How to be an Ethical Fashion Brand

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Planet earth is in crisis and now is the time to act. Fortunately, whichever way you look at it environmentalism is on the rise, with huge public figures like David Attenborough giving a convincing call to arms; and, while being one of the major contributors to the causes of climate change through wasteful, throw-away fast consumption, it seems fashion is finally getting on board. Big names such as Stella McCartney are leading the charge in the high-end commercial fashion world and plenty of independent fashion brands are doing it right from the start. 

When developing a new fashion brand or reviewing existing practices there are simple ways to help your business be more sustainable. In reality it is very difficult to make everything perfect from the get-go (and my advice is not to beat yourself up if you can’t tick every single box) but each little step towards more environmentally friendly consumption is a positive one. 

If you’re inspired and want to start up or become an ethical fashion brand, here are my top ten tips:

1. Think Local - A huge amount of carbon is emitted through the process of transporting goods, particularly through import and export. Finding suppliers as close to you as possible and encouraging customers to shop locally will help minimise your carbon footprint. Supporting local suppliers also has the added benefit of contributing to a healthy and sustainable economy in your area. 

2. Know Your Supply Chain - Do plenty of background research into potential suppliers to make sure they use good environmental practices and, importantly, that they treat workers fairly. This can be difficult as there is generally a lack of transparency, but ask questions and look for suppliers who openly publish information about pay and conditions for workers, energy usage, and how their waste is treated.

3. Use Low Impact and High Quality Materials - Find the most sustainable material to suit your product. Think about how the material is made and what it’s made from, but also consider how durable and long lasting it is to make sure your product will stand the test of time. A material such as leather for example may come from animals, but there are sustainable leathers produced in an environmentally friendly way that are extremely durable. Genuine leather can therefore be a more sustainable option than ‘vegan’ leather alternatives made from nasty synthetics or vegetable materials that are prone to weaken. Find out more about sustainable vegetable tanned leather here

4. Low Impact Production - Adopt low intensity production methods that use as little energy and fossil fuels as possible. Hand production using only people power is one of the ways to do this and can ensure a top quality fashion product. Find out more about handmade leather bags made in London by a British artisan here

5. Make It Last - One of the greatest problems with the fashion industry from an environmental perspective is throw-away, fast fashion. Designing your product so that it will last a long time helps extend the life and reduces the likelihood of it being thrown away. Offering repair services is another way of reducing waste and fast fashion. Find out about the CARV leather bag repair service here

6. Avoid Seasons - The concept of seasons in fashion is disastrous for the environment, encouraging high-turnover, trend based shopping where fashion goods quickly become obsolete. Creating a base collection  which can be added to over time is one way of avoiding this, free from the constraints and wastefulness of seasonality. In reality products such as fashion accessories should not need to change with the seasons. The CARV leather bag collection is designed to be worn all year round. 

7. Timeless Design - As well as being designed for year-round use in terms of practicality, adopting a timeless design aesthetic is another way to ensure fashion goods become classics and to extend their useful life. Minimalist design is one way of achieving this, with fuss-free styling that works with all looks.

8. Sustainable Product Packaging - With packaging it’s all about using the minimum necessary to transport your product safely, as well as using packaging that’s recycled and can be reused. Plastic-free packaging is the best way to avoid nasty waste and be creative, for example adding a note suggesting ways to reuse packaging, to encourage customers to think before throwing it away. 

9. Offer Personalisation - Giving your customer the chance to have their input into the design can result in an extra special connection with the product, meaning it will be loved, cared for and used for a longer amount of time. From made to order or bespoke custom made products - allowing customers to design their own goods - or offering personalisation, such as options for colour, size, embellishments and embossed initials, there are many ways customers can have their say to create a special fashion product. Find out about the CARV build your own bag and custom service here

10. Give Something Back - Sustainability is not just about the environment; it’s also about people and making sure everyone on our beautiful earth is treated fairly. A great way to make your fashion brand go the extra mile is by using your business success to support worthy charities, for example by donating an amount from each sale or by becoming a sponsor. Find out about how CARV is supporting the Young Women’s Trust here

Article written by Becky Cocker, a British artisan and slow fashion designer based in London and North Devon, UK. Becky makes entirely handcrafted leather bags, goods and accessories from a small leather studio using locally sourced materials and high quality vegetable tanned leather. Find out more about Becky’s story here