Does Sustainability Exist?  Tips on Launching A Slow Fashion Brand and Becoming A Conscious Clothing Consumer

Guest post by: Selina Ho, Founder & CEO of Recloseted

Let’s talk about sustainability. Does it even exist in the modern world that we live in? I’m going to do a deep dive on this topic and discuss how we can balance the “capitalistic society” we live in and leave enough for future generations. 

If I’m being honest, the most sustainable thing to do would be to live in the wild — hunt and forage our food, wear rags/minimal clothing, and not go anywhere except by foot. We would have to live like the Stone Age. 

If you have a business, the most sustainable thing to do would be NOT to start a company because every activity has an environmental impact — there’s no getting around that. Even if you incorporate sustainability practices, your business still utilizes materials, electricity, carbon, energy, etc.

However, we live in a modern world and it’s not realistic to completely revert back to the Stone Age. That’s why we believe that the goal of sustainability is to balance our current modern-day lifestyles while leaving enough for future generations.

Businesses should choose their sustainability battles by picking priorities. There are a million and one climate issues and as a small to medium-sized business, you cannot solve all of those problems. If you attempted to do that, you would get very overwhelmed.

You might also believe that the best solution then would be to close shop and not have a business at all. However, that’s not realistic either because consumers are going to continue to buy products — and they need sustainable options. Factories and manufacturers will continue to exist but when brands demand better alternatives, change can happen. This is why we need to support manufacturers and factories that are leaving a positive impact and doing great things.

So all this to say, “sustainability” exists if the purpose is to conduct business in a more “modern” way where you pick and choose your sustainability priorities, do the absolute best that you can, and continue to improve as more budgets and resources become available. 

If you’re reading this and you’re a business owner that feels overwhelmed — think about some of your favourite conscious brands. For example, Patagonia is a brand that has massive scale and impact, and even its brand admits that they aren’t perfect. They’re still working on things but we admire their transparency and how they involve their community on their journey. That allows them to be kept accountable but also educates their community. 

A lot of brands are hesitant to share their plans because they’re afraid of backlash but the transparency piece is huge — most people assume if you don’t say anything, it’s likely because you aren’t doing anything. And we’re in a time where we cannot afford to be silent anymore. We need to develop plans and act accordingly.  However, from the perspective of consumers, we also have to be vigilant when it comes to supporting brands’ claims of being sustainable since greenwashing has been rampant in the industry. 

Here are my tips for businesses: 

  1. Choose and prioritize 1-2 sustainability values — It’s important to remember that you cannot overhaul a business overnight. In order to make a long-lasting and sustainable impact, I recommend choosing 1-2 sustainability values. This helps everyone stay focused on their goals and prevents decision overwhelm. Sometimes it can feel like there is no right decision but if you know your priorities and sustainability values, it really helps. We know it can be tempting to try and solve every sustainability issue in one go, but don’t commit yourself to a bunch of things that you can’t realistically achieve. This is why it’s so important to determine your values and what issue you’re most passionate about solving. Whether it’s carbon emissions, textile waste, ocean plastics, or something else entirely, hone in on your values and commit. You can listen to this podcast episode for an in-depth tutorial

2. Remember that it’s okay not to be 100% perfect — After prioritizing and choosing sustainability values, then decide how it relates to the business. For example, if a founder chooses to avoid plastics as one of their sustainability priorities, they can start to rethink packaging, avoid using synthetic materials, etc. As all brands have a limited amount of time and resources, perhaps the company doesn’t tackle carbon emissions until a few years later and that’s okay. You don’t have to do everything 100% perfectly from the beginning. I also recommend sharing the sustainability journey with consumers — people value genuine and authentic brands. 

3. Being more environmentally friendly doesn’t have to cost more money — I often find that sustainability has a “bad rep” for being expensive and inaccessible. However, there are ways to be sustainable that actually save brands money. For instance, if a brand is more intentional about its design + manufacturing process and aims to eliminate fabric waste, it can save on fabric costs and/or sell additional items from the fabric scraps. It’s all about analyzing areas to make an impact and being creative with the costs. 

4. Provide proof —  One of the best things you can do when it comes to building credibility with your customers is to provide proof of the action that you’re taking towards sustainability. This means showcasing metrics and results that your brand is getting as a result of your commitment to bettering the planet. If you have any certifications as a business or if you are partnered with manufacturers and production facilities that have sustainability certifications, sharing that with your community is also another great way to build credibility and provide proof that you’re not just all talk. 

 Here are my tips for clothing consumers: 

  1. Buy less — Sustainable fashion often gets a bad rep for being expensive and inaccessible for the majority of people. However, a lot of people forget that the most eco-friendly thing you can do is to buy less, which in turn saves you money. Be intentional about each item you bring into your wardrobe and your life. Don’t impulsively buy new clothes or “retail therapy” yourself better.

2. You save 100% when you buy nothing — Building upon the first point, when it comes to clothing sales, it can be tempting to purchase clothing items just because they may be 50% off. However, don’t forget that you save 100% when you buy nothing! Again, only purchase items you need and will use for seasons to come. 

3. Make a list and stick to it — Before you go shopping for new clothes, take an inventory of what’s in your closet so you know what you already have and write down exactly what you’re looking for. Then, as you’re shopping, commit to only buying what you need. Don’t get distracted by items on sale (you save 100% when you buy nothing) or other seasonal, trendy pieces. 

4. Consider cost per wear — When you purchase from a sustainable brand, instead of looking at the overall price of a garment, consider your cost per wear. For instance, if you’re shopping for a new wool coat and find one that costs $400, upon first glance that might seem pricey however, if you know that you’re going to wear this coat for years to come then your cost per wear will be less than if you had bought its fast fashion counterpart. On the flip side, if you buy a fast fashion imitation wool coat for $80 but it’s itchy so you only wear it twice, that’s a $40 cost per wear. 

5. Do the math — more often than not, it pays off to invest in quality, conscious pieces. If you want a list of clothing brands to support, check out The Recloseted Handbook: Your Sustainable Fashion Guide

6. Host and attend clothing swaps —  One way you can make fashion more accessible and fun are by hosting and/or attending clothing swaps! A lot of unworn clothing that gets donated unfortunately ends up in our landfills so a great way to ensure your garments find a new, loving home is to exchange your pieces for other pieces at a clothing swap. If you can’t find any clothing swaps in your area, don’t be shy to host one with your close friends and family members! 

7. Thrift and shop secondhand — When you need new items, hit up your local thrift shops! You can feel good about wearing this item of clothing knowing that you helped divert it from a landfill and that no new materials were used to make it. The bonus with thrifted pieces is that they’re typically cheaper (especially for designer items) and the likelihood of you showing up at an event wearing the same thing as someone else is slim! 

8. Spread the word amongst your family and friends —  Last but not least, spread the word about slow fashion amongst your family and friends! Positive and impactful change can only happen if more people are aware of the detrimental effects of fast fashion and know how to combat it. Share this article with your friends and family members. Start talking about how you can make more conscious choices with your loved ones and together, let’s transform the harmful fashion industry!

With the brands that we worked with to craft their sustainability strategy and communicate these changes to their community, it’s always gone well when the client is transparent. They share information to their community about where their brand is at, their priorities based on budgets as well as resources, and a roadmap about what they’ll accomplish next. The beautiful part is that their community feels like they’re on the journey and want to continue to support the brand because they want to see them succeed and continue their sustainability journey. 

At the end of the day, our goal is that we don’t have to call eco-friendly businesses “sustainable brands” or “conscious brands”. We want that to become the norm. We hope that the industry standard becomes that brands need to think about their environmental impact and report their progress. Consumers must demand transparency from the brands they purchase from and become aware of where their dollars are going. 

Just remember that this is a journey and you need to be intentional about it. It is imperative we act. Long gone is the time when we debated about sustainability or thought about how to do it. There are so many resources telling you what needs to be done. I know incorporating sustainability into your life or brand can be overwhelming even with all of the resources readily available to guide you, but if you chip away at it and tackle things one step at a time, it can become a long-lasting change.

To end my thoughts on sustainability, I remember this Native American Proverb, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” This is a reminder that we should think about how our current actions will affect our planet and the future generations who will live on it.

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