Sustainability is the new buzzword in fashion, and sourcing professionals are in a key role to drive sustainability. But what does sustainable sourcing look like? And how can it be built into your sourcing practices? Let’s take a closer look…
What is sustainable sourcing?
The word "Sustaianble" gets thrown around a lot these days and is often confusing since there's no standard for what it means. But for better or worse, Sustainable has become the overarching umbrella term for more conscious production and practices in fashion. Sustainable sourcing involves consideration of social and environmental impact alongside economic factors when sourcing materials and working with suppliers. In other words it involves putting people and the planet alongside profit.
Why should sourcing professionals care about sustainability?
With all the hype around ‘sustainable fashion’ it can be easy to lose sight of what sustainability really is. The core tenets of sustainable fashion are:
It's no secret that the fashion industry as it stands today is unsustainable - it is polluting and destroying the land that it depends on, hurting the people who make it, and over-producing textiles that ultimately end up in landfill. Approaching sourcing in a way that supports sustainability is therefore critical in helping sustain our environment, the people who make our clothing, and the fashion industry.
5 Quick Tips for Sustainable Sourcing for Apparel
1 | Choose your suppliers carefully. Be picky with your suppliers and only choose to work with those who taking a proactive approach to sustainability. Meet with your suppliers to discuss how they uphold human rights and fair working conditions in their workplaces. Verify this by checking the ethical and sustainable certifications that they hold. Find out how they approach sustainability and what policies and strategies they have in place to minimize environmental harm. Are they willing to try new processes? If you are struggling to find production partners consider joining THR3EFOLD’s sourcing platform and gain instant access to our global database of garment factories curated for ethical and sustainable production.
2 | Invest in your supplier relationship. Set expectations around sustainability at the early phase of your business relationship with your supplier to ensure that you are aligned and working towards common goals. Once expectations have been set, it will be much easier to have discussions and work collaboratively to introduce technology and practices that enhance the sustainability of the production process.
3 | Collaborate with the design team. Sustainable sourcing starts before production, with thoughtful design. Designing a garment through the lens of sustainability involves considering its full life-cycle and designing with circularity in mind. Cross-team collaboration between designers and sourcing professionals around fabric and trim selection, design features, dying processes and production size is needed to ensure sustainability is considered at every point in the design process.
4 | Source 'more' sustainable fabrics. Fabric selection is a key component of sustainable sourcing. This can be complex as there is no material that ticks all the sustainability boxes - but some are definitely more sustainable than others. When possible, opt for fabrics that are natural, organic, renewable, compostable and or recycled over virgin petroleum based fabrics (which have a heavy environmental footprint) or blends (which can't be recycled). A recent explosion in ‘green’ textile innovation has seen the development of many new 'bio-based' fabrics designed with sustainability in mind, however sourcing these fabrics can be difficult due to expense and availability. The good news is that some larger companies are starting to invest money into scaling them for production which could see them made more available for small to mid sized brands soon.
5 | Don’t forget sustainable packaging. As discussed in one of our recent posts, the increase in online shopping has resulted in an increase in packaging waste. Sourcing packaging that is compostable, recyclable and/or reusable can help reduce your environmental impact in this area. Thankfully, there are many great companies offering sustainable packaging solutions for fashion brands. One company doing this really well is noissue - a New Zealand owned company on a mission to reduce the environmental impact of shipping through easy to customize compostable, recycled, and/or reusable packaging products.
Building sustainability into your sourcing strategy will require long term thinking, planning and collaboration both internally within your brand and externally with your suppliers. This is no easy task but with the right mindset progress can be made to transition your brand toward sustainability.
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