This post was written for THR3EFOLD, a platform built to help build ethical sustainable fashion brands
A welcome transformation is happening in the fashion industry. Consumers no longer want to be associated with brands that are harmful to the planet and to people. Building an ethical and sustainable brand is no longer just an ideal, but has become a business imperative. This in itself can be a challenge, costly, and can leave you feeling frustrated that your vision won’t come to life. It takes time, research, and dedication to a mission, but you will ultimately create something of great value, that you can feel good about for the long term.
Balancing price with ethical sustainable fashion standards is a real challenge. It is inevitable that paying workers a fair wage, sourcing eco-friendly fabrics, and incurring greater expenses for small scale production all play into the overall cost of your product.
So how do you produce your product, balance the budget, and stay true to your values?
SUSTAINABILITY IS A JOURNEY NOT A DESTINATION
You don’t have to be perfectly sustainable to launch your product. Even brands like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia are continually looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly in their materials and practices. Stella McCartney’s Spring 2020 collection is their most sustainable yet, with over 75 percent of materials marked as eco-friendly.
My advice: Write a list of your goals based on the biggest environmental issues we are facing right now. Circle 1-2 that are most important to your brand message to focus on. Then get started. As you chip away at the top circles, you can introduce others. Progress is the goal. As long as you don’t overstate your efforts, it’s ok to start small and build on it over time.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO REINVENT THE WHEEL
The path to sustainability is a continual journey but it also takes a village. Sustainability pioneers understand that it takes more than just their brand to make an impact and they are usually open about their resources. Learn from them, and research the path they took. Other readily available resources include Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Textile Exchange, The Sustainable Angle, the CFDA, and THR3EFOLD's Brand Courses. The more informed you are the less likely you will end up with costly mistakes or a delay in your launch.
TRANSPARENCY = UNDERSTANDING
One of the key strategies Everlane employed on their rise to fame, was offer transparent pricing. This allowed customers to actually see how much goes into making the garment instead of assuming the brand overcharged. Why should they buy your $80 tee-shirt when they can get one for $10 at a fast fashion retailer? It’s about being open, honest and clear about your process and standards. By inviting your customer on the journey you are enabling them to feel good about the purchase they are making when they realize the value of it.
BALANCE YOUR PRICE WITH STANDARDS
While you are on this journey be selective and realistic about what you can produce that your customer can afford. When you first launch your brand you'll be producing a very small quantity which means the manufacturing price will be significantly higher. As your production quantity grows, your cost goes down which will free up budget to add more sustainable measures.
Building a sustainable brand is possible and necessary if you want to be competitive in the fashion industry today but it won't happen overnight. Producing a product will never be 100% sustainable but offering people a better place to buy will continue to help shift this industry in a more positive direction for people, planet, and profit.
If you are seeking better sustainable options for your sourcing, check out THR3EFOLD's new Sustainable Sourcing Directory. If you are just getting started building your brand - they offer a full suite of Brand Courses made just for you.
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