Lifestyle

3 Steps to Determine Sustainability in a Brand

Did anyone else learn just how many brands you were accidentally subscribed to when your inbox was filled to the brim with Earth Day deals this year? At first glance, this seems like a victory. If all these brands have sustainable products, is sustainable fashion finally in? The answer is more complicated than it seems. … Continued

Did anyone else learn just how many brands you were accidentally subscribed to when your inbox was filled to the brim with Earth Day deals this year? At first glance, this seems like a victory. If all these brands have sustainable products, is sustainable fashion finally in?

The answer is more complicated than it seems. You may have heard the term “greenwashing” before, used to describe a deceitful practice of faking greenness for the sake of capitalizing on its popularity in the market, without actually making a positive environmental impact. However, greenwashing comes in many different forms and different degrees, and can even sometimes be unintentional or accidental.

With so many different factors at play, it can be difficult to be a truly conscious fashion consumer. It might feel impossible to get perfect, but by taking small steps to investigate the sustainability of the brands we patron, we can help to create greater change as a sustainable fashion community as a whole. This 3 step guide is meant to aid your investigations, and to help you ask the right questions to make meaningful purchases that align with your values. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember: reducing new purchases and shopping second hand is always the most sustainable option! Trade your old clothes in for SilkRoll Qs to divert waste, get quality secondhand items, and let your style live on!

1. Look at brand’s CSR goals and policies

A first-step in determining a brands sustainability is to visit their website and see what they have to say about it for themselves. At the very least, it is important that the brand’s Corporate Social Responsibility goals align with your own values and make provisions to work towards a healthier people and planet. The Good Trade suggests 3 main values to look for in brands when shopping sustainably:

  • All Natural Ingredients and Textiles

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With the main goals of reducing waste and creating a healthier environment for people, particularly children, The Good Trade suggests sustainable brands should be making an effort to use all natural ingredients and textiles. This is partially for the purpose of reducing land-fill: natural materials like cotton, hemp, and tencel break down much faster than synthetic materials like spandex or polyester, which can take decades to decompose. These artificial materials break down much more slowly due to the micro plastics present throughout them. Micro plastics and artificial dyes may also pose a significant environmental health challenge, as, according to NBC, it is estimated that just one load of laundry releases about 700,000 microfibers filled with micro plastics and other toxins. Since this is one of the greatest sustainability challenges in fashion, it is critical that sustainable brands are working to address it.

  • Fair Trade and Fairly Paid

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Sometimes when discussing overall sustainability, we neglect to consider social and cultural sustainability, as well as environmental. According to the Guardian, issues of fair trade have been especially critical during the pandemic, during which period brands from the US and Europe have refused to pay over $16 Billion worth of goods. The pandemic has exposed existing power imbalances in the fashion supply chain, showing just how vulnerable garment workers in places like Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Myanmar are to the whims of powerful western brands. 

In order to make sure your go-to brands are not some of these, check the brand’s websites for information on the pay of their workers throughout their supply chain. Many brands may claim to have sustainable practices “to the best of their knowledge” and pay workers in their warehouses honestly, but fail to investigate the practices of the textile mills they purchase materials from.

  • Philanthropic Heart

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Lastly, The Good Trade suggests you ask: where is all this money going? Many brands may claim to give a percentage of their profits to environmental groups. As a conscious consumer, your job is to ask, what percentage and to what groups? Make sure donations are significant, and are going to nonprofit organizations that you trust, like Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Foundation.

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Beware: thanks to the pressure of sustainable consumers like you, most brands will have at least something to say about their ethical and sustainability goals. In order to begin to distinguish the earnest brands from the intentional greenwashers remember: transparency is key. Look for information about brands enforcing sustainable practices throughout their supply chain. It can be difficult to achieve full transparency as a brand, as it would require having full knowledge of everything down to the conditions on the farms that grow the raw materials. However, many brands are making commitments and strides to achieve this type of complete transparency.

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2. See if brands meet standards and certifications from sources you trust

Make sure the brand’s goals are not just talk! Check the brand’s websites for details about the actual steps they are taking to pursue their goals. Total supply chain transparency is just one of the many steps they could be taking, consider also steps to ensure:

  • Sustainable Textiles (natural, vegan, recycled, sustainable harvested, naturally dyed, etc)

  • Waste reduction (reducing waste during production, expanding product lifecycle, compostable materials, etc)

  • Low Climate Impact (locally produced, produced in energy efficient factories, etc)

  • Fair treatment of workers (fair wages, fair trade, healthy working conditions, no slavery, no child labor, etc)

  • Fair treatment of animals (vegan materials, ethical practices, free-range vs factory farming).

These are only some of the many steps brands could be taking to achieve deeper sustainability. So how can you keep track of them, and how can you even tell if the brands are actually doing all they claim? 

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There are many third-party certifications and standards out there to help you determine if your brands are really as sustainable as they say they are. You may have heard ratings like B Corp, Fair Trade, and Blue Sign. Fashionista’s Complete Beginner Guide to Ethical Certifications is a great place to start. Eluxe Magazine, suggests consulting Rank a Brand (Good on You) or the Environmental Working Group and warns readers to be wary of groups like Sustainable Brands, which is paid to spread positive information about brands. 

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Good on You’s Rank a Brand feature, measures the impact of each brand on “planet”, “people”, and “animals” in order to create a directory of brands in terms of their sustainability. After scoring each brand on these three areas, and average of these scores is calculated to rank a brand as “Great”, “Good”, “It’s a Start”, “Not Good Enough”, or “We Avoid”. Though it is always best to follow up with your own research, this site is a really great place to begin your investigation on the sustainability of a brand or to start browsing for new sustainable brands to discover. 

The Fashion Revolution Fashion Transparency Index (FTI) is another helpful source which helps to track which brands have shown improvement over time. This is important because we have a long way to go to achieve true sustainability in fashion. It is important that we encourage brands to make the changes that they can as soon as possible instead of waiting for the opportunity to show perfect sustainability. 

You may also get your sustainable brand recommendations from sustainable fashion influencers, blogs or magazines. Start with Good on You’s list of sustainable fashion influencers or The Considerate Consumer’s guide to sustainable fashion media.

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3. Ask brands questions and do some investigating for yourself!

The best way to determine a brand’s true transparency is to ask them questions yourself! Many brands have customer support lines or emails which you can utilize to ask them questions about any of their claimed sustainable practices, or even more detailed questions about their day-to-day operations or complete supply chain which may be difficult to find online. A brand’s willingness to communicate with you and respond to your concerns as a conscious consumer is a good sign that they are working on making real improvements. Look for clarity and consistency in their answers. 

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So now that you have spent all the effort to investigate your favorite brands, what do you do if they are not quite as sustainable or ethical as you had hoped? Many people underestimate the power of a good letter. Acteevism.com provides email templates to simplify the process of asking your favorite brands to take steps towards change. It might feel like our power as individual consumers is small, but together, we can make a big impact!

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