The fashion industry currently accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output—that’s more than international flights and shipping combined! 

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With the emissions that come from manufacturing and dying garments, to the sheer amount of clothing that ends up in waste each year - people are now calling for the fashion industry and consumers to make changes to their habits, and consider the planet when it comes to producing and purchasing. 

More clothing is being produced than ever, as retailers and their customers churn through styles, and it’s estimated that the number of garments produced each year has at least doubled since 2000. With only a fraction of what’s being manufactured getting recycled.

So, how can the fashion industry do better to help the future of the planet? 

The latest roundtable hosted by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and haysmacintyre brought a group of founders and experts together to answer just that. 

Kicking off the conversation by discussing some of the practices businesses could take on to be more sustainable Charlotte Staerck, Co-founder & CEO of Handbag Clinic, explained what her business is doing to be better.

“We have renewable energy solutions in place throughout our head office and any plastic that comes through from our main supplier is all made from recyclable materials.

“With what we do we also use a lot of cleaning cloths and products, but everything we use comes from the travel and tourism industry. It could be old bed linens and towels from hotels that we reuse. Everything we put into our office, we try to make it as sustainable as possible,” said Charlotte. 

So, how can more businesses follow in the footsteps of sustainability? 

Tzaritsa Asante, Founder of TZAR! said, “The simple answer is to keep asking questions and taking responsibility. You can’t assume that because from your perspective something is sustainable, that makes it the standard. Instead, we need to be asking people how they got to where they are, and what their experiences were.” 

“For my business, it’s about being far more holistic. Sustainability was almost a title that was put on us which is why I always say it’s part of our DNA because it wasn’t about being sustainable for us, it was about being responsible with every decision we made. Being responsible for every cut of the cloth, or where we were sourcing our costs, and can we do it locally.”

“The idea for me was if I can do something that can be replicated, then that’s how I can be part of the solution. I’m really looking for other people to be the solution, but I’m going to work with people that I believe are providing solutions to ensuring that we give something to the next generation.”

Karen Yates, Co-founder of Taylor Yates agreed that being a responsible business is the most important part. “Our first question is always how do you do this sustainably and responsibly, and it is a challenge for people to do.

“Last year we started using what you could call dead stock, or using leather that was already on the shelf. We found out on a climate literacy program that I could potentially be saving 80% of the carbon I was using if I used leather that exists as opposed to dying leather. I couldn’t find any evidence of why or how. 

We could easily do what I think a lot of companies are doing and just say ‘we’re going to be saving 30 tons of carbon this year’. But unless that is absolutely true I wouldn’t want to do it. Because we could end up affecting our own values and encouraging others to do the same.” 

Going on to discuss why transparency about sustainability measures can be challenging for some brands Meera Pandya, Founder of MojaKid, said “As a small business, it’s really difficult to find the time and resources to try and calculate your carbon footprint, quantify it, get it on your website and show your transparency, which are all things that any truly sustainable brand should be doing.

“You want to make sure that when you announce yourself as a sustainable business that you’re not greenwashing. There is a start-up support organisation in Bristol (YTKO) that offers sustainability accreditation which is really helpful. So they help you go through the process of measuring your sustainability level and through that you’re calculating your carbon footprint and discovering where improvements can be made for example how to reduce the impact on the environment through addressing your supply chain. 

“As a small business, this is the best way to continuously improve my sustainability measures, through a guidance system so I’m not struggling on my own, trying to calculate my carbon footprint.   I can actually make responsible changes.”

Vicky North, Founder of Bird Kitchen Clothing agreed saying, “The sustainability in my businesses comes from my values and things that I would do anyway. So certainly whilst we’re still a fairly small business, it’s far easier to be in control of all areas and ensure all things are being done responsibly. But as the business grows it’s really important that you have procedures and policies in place to really keep everything in line.

Hannah Stacpoole, Founder of Saluto London went on to discuss the importance of the customer when it comes to becoming a fully sustainable business. 

“An approach to sustainability that I think is often looked over is making sure that you’re buying things that you really love and you’re going to look after. For example, some of the vintage pieces that I’ve got, and have collected for years I still love, and if they break, I fix them, I look after them, I clean them and I want to pass them on to other people. I think having that approach with customers is so important. 

“If I get a customer who is hesitant about buying a product, it may not be seen as the best sales technique, but I will take time to say, do you love it? Or if you walk out of here today with it will you feel slightly unsure, if you will then don’t buy it. Because we should all be buying things that we really love and look after and we should eb encouraging our consumers to also think like this.” 

Sherene Headley, Founder & Creative Director of MOKKAH, agreed with Hannah that one of the keys to making a sustainable business is through the way their consumer’s shop. 

“When building my brand I decided to take the approach of providing quality classic-led pieces that are going to last a long time. I want my customers to be able to buy the shoes they want, wear them to work, and wear them out. It’s important that they’re not just fashion pieces that are trendy and thrown away when the trend dies down.

Sherene, whose business provides larger sized shoes for women, started her business from her own experiences of struggling to find shoes in her size - and she’s doing it sustainably. “One of the issues I had growing up - when I bought shoes - was that they were poorly made, brands didn’t know how big the market was in order for them to invest into making quality footwear. Soles of the shoes would wear away within a school term, we’d then have to throw them away and buy a new pair which was always difficult because of the lack of availability in my size.

“With MOKKAH I think about the quality of materials - how good is the leather that I’m going to use for the sole? Are customers going to be able to re-sole the shoes and wear them again in the future? Another big thing we’ve started and other brands can also do is push the need for people to be more aware of what they’re purchasing - bring them in on the process of development through your media channels, e.g. your social media, email, and other messaging you put out.”

Hannah Chilmaid of haysmacintyre: “With sustainability now more of a hot topic than ever, we have seen a shift from consumers, turning their backs on the big fast fashion brands who offer cheap prices but fall far short in their environmental impact, in favour of smaller sustainable businesses, who stay true to their values and ethos.

“The small business community places value on quality pieces that are both durable and ethical, with this now being one the most important factors consumers take into account when looking to make new purchases. It is important for businesses to be held accountable and responsible for their environmental impact, with us all needing to take a positive role in the shift towards a more sustainable world. While we praise the work that sustainable businesses are currently doing, it is important they always still seek to improve, educating both other businesses and consumers wherever possible and focusing back on why they created the business.”