capacity and or skills of countries that have maintained their manufacturing industries. I also prefer to not differentiate labour as from ‘third world countries’ since ethical labour practices are more nuanced and poor conditions can be just as apparent within more developed nations.
In your opinion, has fast fashion been created by consumer demand? Or is it an invention of the industry?
Tamika Bannister – The Spotted Quoll : I think the industry has created it and consumer demand has followed. So THE INDUSTRY can fix it if it chooses too. Some consumers are certainly becoming more aware and making better choices but consumers, in general, tend to follow like a pack of sheep, go where the herd goes, buy what others buy. We need to make ethical the new black. I say be a leader, not a follower and support brands that deserve your money and support!!
Jesse Clymer – Hemp Authority : Invention of industry absolutely. Marketing, social media, and the likes tell consumers what they want. But, a shift is coming as the need for sustainability is becoming more recognized.
Thunderpants New Zealand : Definitely created by the industry. Fast fashion on a mass scale has come about as a result of globilisation and the consumer being exposed to cheap imports which then changed their attitude to expect cheap, throwaway products and instant gratification in all areas of consumerism. Cheap stuff has become such a part of our culture now that only the truly dedicated eco warriors can avoid it altogether. The rest of us find it very difficult not to buy into it in some way or another. It is especially hard for low income earners to justify spending $50 on a tee shirt when they can buy 3 tee shirts for $10 and still put food on the table.
Suzan Dlouhy – SZN : No, fast fashion is a reflection of our times and lifestyles. Markets fail to account for the ‘true cost’ of resource-use, so they are able to be exploited without the impact considered in the pricing of the goods. Also the cost of living has changed dramatically so that disposable incomes must stretch to cover more. And marketing has targeted satisfying desire over the provision of quality goods from reputable companies.
Whose responsibility is it to change the attitude towards fashion consumption?
Tamika Bannister – The Spotted Quoll : We are ALL responsible. One person can make a difference. We MUST demand as consumers that we will not tolerate being sheep anymore and we stand for a better world and we will no longer support brands that don’t uphold ethical standards. Unfollow, stop buying brands that don’t stand for the better good, change is in your hands, your hands alone!
Jesse Clymer – Hemp Authority : Everyone. It can’t be singled out. And this isn’t a “trend”, this can be broken down to the longevity of the planet if we don’t all make these changes now.
Thunderpants New Zealand : Anyone that is in a position to influence attitudes towards fast fashion through education and their actions should do so- especially the bloggers , celebrities, SM influencers, positive ethical manufacturers and marketers as these folk can drive the consumer to make better choices and ultimately put dodgy manufacturers out of business.
Suzan Dlouhy – SZN : It is all of our responsibility to make sure that we consider the impact of our behaviour towards consumption – we should be the change we need.
How interested are millennials in being environmentally and socially conscious? Do you think awareness has become better or worse over the past few generations?
Tamika Bannister – The Spotted Quoll : Better and worse! We have become more socially aware but we are also much bigger consumers than past generations. We live in the “we want it now” era. So yes we have become more aware but we have the problem with cheap, easy fast fashion where you literally wear it once chuck it away and buy something else…
Jesse Clymer – Hemp Authority : There is a huge shift coming in this direction. Look at college students, you see more peace signs on clothing and non-main stream clothing. Look at grade school children, and in some areas, it feels like flower power is back. We’re going to have a renaissance of sorts by the next full generation.
Thunderpants New Zealand : From the research, we have seen the millennials are very environmentally and socially conscious. Much more so than previous generations. There seems to be some very forward thinking young people pushing for more transparency in business and more environmentally positive options for running businesses and for the consumers.
Suzan Dlouhy – SZN : I’m really not sure, I feel that with the internet and individuals being able to best represent alternative views of the industry, awareness has increased. But at the same time the cost of products have dropped, marketing increased and populations have grown so the environmental impact of our consumption has not reflected this increased awareness. Some people are not interested or informed of the impact of their purchases, so I still feel more needs to be done at the regulatory level to prevent markets from allowing business practices and resource use that is un-environmentally sound.
If you could change one thing about the fashion industry on a world-wide scale, what would it be?
Jesse Clymer – Hemp Authority : No more worldwide! Buy local, bringing back the art of seem-stresses and cobblers, it’s time to manufacture textiles in the US again!
Thunderpants New Zealand : Less is best !
Suzan Dlouhy – SZN : Costing of resources. The life-cycle of resources should be economically considered at the input stage, so that manufacturers and consumers are responsible for the whole life-cycle of a product, including its disposal.
Tamika Bannister – The Spotted Quoll : The industry has become very dirty in my opinion super skinny unhealthy models bread nothing but bad body image for women in a world where starvation is one of the biggest problems we have globally and ironically the fashion industry make young girls think that starvation is somehow beautiful! We have an industry where we put cheap throw away clothes over human life an industry where we desecrate our planet to have a pair of new shoes. So if I could change one thing it would be this. You make the change you want to see in this world. YOU yep that is right little old you. You decide and you only decide where you spend your dollar! You make the change the world needs.