How to know if a brand is actually sustainable?

Sustainability is about the balance of environmental, economic and social issues. It’s about constructing a new world where human activities are in total balance with nature. 

But with so many solutions out there on the market, that claim to be sustainable, a lack of clarity on the topic from both the brands and the consumers often leads to greenwashing.

So what actually makes a brand sustainable?

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Transparency. When trying to determine if a brand is actually sustainable we often focus on keywords like local production, recycling and upcycling, zero waste, carbon-neutrality, organic materials… But the value to truly look out for is: transparency!

Brands should be able to tell their customers the origin of their products, the ingredients used in their production and how their workers and employees are being treated and ideally benefit from the process.

It’s not easy to find out what really is sustainable yet because it’s not simple to keep track of all product sources. In many cases, only the brand has access to the source of materials. 

Additionally, the characterization of the environmental footprint of a product usually depends on several factors such as the hydric footprint, carbon footprint, waste treatment, recycling, etc – so it can get incredibly complex to determine the level of sustainability of products.

But transparency is the key issue in understanding the sustainability of all processes. Retailers that produce locally and offer high-quality materials, pay good wages for their workers and employees and openly show so in their communications, then they are on the right path for a new sustainable way of creating business.

The movement “Who made my clothes” run by Fashion Revolution started to incentivize more people to ask the question: “Who is really making my clothes?”. The mission was to unite and transparently show all value-chains starting with designers over producers and manufacturers to the consumers, to change the perspective on the way clothes are produced and consumed. 

The idea is to create a new model in the fashion industry and start a revolution on how clothes are produced, especially by who exactly. The movement incentivizes transparency and pushes the fashion industry to explain how clothes are sourced, produced and purchased. The objective is to create a safer, cleaner and fair industry.

The Fashion Revolution movement show faces behind the hidden processes of the fashion industry. Source: Fashion Revolution.

On-demand solutions

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Transparency has a lot to do with selling what the customer really needs. A century ago, the fashion industry was manufacturing high-quality products that were made to last a lifetime.

Nowadays the durability and quality of clothing have been pushed into the background. The main driver for that problem is the emergence of fast-fashion in the last 30 years. The industry that intentionally produces low-quality clothes in order to encourage the customer to buy more and more. 

The fashion industry by now generates more carbon dioxide than international flights and maritime shipping combined according to the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation on the report A New Textiles Economy

That’s a clear sign that we need to rethink this broken system.

Apart from emission by the industry it also accounts for tremendous amounts of waste caused by the production and the “throw-away shopping behavior” encouraged by it. Did you know that giant fashion brands literally destroy unsold clothing overstocks? They have to do it because it’s still cheaper for them to get rid of all the garments that would otherwise cost a lot of money in storage. 

Over-stocks generate enormous amounts of waste that in most of the cases are not being recycled. Overstock generation creates pressure on manufactures that now need to produce textiles with fewer resources, resulting in an even more unsustainable production.

New enterprises are emerging with innovative solutions and disruptive business models that adjust the system. Now, instead of looking to quantity, the focus is on quality again. In order to reverse the situation we are currently facing, enterprises are adjusting the production to the customer’s requirements. 

On-demand fashion allows brands and customers to participate actively in the development of a product. It’s a participatory and democratic process: clothes are developed according to the customer’s preference. Today this system is being more and more adopted by small and medium-sized enterprises and in the future, this concept will hopefully be adopted by big players as well. 

On demand production is the starting point for a paradigm shift!

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

On-demand fashion allows customers to be active partners of a brand’s production process, customers are able to design WITH the brand. The customer now occupies a new space, a space to influence the final design of a product and not just consume it unaware of how it was made.

One simple form of participation would be to let the customer decide what kind of product type they seek the most to avoid over-stocks. They could decide what prints they would like to see on their future product or what fabric should be preferred for production. 

Customers will be able to develop greater affection for their clothes, encouraging them to keep them for much longer. Manufacturers would be able to eliminate overstock, completely cutting the risk of overproduction and waste.

It’s about putting the customer first and then producing the according to supply and not the other way around, which is how it’s still done today.

Consumers now have the chance to create the demand, needed to shift the fashion industry in the right direction.

Now retailers must listen and need to understand the real needs of a customer. It’s about creating a sustainable society with strong human values that respect everyone involved in the development of a product, including our planet.

Would you be willing to wait for your products to be produced in high quality, personalized to your needs for a good price? Which product would you like to customize?

Let us know in the comments!

Ana Vitória De Magalhães
Ana Vitoria is a Brazilian living in Lisbon, environmental activist and idealist of Ocean Immersion Program and Mais Planeta Blog. She is today writer for Uptous Magazine and advocates defending ocean protection, the transition to a circular economy and new business models that can ensure sustainable development, social equity and female empowerment.