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4 Ways Your Fashion Brand Can Become More Sustainable

At a Glance:

Sustainable Fashion vs Ethical Fashion

How Does Sustainability Impact My Business? 

How to Become More Sustainable

Backbone’s Commitment to Sustainability

Sustainable Fashion Statistics 

Frequently Asked Questions  

Fashion and apparel brands are experiencing a rising demand by consumers for sustainably produced products that limit negative impacts on the environment. Driving a sustainable business model with a dynamic product lifecycle management (PLM) solution provides clear insights into every stage of the product development process; therefore, companies can source compliance records, keep track of sustainable materials, and effectively communicate best practices with suppliers. 

The current generation of consumers seek to live a convenient, nomadic lifestyle with a wide range of products available at an instantaneous digital speed. However, this generation is also the most environmentally aware of the fashion industry’s adverse effects on the planet. Buyers look to purchase goods that are produced both sustainably and ethically in hope of reducing their carbon footprint. 

With the help of a PLM, your fashion brand can meet the consumer demand for efficiency and sustainability to help you stay on trend. Follow along as we discuss four ways your brand can achieve a more sustainable practice.

Sustainable Fashion vs Ethical Fashion 

Before we dive headfirst into our list, let’s first discuss how sustainable fashion differs from ethical fashion. Sustainability pertains to a brand’s direct impact on the environment, whereas the ethical impact relates to the overall health and well-being of anyone associated with the production process. 

Take the time to define what sustainable and ethical fashion means to your business and decide how they fit into your brand identity. When you consider product materials, emissions, and labor, 100 percent sustainability isn’t always realistic (although it may be in the near future), which is why it’s important to state your mission so consumers can decide if your company’s products suit their beliefs and environmental conscience.

Related Article: 4 Ways Brands are Winning at Sustainability 

How Does Sustainability Impact My Business? 

An excellent question — sustainability affects every aspect of your business, not just the clothing you produce. It includes everything from the lights in your office to the packaging you use to deliver your products, and customers are expecting sustainability across the board. 

The fashion industry is constantly evolving with new materials, technologies, and refreshed business practices, so companies are deciding how they can create, design, and distribute new products to keep up with the evolving trends and current demands. Data from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe shows that 20 percent of the world’s water pollution comes from textiles and garment samples, so there is a responsibility to source organic materials and lessen the waste left behind during and after the production process. 

However, direct sustainability effects vary depending on your company size. Larger brands might have an easier time requesting and sourcing sustainable fabrics, but they might not always have visibility on the production process. Smaller organizations are often limited on where they can produce products, but as a result, have more sway on which materials they want to source for their products. 

How to Become More Sustainable 

If your brand is looking to follow environmentally-friendly fashion trends, keep these four tips in mind as you begin your journey to sustainability. 

  1. Be Transparent 

Transparency can serve as a key marketing message around sustainability efforts. Be vocal with your internal teams and your manufacturers about your sustainability goals. Know where your textiles and trim pieces are coming from, who is making them, and what they’re made out of. Be clear about your production needs and the standard you hold each of your products to. For instance, if you want to use organic materials for your latest product line, make sure that is demonstrated in your tech pack. If you want to use Tencel instead of viscose, that should be communicated with your supply chain. 

  1. Sustainable Textiles 

Did you know, more than $120 billion worth of excess fabric sits in warehouses around the world? These materials often end up burned or buried, which contributes to polluted air and groundwater. Queen of Raw has created a unique platform and online marketplace to buy and sell these unused fabrics, carrying everything from organic cotton to peace silk to faux leathers and furs. 

Queen of Raw has already saved 1 billion gallons of water by keeping deadstock items in circulation, and this is only the beginning. Their mission is to make sustainable materials available at any time, any place, and continue to reduce the dangerous chemicals, carbon emissions, and waste found in landfills as a result of textile and fabric production. 

If buying deadstock doesn’t suit your needs, consider buying from sustainable textile mills. This isn’t always the easiest thing for smaller companies to achieve, but brands can still educate team members and customers on the unique impacts that textiles have and try to source the accredited fibers or fabrics needed to leave minimal effects on the environment. 

For example, the great debate of organic vs non-organic cotton lingers, as non-organic materials can cause harmful pollution for farm workers and those residing in surrounding communities. Luckily, there is an ongoing process to certify textiles and fibers, so consumers have the transparency they need to make a sustainable choice in their purchases.

  1. Keep it Local 

Did you know, according to data from the American Apparel & Footwear Association and Bureau of Labor Statistics, only two percent of clothing is currently manufactured in the U.S.? This percentage has taken a significant decline from the 1980s, where that number was nearly 70 percent. Whenever possible, manufacture in your own country. Local or regional manufacturing helps to stimulate the economy and provide jobs, as well as limit the environmental wear-and-tear that comes from overseas shipping. 

In a customary shipping schedule, fibers are shipped from one country to be made into fabric, then that fabric is shipped to another country for sewing, and lastly, the garments are shipped to the United States or other destination country for sale. The solution is a process called “reshoring,” meaning to transfer your business operation back to the country where it originated. Reshoring limits shipping time, reduces pollutant materials from reaching our oceans, and helps create a stronger local workforce. 

  1. Make it Last 

As fashion brands continue to expand their catalogs and produce more styles, last season’s hand-me-downs are eventually tossed aside and left to occupy our landfills. The fashion industry won’t be coming to an abrupt halt anytime soon, so designers can choose to make products designed to last longer with responsible materials that will leave less pollution once discarded. Consider how your products will affect the environment after the consumer has used them.

  • Can your products be recycled? 
  • Are the materials biodegradable?
  • How much excess fabric are you wasting? 
  • How do you access data related to your impact on the environment?
  • Have you considered sustainable factory decisions? 

Related Article: Measuring Sustainability in the Retail Industry

Backbone’s Commitment to Sustainability 

Driving an innovative digital transformation, Backbone’s PLM solution allows clear visibility into every aspect of the product development lifecycle, so brands can access compliance requirements, send approved material lists to suppliers, and streamline communication regarding environmental best practices. 

As companies begin to place greater value toward long-term sustainability and strategic business solutions rather than a singular view on their bottom lines, Backbone has partnered with some tremendous brands that are working hard to imagine a new era of sustainable products.

Brands such as Allbirds, Taylor Stitch, Outerknown, Baggu, Pact, Outdoor Voices, Naadam, and époque évolution, have created their business models around sustainable materials and production processes. Backbone’s functionality enables these brands to define and improve their sustainability efforts through data-backed decisions on consumption and product creation. Cross-functional communication and access to supply chains help each brand mitigate over-production and inventory loss, improving profit margins and providing a greater sense of confidence for customers searching for a more thoughtful product.

“Ultimately, we’ll see companies less inundated with overstock as they begin to produce the right-sized assortments,” said Backbone co-founder, Andrew Klein. If brands aren’t overwhelmed with inventory or an excess of the wrong materials, they will “get products to their customers at the right time for the right price.”

Backbone helps brands manage the sample development process in real-time to help reduce sample cycles and wasted materials, while the size spec feature standardizes fit across core products — both of which save time and money spent on materials, production, transportation, and labor. 

Backbone also allows for smarter designs and smarter decisions with the ability to generate reports on sales and historical data to effectively evaluate sustainable performance. But the idea of sustainability extends not just to what you design, but how you design. “We are seeing a much more intentional approach,” says Klein. “Less season-specific colors, more multi-season materials, more ‘wear now’ pieces, and an overall ‘buy less, but buy right’ methodology.”

Related Article: Scaling Sustainability with Backbone


Sustainable Fashion Statistics

Industry changes happen quickly, and eventually, every brand will have to evolve and adapt to improve sustainability efforts. To provide greater context, we’ve included a list of statistics to help brands uncover this rapid shift: 

  1. The fashion industry is set to grow 6% in 2022, compared to 5% in 2020. (1)
  2. The average person buys 60% more clothes than they did 15 years ago.(1)
  3. The cost of returning digital purchases could be as high as 50% for many brands.(1)
  4. Close to 20 percent of global wastewater is produced by the fashion industry. (2)
  5. The fashion industry emits about 10 percent of global carbon emissions.(2) 
  6. Textiles have been identified in recent years as a major contributor to plastic entering the ocean through the form of microplastics. (2)
(1) Source: Linchpin SEO
(2) Source: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

As you can see by these numbers, sustainability is greatly impacting how fashion brands function and impact our planet. Especially in an ever-changing digital landscape, the way consumers interact with brands has evolved to a point where they look directly for sustainable messaging and practices to influence their purchase decisions.

Consumers are shopping digitally more than ever before, and that online space has occupied a large portion of the market share for fashion and apparel retailers. This is why it is vital for Direct to Consumer (D2C) organizations to demonstrate their core values and process for designing products with sustainability in mind if they hope to keep pace with the competition and influence prospective customers to their business.

Related Article: How D2C Brands are Reimagining Business 

    Frequently Asked Questions 

    If you’re still trying to wrap your head around this whole sustainability concept, you’re not alone. Let’s discuss a few of our most frequently asked questions on the topic of sustainable fashion.

    1. How will PLM technology help fashion brands become more sustainable? 

    PLM can help your brand track sustainability and social impact with the production of each article of clothing, beginning with raw materials and taking you through the manufacturing and retail stages. A PLM tool provides one source of truth for design, production, and retail teams to communicate costs and timelines while relaying accurate information to the consumer throughout each product development lifecycle.

    2. How do I know if my business is working sustainably? 

    It can be difficult to gauge just how sustainable your business practices are; however, using a PLM to organize product data is crucial if your brand hopes to work with suppliers to track the sustainability of your product development. Consolidating product detail in one location makes it easy for internal and external contributors to remain on the same page and make real-time updates to materials. For example, features within Backbone such as component utilization reports and custom fields make it easy for brands to see how frequently they’re using sustainable materials and which products score higher in sustainability metrics.

    3. How important is it for my business to build sustainable practices? 

    Consumers are investing much heavier in brands that align with their personal values. The importance of sustainability and environmental impact is quickly becoming a necessary component of any fashion and apparel business, especially those in the direct-to-consumer (D2C) space. If your brand is committed to sustainable and environmental practices, the visibility and clarity experienced with a PLM will contribute to changing sustainability efforts across the industry.

    Support Sustainable Fashion 
    While brands actively focus on eCommerce and digital personalization, it’s time to strive toward a sustainable future. The way your organization creates and shares products with your consumers will determine your success right now and in the years to follow.

    Backbone is actively working to encourage brands to fulfill their mission of intentional, ethical, and sustainable decision making. To find out more about how our PLM solution can help your company develop more sustainable business practices, download our Growing into Sustainability Guide today!