As we celebrate Earth Month at H&T, I want to take it back to basics this week and articulate in a simple guide how we look at Sustainable Fashion. We are blown away how trendy sustainable fashion has become in the year and a half since we took our Sustainability Mission. While many of our peers are skeptical, I am always the optimist, and in that spirit I am so glad that awareness is rising about the environmental issues caused by our fashion industry. With that said, when anything gets trendy, most brands will try to jump on the bandwagon, and not all brands that claim to produce "sustainably" are on even ground about the truthfulness of those statements. I thought it might be helpful to give you all a guide to some of the buzzwords floating around, and cast some light about how we navigate this complicated issue when seeking out brands whose practices are in line with our values.
Sustainable fashion is apparel and accessories made in a way that meets the needs of the present without taking from future generations.
Sustainable fashion means finding a balance when designing, manufacturing, and consuming clothes. It means avoiding the depletion of natural resources, but also the exploitation of individuals and communities...It’s about ensuring the fashion industry both creates good and avoids harm, whether to people, the planet, or animals. Or preferably, all three! -Good On You
In our eyes, sustainability is all about doing the least harm, the most good, and not taking away from the future. While many claim that no garment is 100% sustainable, we like to look toward the good that clothing made ethically can do. Few (if any brands) are doing it perfectly, and there are many different approaches, and that is why it is a journey, where we have to make the best choice every chance we get.
Some sustainability advocates feel that pre-owned clothing is the best option because no additional resources go into producing those items. This is a great option, and there are so many vintage treasures out there. We also know that every item eventually breaks down, and that in our current world it is unlikely you can find every piece you want pre-owned. Still - pre-owned clothing is an amazing tool in our sustainability toolbelt. We love checking out small vintage stores, Poshmark, and Ebay for pieces we are coveting, and re-sell on those platforms too! The longer we can keep the circular life cycle of a garment alive, the better and more sustainable we are being!
Others feel that using recycled or upcycled, deadstock fabrics is the best road. This basically means taking materials or even unused fabrics that already exist to make new clothing. We love buying from brands that go this route - it's truly a story of one's trash being another's treasure (sometimes literally when brands turn plastic into fabric)! The one caveat with this method, is that washing synthetic fabrics can still shed microplastics into our waterways - so deadstock fabrics of natural content are our first choice!
Finally, responsibly sourced and farmed, renewable natural fibers are the cleanest choice. When dyed naturally, they break down in nature, don't harm the waterways when you wash them, and support responsible farmers. We are so thrilled when we see brands offering these types of fabrics - we know they will feel great, have a good long life, and can go back safely to the earth when their time is done.
This is a broad summary of the main approaches we see to sustainable fashion, and we believe that the best approach uses a mix of all 3!
No matter which path a brand chooses - quality is KEY, because the longer we keep clothing, the more we love it and thus and the more we wear it, the more sustainable those pieces are. This resonates so loudly with me - quality in terms of the craftmanship and fabric of the piece itself, plus the quality of the process in which the garment was made (from working conditions to carbon footprint to the sourcing of fabrics to who designed them) is what we should be paying a premium for. Often the most expensive brands have few or even none of these quality measures - we are only paying for the name on the label.
Greenwashing is the practice of using false or misleading claims to make a company appear more environmentally conscious than they really are.
With people becoming increasingly aware of many industries’ impact on the planet, some companies are tempted to put a spin on their environmental sins. In a show of ‘all talk, no action’, businesses will spend more time and money on portraying themselves as caring for the planet rather than taking actionable measures to reduce their impact. - Good On You
There is a broad range of how serious greenwashing can be from company to company, and Good On You has a great, succinct article that helped me understand what to look for. Some companies use truthful information about steps they have taken to be more environmentally conscious, but those steps are either already required by law, or do little to impact the company's overall environmental footprint. Others spread outright misinformation or misleading marketing. Regardless, we can agree it's all bad and it makes it more difficult for us to find truly sustainably made goods.
Our best defense against greenwashing is transparency. The more details a company gives about where they source their fabrics and what factories are making their clothing, the better. Full disclosure, we are not experts at this, and are always trying to do our research, learn more, and get as much information as we can on the brands we carry. The biggest red flag for us is when a company gives very broad buzzy terms without specifics, or does not have much information for us at all. What we promise is that we will always be transparent with you and share everything we have been able to learn from each brand. Each of the brands we work with is at a different place in their sustainability journey, and we always do honor progress over perfection - we just want brands to be honest and clear about where they are and what their goals are to make sure we are all on the same page.
Fair trade describes a movement to produce goods in a manner that protects the workers as well as the environment. There are several different agencies and organizations, each with their own standards, that certify factories and companies as "fair trade."
[Fair trade is a] shared aim of alleviating poverty and promoting sustainable development by ensuring a just and transparent supply chain. -Good On You
With most fair trade certifications, there is a focus on standards for working conditions, workers rights, living wage, and environmental sustainability. I am so encouraged by the demand for fair trade goods, and hope that there will be a universal standard sometime in the future. In the meantime, when you see this buzz word, try to investigate and trace which fair trade organization the company is certified by. Then you can check out exactly what that certification means.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and if you have an interest in learning more about sustainable fashion, I highly recommend browsing Good On You - I particularly love their glossary as a place to get started. They also grade companies on just how sustainable they actually are, doing their own research to measure fashion brands' claims, so it is a great place to reference when you are trying to decide if a brand meets your standards.
I have mentioned a couple of times that we have brands at different places on their sustainability journey. Every brand we partner with is one that we feel is doing positive things, but each one is unique, and has its strengths and weaknesses. Some use exclusively deadstock fabrics, others produce in the USA and pay living wages, while others are transitioning to fully renewable natural fabrics. We are always happy to share why we chose a brand, and share with you everything we know about their practices and production. If you have a question about any brand we carry, always feel free to contact us and we will tell you what we know, or go and find the answer for you from the brand.
The brands who are the "most" sustainable and have sustainability as a focus of their missions are curated in our Sustainable Collection. From Boyish, to Spell, these brands are doing outstanding things to bring themselves ever closer to fully sustainable production.