By Talia Smith & The Paridaez Team
Over recent years, conscious consumers have started to recognize the importance of supporting environmentally-friendly brands that also take into consideration human rights. Understanding the factors that make a brand “sustainable” can be challenging, especially when some of the worst corporate culprits continue to greenwash the term.
Oxford dictionary defines sustainability as “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.”
Sustainability, in the context of fashion brands, is dependent on many factors that go into the creation, distribution, and life expectancy of the products. In a recent piece centered around sustainability in the fashion industry, Women’s Wear Daily outlined important questions that brands should be asking themselves before labeling their products as “sustainable.” Often, this term is easily misconstrued by consumers and can be dangerously misleading. According to their studies, the fashion industry is “estimated to be responsible for ten percent of global carbon emissions.” Fashion is also the second largest polluter in the world, after big oil.
WWD’s questions to measure sustainability are based on how much material is being used, the components and potential waste being produced from said material, how much product is being made and sold, and how long the products will last the consumer. As it turns out, the production of materials is where the large issue with carbon emissions comes into play throughout the industry.
In assessing the many resources discussing sustainability within the fashion industry we formed a list of 7 factors to consider when making sustainable shopping choices. The consumer has the power to shift whole markets with their purchasing decisions.
Sustainability Factors to Consider
- Manufacturing Materials
Often, consumers don’t fully realize how environmentally straining the production of textile materials can be. For example, a typical cotton t-shirt derived from the cotton crop requires 2,700 liters of water. Not only is the quality of the crop’s soil broken down and depleted in the time that it takes to successfully harvest the crop, but the excessive use of water proves harmful to the environment, draining the world of its natural resources.
Staples in the fashion industry such as cotton, cashmere, wool, and leather are major contributors to other detrimental factors to the environment such as soil erosion, rainforest destruction, and even animal cruelty. The materials that derive from animals can also be harmful because animals feed off the land and deplete natural resources such as grass and soil. Additionally, the manure produced as a result of animal-based textile production has significantly contributed to greenhouse gas emissions within the last 250 years.
While synthetic materials such as polyester are seemingly better for the environment because they do not require the use of animals or the land, they also have a negative impact on the environment. Synthetic materials have very high water and energy needs and use harmful chemicals in their production process.
Recycled materials, both natural and synthetic, are less harmful to the environment and are a step forward on the road to sustainability.
‘Waste’ in the fashion industry includes the parts of the fabric that are not included in the pattern or final product. Often, waste ends up in landfills and can take years to biodegrade, if at all. Business Insider says that 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year.
A more sustainable option for small-scale businesses is to use deadstock material in production so that waste rates decrease. Deadstock fabrics are the leftover materials from mills that can be purchased by other brands at a discounted rate. Brands who are looking to be more sustainable will often ‘save’ these materials before they go into landfills, and will recycle those materials into new products in hopes of lessening carbon emissions and overflowing landfills.
- Worker’s Rights
A very important factor to consider when looking to support sustainable and ethical businesses in the fashion world is to determine whether or not the business employs manufacturers participating in slave labor or inhumane living conditions of its employees in order to turn a higher profit. Although it should be customary for any business to provide its workers with livable wages, many fast-fashion monster companies in the industry will find ‘loopholes’— and will often establish their production factories in developing countries, making it easier to ignore workers’ rights and keep production costs low.
This also ties into the heightening concern for the depletion of natural resources in developing countries where manufacturing demands are high. As raw materials and natural resources are used by large corporations, the surrounding areas become less livable and the people living in these environments become dependent on the limited sources of income - working for said corporations under unlivable wages. This creates a vicious, often inescapable cycle for workers and the local community.
As mentioned earlier, less sustainable businesses will often run their production and manufacturing plants in developing countries where regulations are scarce. When these products are manufactured overseas, transportation of the products plays a large role in carbon emissions and negative environmental impact. Nearly 10 million metric tons of product are shipped per year— standing as a clear contributor and approximately 4% of global carbon emissions.
As a consumer, the consideration for shipping options comes into clear play. Opting for longer shipping timelines or in-person shopping and pick-up, although seemingly small acts, can reduce the environmental impact of product distribution.
- Life of the Product
We often see large, nationally-known brands conform to fashion fads that turn out big sales for a given season. These trends remain relevant for short periods of time, resulting in the pressure for companies to overproduce lower-grade products out of cheap, unethically sourced materials. Although this results in quick turnaround and cheap sales to consumers, the materials being produced are not “made-to-last” materials and will wear out quickly.
Traditionally, the fashion industry operates around two major seasons, spring/summer and fall/winter. Fast fashion brands have altered that tradition, squeezing up to 52 ‘micro-seasons’ into yearly production, succumbing to the high demand to follow fashion fads as they come and go. In an attempt to turn quick profits and save money, fast fashion brands produce cheaper products at a quicker rate, creating nearly disposable clothing.
The ability to recycle any wasted materials is a widely understood way to lessen environmental harm as a brand. Garment recycling most typically involves the creative re-use of scrapped materials from the production process, ranging from the creation of additional products to the use of fully deadstock materials for products.
Textile Waste Diversion Inc. is one corporation that provides property managers and businesses with used clothing donation bins that are filled by local community members. These garments are separated by material type and quantity, sanitized, and often sent to production plants in developing nations that require more textiles than they are able to produce or gather. Because 98% of the textiles produced industry-wide can be recycled, programs like these help to keep landfills from becoming unnecessarily overloaded with garments.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, every 30-40 days, the average person discards the equivalent to their own body weight in packaging. This disposed packaging totals 30% of our trash by volume and 50% by weight.
The more eco-friendly the packaging, the less harmful transportation becomes to the environment. Supporting brands that use reusable or recyclable packaging instead of single-use packaging also helps to encourage industry-wide change, and reduces your own carbon footprint.
The worst culprits in the industry
Although fast fashion brands provide consumers with high-demand cyclical fashion trends at low costs, the real price of their products lies in the environmental impacts that their corporate decisions lead to. Big-name clothing retailers such as Topshop, Zara, Brandy Melville, and Shein are amongst the top culprits of environmentally detrimental practices.
Common practices among these brands that contribute to environmental destruction vary. From prioritizing the use of low-grade and cheap materials that emit harmful toxins and take hundreds of years to biodegrade to maintaining complete disregard for workers’ rights and living conditions, these companies are the worst of the worst.
What we do as a brand to minimize our footprint in going through the factors listed
To reduce our carbon footprint at Paridaez, we’ve carefully considered the materials and components of our pieces, promoted and valued the wear time and durability of our products, and found creative ways to reduce our waste. As a brand, we see the value in being able to properly and proudly label ourselves as a sustainable business.
First and foremost, all of our pieces are made from locally sourced USA-made materials and are locally manufactured, which eliminates the need for international import. Our fabric blend is high quality and made to last, making it way less disposable than clothes that are of a lower production grade. The material itself has great recovery, meaning that it's extremely easy to care for and can withstand multiple wears before washing. The pieces themselves have classic and timeless styles so that they will last in your wardrobe for years to come. By having pieces with multiple functionalities, it eliminates the need for overconsumption.
We also use deadstock materials in some of our collections as well as recycled polyester.
In an effort to minimize our waste in the production process, we’ve managed to find fun and creative ways to make use of our leftover materials. In light of the current state of affairs, we were able to create face masks that match our color palette out of the same premium blend that our clothing is made of. We’ve also created turban headbands and pet kerchiefs in an effort to use any material that would have otherwise been thrown out.
Our sustainability measures don’t end there. In store, we provide reusable tote bags with every purchase, eliminating the need for single-use packaging and promotes the use of reusable bags. We also use eco-friendly recyclable poly-mailers for every online order that we send out and encourage our customers to either reuse the mailer, or recycle it. Our recycling efforts also apply to every box, cup, and paper that enters the store, making sure that every bit of waste is carefully and consciously recycled.
Sustainability in the fashion industry can be hard to define and is more a matter of tipping the scales and weighing the odds. As a brand we try to do more good than harm in every business decision we make. As consumers, your decisions and where you spend your money matters.