What we learned from asking our fashion brands about sustainability.

The 24th of April marked the 6th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, and the subsequent push towards greater transparency and sustainability in the fashion industry. This week, marked as Fashion Revolution Week encourages consumers to take action by asking brands #whomademyclothes?

Blue Patch works with brands who make and manufacture in the UK, or if they manufacture abroad, they do so making a positive impact on the communities that they work with.

We decided to ask some of our fashion brands about sustainability and why this was important to them. This is what we learned.

They get it!

We agree that sustainability is a journey. There are people just starting out with small changes and there are those who live sustainably in every possible way.

In business too, the same principles apply.

Those who are some way down their journey hold the responsibility of being the example. Of being the people others can go to for inspiration, and sometimes for a simple “How do I do this?”

“I source rare vintage fabrics – fabrics that have been unsold and left forgotten. I give them life, and in doing so, I avoid the use of newly manufactured fabrics – a process that can be very damaging to the environment. I design the garments to minimise wastage, making accessories with remnants and holding only a small amount of stock.” Naomi, Naomi Purkiss Boutique.

These are businesses that strive to inject quality into their product, to make sure that it won’t rip or fade or begin pilling after a few uses.

“Kids grow so quickly – it is important to me at Tutti Frutti Clothing that the clothes I make use good quality fabrics that wash and last well.  When the clothes are outgrown they can then be passed down through siblings and friends. I love hearing from customers that found me through hand-me-downs passed to them from friends and family. Knowing the clothes I make are not discarded after one wear, or sent to landfill makes me happy!” Ali – Tutti Frutti Clothing.

People matter.

People are the heart of this process.

At the end of the day, this earth belongs to people (and yes, all the elephants and dolphins and owls and beetles that inhabit it with us. Not sure about mosquitoes… but that’s a discussion for another day), and as such it’s important to treat the earth and the people we work with with dignity and respect.

“We operate in London, working mainly with freelance tailors, pressers and finishers who choose where, how and when they work. Freelancers set their own fees and wages –  and we make sure these are in accordance with a London Living Wage.” Imogen, Gillian June.

Fair wages, good working conditions, empathy and kindness go a long way in fostering loyalty and creating a balanced and sustainable supply chain.

“I work with a small group of seamstresses in London who create all the loungewear, and our lingerie is made in a lovely factory in South Wales. Working with these small teams enables me not only to produce beautiful items that are made to last, but also to understand the manufacturing process, and find out how to minimise ecological impact such as reducing fabric wastage.” Rose, Rose Fulbright.

Gillian June

Resources need to be used wisely.

Waste is one of the biggest problems with the fashion industry, with the value of unused clothing in wardrobes being estimated at around £30 billion with an additional £140 million worth going into landfill annually (Wrap UK).

A key aspect of sustainability in the fashion industry is the implementation of circular economy practices within a business.

“We use 100% recycled nylon made from waste in all our swimsuits and we encourage customers to send their swimsuits back us at the end of their life as we feel a responsibility for everything we create.” Helen, Davy J.

There are ways for every single bit of waste to be used to make something new. So many amazing ethical and creative businesses have been started to make use of waste!

I strive to be as zero-waste as possible and send very little waste to landfill. Fabric scraps are sent to several schools for crafting, I use smaller pieces for baby hats and children’s undies and my mother in law’s quilting group make baby cannula covers for their local children hospital from the rest! Ali – Tutti Frutti Clothing.

Continual learning is key.

It’s important to keep up with the times.

Research into new materials and techniques is important, as is research into small business supply chains. Knowing where your suppliers source things from allows you to be more transparent with your customers.

“We take great pride in using cutting edge materials like Tencel, which is produced in a close loop process; natural fibres like Linen, which requires less water and leaves soil in a better condition than cotton; and upcycled or vintage pieces. Anything we purchase in lengths of 10m or more undergoes rigorous research to ascertain its footprint. We research mills, sources and fabrics. Only natural, biodegradable materials make the cut.” Imogen, Gillian June.

“Our swimsuits are made using ECONYL® YARN, a 100% regenerated nylon from waste sources which include abandoned or spent fishing nets, pre-consumer plastic components and textile discards.” Helen, Davy J.

Remember your reason.

Everyone has a story, even when it comes to sustainability. Why they do what they do.

For some it is family, for others it is love for the planet, for others saving and protecting animals, and for some, it’s simply what everyone else does.

“One major reason that it is important to me that my brand has high ethical and ecological standards is because I have a long family history in people interested in conservation, design and manufacturing. My great-grandfather, architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, was instrumental in introducing the use of national parks across Wales and England in order to protect natural beauty, which was unheard of at the time. He also designed his famous Portmeirion Village while trying to prove man-made buildings could enhance natural landscapes. He passed down this love of beauty to my grandmother, designer Susan Williams-Ellis, who started Portmeirion Pottery, which is still manufactured in Stoke-On-Trent.” Rose, Rose Fulbright.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

Perhaps that is an issue that speaks to the very heart of sustainability. Fast fashion can feel like a bit of a rush, but on some level it ends up making us feel guilty.

“It’s important to me that I offer an alternative to fast fashion and that women feel special in their garments that they have invested a little more time and energy into purchasing, it’s a more mindful and rewarding experience when that connection is made. Naomi, Naomi Purkiss Boutique.

If as businesses, you can inspire the buyer to love what they purchase and remember how you, and how the garment made them feel, you’ll have an advocate for life.