Action speaks louder than words: Use sustainability as an innovative design opportunity to create beautiful and seducing styles without compromising ethics. Convince your decision makers through short-term financial wins to pave way for long-term investments. Water-less dying has the potential to save more than 60% on energy use compared to traditional dying technologies.
Know the environmental impacts of your design decisions – use The Rapid Design Module developed by Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The Rapid Design Module (beta version) is a simple tool that aims at educating and providing quick directional guidance to apparel and footwear designers during the product creation process about the potential environmental impacts of design decisions.
Speak the same language as the decision makers – whether it is your CEO, your board or your bank they all best relate to monetary values and risk assessments. Pioneered by PUMA, the E P&L is a tool for placing a monetary value on the environmental impacts of operations and along the entire supply chain. It provides new insights for decision-making that allows us to take nature into account. Cotton and polyester make up 80-90% of all garments. Both materials are associated with risks due to its links to future resource shortage. Cotton is very land intensive and with 10 billion people on the planet in 2050 there might be a need to use that land for edible crops. Based on crude oil, polyester by definition is a scarce resource. Based on these risks it is better to start sooner than later to consider substitute fibers and fabrics for cotton and polyester, such as viscose, flax and hemp.
Design for recycling – ask yourself if the style and fabric is easy to separate for recycling. The more different buttons, the longer it takes to split the style for recycling. The same goes for mixed fabrics like cotton mixed with polyester. Choose fabrics made of single fibers.
Design for longevity – use the Guidance on design for longevity developed by WRAP. Extending the lifespan and use of garments is one of the most significant ways of reducing the environmental impact of clothing. You can find eight specific guides for childrenswear, occasionwear, knitwear, tailoring, denim, sportswear, casualwear and underwear.
Develop and adopt guidelines to help reduce waste through packaging solutions that use sustainable materials, weigh less, and have a better end of life. For instance, PUMA replaced their shoebox with a reusable shoe bag – The Clever Little Bag as part of the Clever Little Packaging programme. And by folding their T-shirts simply one more time, they managed to reduce the packaging size by approximately half. Katvig substituted the foil used for new garments with a regular plastic bag that can be reused to take the product home
Put fashion first and avoid the eco look. Average consumers do not buy fashion because it is ethical; they buy it because they love it. It needs to be something really beautiful or it is going to go out of fashion and on a design level, long lasting styles are inherently more sustainable than fast fashion. Be inspired by these designers, brands and initiatives: Green Carpet Challenge, Honest by., Stella McCartney, Christopher Raeburn and Vivienne Westwood.
This inspirational video from NIKE talk’s about the makers of making taking back the power and to rise up against pencil pushers.
Keep it simple: Ask critical questions to suppliers and about suppliers’ suppliers and understand the supply chain consequences of where you source from and what materials you use. Every choice you make about production location and material selection has an impact. As a designer you are not expected to have detailed knowledge about the supply chain but to have deeper insights about materials. Start demanding better materials and availability will follow. Cotton uses 45% less energy than acrylic but 25% more water.
Some materials, treatments and designs carry higher risks – learn about the risks and how to avoid them through WellMade and how a few actions can make your brand’s supply chain a better place to work.
Keep a simple transparent supply chain and avoid subcontractors. In case subcontractors are used, make sure you always are informed.
Share information about where and how your products are made – use Sourcemap to map your supply chain and trace the origin of your product. Rapanui’s traceability maps were among the first to trace the product supply chain right down to the planting of the seed using online technology.
Learn how to manufacture fashion products using small and medium sized suppliers – see these 12 tips for best practice manufacture and make sure to have a close cooperation with you suppliers and have a smooth and easy dialogue.
HOW TO BE NICE is a tool to make the fashion industry more accountable from a value chain perspective – it introduces the thinking of a code of conduct and gives brands an opportunity to create their own code.
Ethical Fashion Forum recommends 7 favourite and innovative natural fibres that fashion designers should look to use when building a collection and 7 highly innovative fashion fabrics made from naturally derived biopolymers.
Depending on size consider to sign up for standards and verification initiatives such as FairWear Foundation, Global Organic Textile Standard, SA8000, Better Cotton Iniative etc. (for an updated list see Ecotextile Labels)
Rule of thumb: If you are small, visit your suppliers and see for yourself, and use your gut feeling. If you are big: use third party inspectors.
The power of one: Making just one better choice can make a huge change to the footprint of your product. Sustainability practitioners want designers to change everything overnight but just one change can have huge impacts. Switching to recycled polyester for one t-shirt can save 13 plastic bottles from landfill. Decide on your focus according to your core brand values. Topics include water, chemicals, CO2, waste, biodiversity and labour issues.
WATER is a significant concern at the cultivation and creation of raw materials (such as cotton) and during consumer use in a garment’s lifecycle. By 2050 approx. 4 billion people will be affected by water need.
ELLA - a Slow Fashion brand created by Elinros Lindal: Being in business means constant thinking about the concept of growth. Most business leaders in the world are setting goals of more revenues with less cost and finding ways to do better for their business each day of the year. The biggest challange they face are natural resources and the future of water supply. Why? Because water is the foundation of all growth.
Levi’s WaterLess products are a water-conserving collection that allows the company to use an average of 28 percent less, and at times as much as 96 percent less water to finish their jeans. Thus far, the collection has reduced the company’s use of water by more than 172 million liters. Watch the process above.
Encourage your suppliers to work with the bluesign® system to reduce their environmental impacts.
CHEMICALS: The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers during raw material cultivation, and the use of hazardous dyes, mechanical finishing processes, and nano-materials in the creation of apparel pose serious health risks to workers and consumers, as well as significant negative impacts on ecosystems.
In 2011, a group of major apparel and footwear brands and retailers made a shared commitment to help lead the industry towards Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals by 2020 – somewhat as a reponse to Greenpeasce’s Detox campaign.
The Detox campaign was launched by Greenpeace in 2011 to expose the links between global clothing brands, their suppliers and toxic water pollution around the world. Fieldwork and investigations in manufacturing countries, along with the testing of branded garments for traces of hazardous chemicals, resulted in the release of groundbreaking reports that exposed the toxic truth behind our clothes.
Encourage your suppliers to work with the bluesign® system to reduce their environmental impacts.
CO2 EMISSIONS: Material choice is a key driver of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in a garment's lifecycle. Cultivation of cotton and wool, and fossil fuel extraction for synthetic material significantly contributes to a product’s overall carbon footprint.
Adopt a Restricted Substances List (RSL) – RSLs serve as a practical tool to help individuals in textile, apparel and footwear companies, and their suppliers, responsible for environmental compliance throughout the supply chain, to become more aware of various regulations governing the amount of substances that are permitted in finished home textile, apparel and footwear products. The American Apparel & Footwear Association has created an introduction. See what Levi Strauss & Co. and NIKE are doing.
The Norwegian organization Virke has developed a chemical tool for textiles, meant primarily to be a tool for buyers - both in smaller stores and big chains
WASTE: Product design, labels, packaging, hangers, in-store product wrapping, and shopping bags all contribute to the resource efficiency (or inefficiency) of a product (see also Step 4: Create more, use less).
Direct Panel on Loom (DPOL) technology, also called Smart Tailoring was created by Indian designer Siddhartha Upadhyaya as a way to increase fabric efficiency (by 15 percent) and reduce lead-time (by 50 percent) to manufacture high-end garments. By using a computer attached to a loom, data such as color, pattern and size related to the garment is entered, and the loom cranks out the exact pieces -- which then just need to be constructed. Weaving, fabric cutting, and patterning happen all at once. Brilliant. Not only does DPOL minimize immense waste of fabric, it also helps in saving energy and water by 70 to 80 percent.
LABOUR AND ETHICS: Labor rights, human rights, and ethical conduct in the apparel industry have been at the forefront of public concern for decades. Common issues include: fair wage payment, age of workers, hours worked per week, freedom of association and collective bargaining, poor worker-management communication, worker harassment, discrimination and occupational health and safety.
Better Work is a unique partnership between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). It unites the expertise of the ILO in labour standards with that of the IFC in private sector development.
The NICE Code of Conduct and Manual is a comprehensive guide for the Textile Industry, which is meant to assist you in upholding the 16 principles that constitute the Code of Conduct. Many of which have specific focus on labour and ethics issues. It strives for alignment with international standards and universal principles. For this reason, the Code and Manual have taken their inspiration from the UN Global Compact's ten principles, but have sought to provide additional specificity from a sectoral perspective and provides information and inspiration on how to deal with the complex issues.
Materials matter most: The choice of materials has a significant impact on the footprint of the final product. Combined with an efficient usage of materials you have a strong case for sustainability. Reducing your material use through pattern efficiency is not only sustainable, it is cost effective. The goal is 100% usage of materials into products and zero waste.
Check out one of the many new eco-fabric showrooms located in major fashion cities or ask specifically for this when visiting fabric fairs around the world. There is a lot more choice of sustainable materials around now than there was five years ago.
C.L.A.S.S. is a sourcing platform with a wide range of exclusive fashion, textiles and materials in categories like: organic, recycled, repurposed and innovative renewables. C.L.A.S.S. has showrooms in Milan, New York, London, Madrid and Copenhagen.
Design for zero waste – Zero-waste is a design technique that eliminates textile waste at the design stage.
Trade fairs have increasingly integrated sustainability efforts into their strategies and have dedicated more space and effort towards sustainable fabrics and materials.
Texworld’s “Sustainable Sourcing Itinerary” showcases committed exhibitors and green materials. The guide lists almost 80 eco-friendly and ethical suppliers for fabrics with GOTS, Organic Exchange, Bluesign, SA 8000 and WRAP certifications.
Première Vision considers sustainability a new way to look at innovation and fashion. For a few seasons, the organizers have been observing how weavers and fabric designers tend to develop new products with a will of being both creative and sustainable.
Conscious design techniques and guides are available from the EcoChic Design Award LEARN platform including:
Designer David Telfer has experimented with Minimal seam construction since 2008: A technique used to reduce the number of seams used to construct a garment enabling the garment to be manufactured quicker and easier recycling. Less seams/less cuts keeps the fibers long and can be transformed into to new fibers.
Source fabric through directories that list suppliers of fair trade, ethical, organic and eco fabrics, components and manufacturing services from all over the world.
Source4Style is an online resource that provides an easy way to get what you need to put a line into production while still remaining conscious of sustainable practices. The platform acts as a tradeshow, but as an online platform designers do not have to travel long distances to have access to necessary materials.
The Fabric Source in Copenhagen is physical showroom with more than 1,000 sustainable fabrics from over 30 countries. Users have the possibility to place orders - individually or with other brands to gain better minimum volumes and prices. The exclusive collection of fabrics ranges from basic piece goods, innovative fabrics to trend based premier samples.
SOURCE is a platform of tools and services for the fashion and textiles industries, from field to final product. It aims to make it easy for fashion professionals and businesses to work sustainably, inspire and motivate members, facilitate research and industry collaboration and put the spotlight on best practice.
The Future Fabrics Expo and the Future Fabrics Virtual Expo are platforms set up to learn more about the efforts of global textile mills to design, manufacture, and function more sustainably; to discover new fashion textiles and innovations for the future; and to extend networks in the fashion and textile industries. It is hosted by The Sustainable Angle.
Printing and dyeing techniques are important for the longevity of the style, as it degrades the fibers and thereby weakens the fabric. This process has a major impact on the environment and humans and it is important to reduce in these areas. Many suppliers have specialized in new techniques with savings in water and chemicals, such as waterless dyeing or reduced water dying from Lenzing and DyeCoo.
For pattern efficiency take the example of Nike’s Flyknit: a typical shoe might use 30 different non-linear patterns cut from sheets of leather or polyester. The Flyknit uses a single piece of polyester yarn woven into the shape of the foot and so reduces waste by 80%.
Want to know more about organic cotton? Check out the ’Cottoned on’ campaign and get the full picture of dilemmas and answers.
The dying and finishing of fabrics represent the biggest impact of textile industry in the environment. About 85% of the water, 75% of the energy and 65% of chemicals used in textile production is used in dying and finishing. This is why greening this part of the process is so important. Here a few examples:
Perhaps one of the materials that has grown the most in interest in the past years is recycled polyester from PET, which went from a groundbreaking experiment by Patagonia outwear in the mid-'90s to a regular material these days. Even if these fabrics are non-biodegradable, their production uses less crude oil than the manufacturing of new polyester and keeps plastic bottles from landfills.
Meaningful relationships pay off: The fastest way to be successful in business and in sustainability is to tell a compelling story about your design. Bring your customers with you in your choices. Never compromise on your design just for the sake of sustainability, but celebrate better choices and innovations.
Promote low-impact garment care practices and adopt “cold water wash” and/or “line dry” instructions on garment hang tag and care label – noting the quality and environmental benefits of these practices. A few initiatives exist already:
Educate sales personal about the same easy steps to take care of your clothes as you have in the care label/on your hangtag. This is highly valued by costumers and gives sales personal a better understanding and the possibility to guide.
Find a way that suits your brand to tell your sustainable story to the customers. Be inspired by other companies such as H&M’s conscious platform.
Levi’s WaterLess tells consumers to ‘Do your part’ in order to inform and engage consumers about the impact of their choices.
Patagonia partnered with iFixit to show its customers, step-by-step, how to repair their Patagonia® clothing. See the result here.