Increasing awareness of the fashion industry’s overall effect on the planet combined with the demand for accessible, convenient, sustainable clothing creates fertile ground for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
But launching any new venture is fraught with challenges and risks. Success demands research, planning, and dedication to your values and mission. So, how do you establish your sustainable fashion brand and cultivate it into a profitable enterprise?
In this post, we’ll explore everything you need to know to get started.
The Impact of the Fashion Industry on the Environment
A study by The Business Research Company reveals some sobering facts about how clothing affects the planet:
- Fashion manufacturing creates approximately 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year.
- One truck’s worth of clothes is sent to a landfill or burned every second.
- Just 1% of clothes are recycled.
One common term used when discussing modern clothes manufacturing practices is “fast fashion”: Earth.org defines this as “cheaply produced and priced garments that copy the latest catwalk styles and get pumped quickly through stores […] to [maximize] on current trends”.
This “fast fashion” caters to consumers’ desires for on-trend items at low prices, helping to drive the increase in the average shopper’s fashion spending: people purchased 60% more clothing in 2014 than they did in 2000 but only kept them for half as long, according to Business Insider. And this research also shows that clothing production has doubled since 2000.
But this growth in production and consumerism comes at a heavy price: Business Insider revealed that clothing production accounts for 10% of all carbon emissions, and 85% of all textiles end up in a landfill each year (enough to fill the Sydney harbor).
What Demand Exists for Sustainable Fashion?
Fortunately, more and more consumers are looking for eco-friendly options when shopping for clothes. Research by Genomatica found that more than half of U.S. consumers recognize that sustainability is essential in the fashion industry and consciously choose to support sustainable businesses. Just under half (47%) want to make more sustainable decisions when buying clothes but “give in” to the most convenient options available.
And the demand exists for more sustainable clothing brands: more than one-third questioned by Genomatica agreed that they would shop at a specialist store. Almost 60% of consumers care about the raw materials used for their clothes and want them to “not be harmful” to the environment.
What’s the Difference Between a Sustainable Fashion Brand and an Ethical Brand?
You may see the terms sustainable and ethical used interchangeably. That’s incorrect. Sustainable fashion relates to a brand’s production processes and how they affect the environment.
Ethical focuses on the health and wellbeing of all humans and animals involved in the manufacture of clothes. These companies ensure their workers receive fair treatment throughout their supply chains and typically implement policies on various critical issues, such as:
- Health and safety in the workplace
- Child labor
- Forced labor
- Union rights
- The right to a living wage
Ethical brands also tend to care about their impact on the environment, strive to reduce their carbon footprints, and use no or few animal products in their clothes and accessories. Vegetarians and vegans, for example, may prioritize ethical brands when shopping for clothes.
Sustainable businesses focus more on making their manufacturing processes as eco-friendly as possible. Common techniques include:
- Using natural resources in an efficient, responsible way
- Reusing and recycling garments
- Using organic cotton and other materials that can be recycled more effectively
- Creating more durable fabrics that last longer and produce less waste
- Reviewing energy sources used in production processes to cut their carbon footprint
Everything from your lighting choices in your head office to your shipping methods and even your packaging all impact your standing as a sustainable clothing brand. For instance, a company that positions itself as a sustainable force in the fashion industry should never use excess plastic in its packaging.
Sustainable and Ethical
Companies can combine sustainability with an ethical ethos: sustainable brands such as Patagonia and Pact are just two examples. You can find more on these and other trailblazing companies in this article at The Good Trade.
How to Be a Sustainable Fashion Brand
Good intentions are a must for anyone looking to launch a sustainable fashion enterprise. But establishing your business as an environmentally conscious brand requires hard work and commitment to your cause.
We’ve already discussed the level of consumer demand for convenient, sustainable clothing solutions, yet reaching your target audience and bringing them the products they want via methods they respect involves extensive research and strategic thinking.
Below, we’ll look at some of the critical steps in building a sustainable fashion brand identity.
Careful Planning to Understand Sustainability Requirements and Practices
Start your journey to success with sustainability by defining what products you’re going to bring to consumers. Will you specialize in women’s clothes? Men’s? Gender-neutral lines?
Identify Your Target Audience
Identify your target market, their pain points, and their shopping habits just as you would when launching any new business. This involves comprehensive market research and the creation of buyer personas based on your findings. For example, if you want to reach young professionals with lots of disposable income who care as much about looking good as they do about helping the environment, research what they’re currently buying. What brands appeal to them best and why?
Look at what competitors offer and find ways to fill any gaps that may exist in the market. What can your sustainable fashion offer consumers that other brands can’t? Who are you selling your garments to, and why should they care? Be clear about who your audience is before you start designing and manufacturing clothes.
Environment Considerations Directly Related to Your Production Processes
Your environmental considerations must be practical and your goals achievable. You may not have the funding to implement the exact eco-conscious processes you initially hoped to at the start of your journey. But you can pledge to make further changes as your business grows.
Make sure all manufacturing facilities adhere to the strictest environmental standards. They should:
- Follow the minimum local regulations (at least), but be willing to improve when possible.
- Use renewable energy whenever available and viable to curb carbon emissions.
- Utilize non-toxic detergents and dyes to color garments.
- Take advantage of catchment systems to stop microfibers from reaching waterways and potentially harming humans and animals.
Choose your manufacturing facilities carefully and research their production processes in detail to avoid any oversights that could ultimately harm your reputation down the line.
Choosing Resources Wisely to Reduce Carbon Emissions
Resource consumption is unavoidable in any business, especially running a fashion brand, but you should do as much as possible to use them ethically.
Beware of fabrics made from fossil fuels, such as nylon, spandex, polyester, and acrylic. According to Simply Environmental, producing these synthetic textiles is “emission-intensive and environmentally degrading.” Washing them also releases microplastics due to the breakdown of their fibers, creating pollution in water systems that affect oceans and the food chain.
You should also create clothing that lasts for as long as possible to reduce the risk of consumers disposing of them and creating more waste. Churn is less of an issue when you use 100% recyclable materials — but offering long-lasting, sustainable products will only have a positive impact on your reputation.
Considering the Social Impact of Your Brand
Sustainability is about taking a stand against those practices that have contributed to carbon emissions and unnecessary waste. As we mentioned earlier, there’s an obvious intersection between sustainability and ethics, so consider how your sustainable brand handles its workers.
Offer livable wages with fair working patterns, reasonable breaks, and comfortable working conditions. And try to find ways to contribute to the communities where your manufacturing facilities are based. Consider launching or sponsoring initiatives to benefit the environment (such as cleaner energy, funding for charities, or campaigns for better social housing).
Conclusion: How to Start a Sustainable Fashion Brand
Creating a sustainable clothing business and knowing how to make sustainable clothing work are complex matters — but the growing consumer demand means there are potential rewards for brands who commit to sustainability.
Comprehensive research and planning are fundamental to identify your audience, their goals, and habits. You may be targeting various demographics, such as environmentally conscious millennials who still want cost-effective goods AND middle-aged shoppers who want sustainably produced clothes that reflect the latest trends.
Fortunately, EpiProdux makes it easier than ever to segment your customers and deliver the right products to the right buyers. It can help you increase your retention rates and improve average order values while cutting the cost of customer acquisition.
EpiProdux allows you to segment your audience into specific sustainable customers groups, then create strategic content about the sustainable brand tailored to their needs. You can also use EpiProdux to conduct market research to develop and build suitable product features your customers will love. Try EpiProdux for FREE now to find out how it can help your sustainable clothing brand grow!