Over the past 12 years, product teams around the globe have been on a journey towards more sustainable sourcing, beginning with measuring the impact of production on the environment. And ever since, factories have offered sustainable sourcing. It’s time to move another step forward.
Actually, not a single collection is currently developed where the design, product development and sourcing teams don’t speak about sustainable sourcing. Even when looking at industries outside of fashion apparel, we see a large number of companies who prepare an annual sustainability report.
As social responsibility has grown in importance around the globe, companies are improving on all its components. But the objective is to drive even further change, for example by establishing upcycling as standard practice for companies and consumers alike. And that begins with sustainable sourcing.
Fortunately, sustainable sourcing holds considerable influence on consumers’ buying behaviour, and even the power to force brands that fail to update their supply chain off the market. Sustainability has become an important component of a company’s DNA and has moved up to the highest priority for any garment brand in the fashion, sports and home textile industries.
To better understand this, let’s split the process into three significant areas: the selection of materials, the business model, and consumer behaviour. Designers, buyers or technicians do heavily influence sustainable sourcing. But managers have an important impact too, for example when they create new services. And last but not least, consumer demand for sustainable products contributes to shaping the sourcing process.
The Selection of Materials
The recycling industry is growing at great speed. For designers and product development teams, accessing yarns from recycled fibres, derived from PET bottles, fishing nets or used cotton denims becomes easier every month.
Unlike organic cotton that has a limited offer and demands a longer harvest lead time, our waste or recycling sources are endless. And in addition we clean the sea from plastics or avoid further landfill. New natural materials are also gaining in popularity. Today we find a wide offer of yarns and fabrics made from hemp, banana skin or corn husks.
While production and actual offer of these materials are not yet sufficient for large volumes, they already are a good choice for small brands. Larger companies can increase the usage of recycled yarns, mainly from synthetic fibres. Or they can incentivise suppliers to produce organic cotton, participate in the BCI (better cotton initiative), or follow other sustainable agriculture practices, like rotating crops or embracing diversity.
The Business Model
Consumers are demanding these days and also take a company’s business model into consideration when shopping clothing. Other contributors to this blog have addressed some of the new models, for example Maximilian Gellert or Guido Schild. Slow fashion and pre-order models have become an attractive choice for environmentally conscious consumers. And with fast supply chains, they also become more profitable and less risky for brand managers.
Smaller brands, especially startups, have therefore adopted the pre-order model. Consumer down payments on the order bring financials to order the first bulk, and the model reduces leftover stock and wastage, and is better for the environment while using a minimum of resources. Subscription and membership models have also arrived to Apparel and will continue growing following the success of brands like Stitch Fix or Cyclon running shoes.
Slow Fashion, on the other hand, is similar to slow cooking in that we safeguard the full value of the ingredients. Slow Fashion is a circular model that utilises a closed-loop manufacturing process, with fabric leftovers going to the shredding machine to become upcycled yarn, along with used garments that consumers return to the store. The garments are designed to be resistant and long lasting. Brands also contribute by offering a second hand marketplace, as recently demonstrated when C&A and H&M launched their second hand online shops.
Responsible Consumer Behaviour
Let’s face it, we have been sloppy in our past. But fortunately it’s not too late, and consumers have been quite dynamic in making/demanding a change. It all begins with a thorough look through our wardrobe, which will lead to a couple of conclusions. For example, we wear much of what we own for an average of three years before we throw it out.
What if we changed our mindset and philosophy before our next purchase? Buying higher quality and more durable clothing will make our garments last longer. And when they break, they can be repaired – repair services and warranties on outdoor clothing, for example, are becoming a best practice.
Sustainable Fashion for the Future
To produce and consume garments in an environmentally friendly way, we need to moderate the use of natural resources and reduce waste. Simply reducing the amount of clothing we buy just brings unemployment and unrest to countries that need our support. Better to drive meaningful change that helps all of us. Shops need to remain open, farmers will continue working their cotton harvest, and factory workers will keep their jobs. This is my sustainable proposal to keep the industry alive towards a cleaner future.
About the Author:
Agustin Caprile is an expert in buying and sourcing who has worked for top European fashion retail brands for 15+ years and has extensive global experience in the textile production industry. He is passionate about elevating the apparel business to higher levels of quality and consumer respect. Read more of his work here or connect with him on LinkedIn.