Episode 21: Where do I start a successful Sustainability Journey when I have a limited budget?
Triple bottom line, sustainability, sustainable sourcing, supply chain, Fairtrade, WRAP, environmental sustainability, social sustainability, ethical factories, certifications.
Welcome to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you need help navigating the fashion industry sustainably, you have come to the right place. I'm your host Belinda Humphrey and my hope is to simplify the fashion industry so that businesses can make the best decisions for people, planet and product.
Hello, and welcome to episode 21 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. Today's episode is the start of a six week summer series where I answer the most popular questions from the audience. Firstly, thank you to everyone who wrote in, I hope I can help you feel confident after the episodes to take the next best step. But also just a bit of a disclaimer, this is general advice. I don't know your exact situation. So use it as a framework or a suggestion or we could start.
Also, I'm working on a new guide that I'm planning to release around the end of January, which will focus on ethical and sustainable sourcing. So make sure to sign up to my newsletter, head to my website, belindahumphrey.com, as I'll be releasing an exclusive offering to subscribers only when it launches.
So the first question I'm going to answer today, well, there were a few around the same theme, so I'll merge them into one. But these are around where to start with your sustainability journey and particularly when you have a small budget. Now, there are a lot of ways you can answer this depending on where your business is at. But firstly, I want you to consider the triple bottom line framework, which is a business concept that considers people, planet and profit. Generally speaking, profit doesn't need a focus, finances are usually the first aspect talked about and the areas that need attention are the social and environmental components of the business.
So I would start by mapping your supply chain. There's a little freebie on the website shop that will help you do this and explains all the 4 tiers and by doing that you understand everything or know the gaps of information that is going into your product and you can start to think about the people involved at those steps too. Once you've done that look at what is happening at your raw material stage tier two. A recent draft report from the World Resources Institute and the Apparel Impact Institute placed 52% of all supply chain greenhouse gas emissions at this stage. So this area includes fabric Mills, dye houses, embroideries, printers, trims and hardware suppliers. Starting here will also be the most measurable place to start. Look at and understand what materials you're using.
Now, I don't want to go too deep into lifecycle assessments or material indexes that claim to put a figure on materials because the more I read, the more I'm unsure of some of their motives. So I want to keep it simple. Look at the materials you're choosing and consider these next questions.
If you're using polyester, rayon, nylon or acrylic, they're basically plastic and made from either gas or oil. So think about what you can change. The argument that these are being recycled is also flawed. The recycled polyester is often coming from bottles, not other garments and there was also a recent report from apparel insider that said many recycled polyester products that they tested were not actually recycled polyester, they were virgin polyester and there may be limitations on the technology at the moment, so don't beat yourself up but start thinking about what you could use instead. Ask your factories or Mills what other alternatives they have, that will give a similar look or start learning about the innovation in that material area.
Secondly, look at how your materials are being combined and this is particularly important if you're looking at your fabrics and your fabric mills. At the moment the technology to recycle blended fabrics for example cut nylon or polyester elastane is still in very early stages. If you want your item to be able to be shredded or used in recycled yarns look to use one type of fibre. For example 100% wool, or similar yarn types such as all plant based, for example cotton and hemp being put together.
Finally, look at the energy sources being used by the mills, dye houses, printers, etc. If they're using renewable energy, which a lot of factories are moving to, then that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, I know I said that raw materials in tier two is a good place to start as it's the most measurable and we all know that customers are wanting brands to quantify this change and make it simple for them to purchase, but I also want to propose looking at the social aspect or social sustainability, which can be harder to quantify. As Dr. Hakan Karaosman puts it "Social sustainability is more complicated because it can require holistic change."
So if you map your supply chain and this is the area that needs attention for you, it will be harder to quantify change to your customer. Looking at your tier one suppliers certifications, which are your manufacturers could be a good starting point (but this is not a cure all is there are many smaller operators, particularly in India, who can't absorb the fees of being accredited).
A certification will show you what wages people are being paid, and you should be looking for a living wage standard, not a minimum wage. Keep asking the questions as this can open up conversations with your supplier and who they're using.
For example, meet the factory directly, ask them what steps are done in house what outsourced and Fair trade and WRAP are common certifications that most people in the industry sort of look for and they can vary depending on the location that they're being used.
So in summary, map your supply chain and see where the main gaps are. Is it in environmental or social? Understand where you're at and set some goals for the next 12 months. If it's environmental, look at all of your materials being used in your product in tier two. If it's in social, ask for accreditations, or go to the factory when your product is being produced, or simply get to know them better if it's small operation you're using. I hope you found that helpful and thanks so much for sending in the question. Make sure to get on the email list if you're particularly interested in ethical and sustainable sourcing as like I said, I'm working on a new guide that I'm planning to release at the end of January, and subscribers only will get an exclusive offer.
And if you're lucky enough to be listening to this while doing something relaxing or restorative you can find the show notes and any links on the website in the podcast section. And finally, I'd love to hear what you discovered about your own supply chain, you can DM me on Instagram @belindahumphrey_, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.