A Conversation On Sustainability, Transparency & Mainstream

From slow fashion to mainstream business, materials to education, fashion and sustainability raise so many questions. A vast and complex issue, Muchaenta Kapfunde of FashNerd turned to 3 women making a difference in the sustainable fashion space.

Charney Magri a fashion photographer turned documentary maker. The co-founder of Fashion 4 Change has worked for the likes of British Vogue and Ralph Lauren, and now she is a partner for do epic sh*t. Olivia Pinnock is a London-based fashion journalist, lecturer and founder of The Fashion Debates. She is dedicated to uncovering insightful stories in a fascinating industry and promoting positive change for a more sustainable future for it. Abigail Morris is the Founder and CEO of Compare Ethics. It is a start-up that connects you to ethical brands through the latest online and offline experiences. Since launching in 2018, Compare Ethics is regularly featured in top social feeds and connects thousands of ethical shoppers with brands each week.

On the topic of sustainable fashion, I asked Charney, Olivia and Abigail to share their perspective on the most commonly asked questions.

CHARNEY MAGRI

Do you think that eco-fashion is still a niche market? If so, why?
The day that ‘Eco Fashion’ is just called ‘Fashion’ and is accepted as the norm, will be the day that I believe ‘Eco Fashion’ is no longer niche but rather just common sense.

In your opinion, what are the top 3 things that brands should focus on with regards to promoting their sustainable practice?
I don’t believe there are three focuses on promoting a sustainable brand. However, there are two main verticals in sustainable fashion: environmental and human rights. Both need to be addressed and both need to be made transparent for the success of any [sustainable] brand. As a visual communicator, I want to see all brands talking about this to their consumers as well as the right certifications in place to verify their practices.

What advice would you give an individual looking to start-up a sustainable fashion retailer, particularly with the threat of a current ‘retail recession’?
Research is the first most crucial piece of advice. But the biggest obstacle you will come across is finances. Sourcing sustainable fibres and fabrics are more expensive than unsustainable options and mills will not accept small runs. You must build relationships with suppliers to be able to get the smaller quantities needed, and this takes time. I really believe there is a future in collaborating with like-minded designers to approach companies together so you can fulfil your orders when starting out.

ABIGAIL MORRIS

In your opinion, what are the top 3 things that brands should focus on with regards to promoting their sustainable practice.
1) Create a strong storytelling environment. Whether via online or offline experiences, sustainability is best shared as a story that people can easily back and tell their friends.
2) Be authentic. Nobody is perfect when it comes to sustainability. Bring people on your journey and celebrate your achievements with your community in real time.
3) Strive for increased transparency. Open up your supply chain and show people you are working to the highest ethical standards. Whether you are showing who made your clothes or using blockchain to track your supply chain, people increasingly want to know the provenance of your products.

Do you think ethical clothing will ever out-compete the mainstream less ethical products and dominate the fashion industry in the future? Why?
I don’t think new ethical clothing alone will out-compete the mainstream. However, what is more, interesting is how new business models will disrupt the fast fashion industry. ThredUp found that the second-hand market is growing 21 times faster than retail apparel over the last three years and is on track to be larger than fast fashion by 2028. At the same time, fashion rentals and sustainable fashion are moving into the mainstream. Given that fast fashion relies on volume, it will be interesting to see how and when mainstream brands will pivot towards a conscious fashion future.

Why do you think people are still buying from mainstream shops that sell unethical clothing?
People still buy unethical clothing because there is a variety with a strong product-market fit, and it is super easy to find. Sustainable fashion is making amazing strides on these areas. We increasingly see brands get product quality, price point and aesthetics right, but we need more choice and scale to compete. This has to be coupled with an easy way to find sustainable products. This is why we set up Compare Ethics – we know there are amazing sustainable products out there, it just has to be easy to find them.

OLIVIA PINNOCK

What do you see as the biggest challenge in getting customers to seek out more ethical and sustainable alternatives to high street fashion?
The biggest challenge is the convenience of mainstream fashion. It is far easier to seek out familiar brands that the consumers’ trusts, are fresh in their minds because of advertising and offers affordable fashion with next day delivery than it is to look for alternatives. Greenwashing is another issue that does damage to the whole sustainable fashion community as shoppers are not sure who they can trust.

What steps can we take to increase transparency and accountability for high street retailers?
I think governments have a tremendous amount of power in making the fashion brands that operate in their countries more transparent. We have seen it here in the UK with the Modern Slavery Act and the Environmental Audit Committee’s investigation into a fast fashion which bought CEOs from some of the biggest UK retailers into parliament to testify on what they’re doing about the issue. Companies are not going to give over information about their practices and their suppliers willingly for fear of giving valuable information to their competitors, but governments have the power to say that protecting garment workers and the environment is far more critical than that.

What advice would you have for people that want to be more conscious of their fashion choices?
Start with the wardrobe that you have. Consumers can make the most significant difference by changing how much they buy and how they manage their clothes at the end of their life. There are things you can do to support more ethical brands and put pressure on big brands, but where you can make an immediate, tangible impact is in your own home. Take steps to reduce how much clothing you’re buying, if it’s possible, and when you’re done with a piece of clothing, ask yourself whether it can be repaired or upcycled instead. If you still want to throw it away, can you give it to a friend to extend its life? It’s much better to give it to someone you know will wear it than take it to a charity shop where you don’t know where it will end up, especially if they can’t sell it if it’s not worth hanging on to someone, research how you can responsibly dispose of textiles in your local area through recycling schemes.