Ethical and sustainable clothing means different things to different people. At its heart, it’s about ensuring that people in your supply chain are treated fairly and the environmental impact is minimised. These can be hard things to measure but certification, though sometimes criticised for not offering a full picture or being hard to fathom, does offer a start.
Factories can be audited by independent third parties to ensure working conditions are safe, that working hours are regulated and that wages paid are enough to cover the basic cost of living. It’s important to recognise that there are variances in the quality of certification; with SA8000, FairWear, FairTrade and the ETI generally considered to be the strongest. However, certifications are never enough –it’s also important to ensure your supply chain is transparent and that the companies you buy from are truly committed to sustainability.
Some certificates e.g. Oeko Tex 100, GOTS and ISO ensure clothing is safe to wear and consider the environmental effects of manufacture. Much greater impact is made, however, when looking at the fibres used; Organic cotton has been proven to use 71% less water and 62% less energy than conventional cotton, it avoids the harmful and toxic chemicals that would otherwise enter our environment and it gives farmers freedom from the tyranny of genetically modified seeds and ever increasing amounts of toxic chemicals to keep them growing. Indeed, by actually fixing carbon into the soil, organic farming can help reverse global warming and so have a positive impact on the environment.
Viscose (or rayon) creates environmental degradation in its manufacture. Opting for an eco- alternative, e.g. Lenzing’s TENCEL®, that offers same (if not better) fabric attributes but is made in an environmentally-conscious manner has huge impact.
Other sustainable fibre alternatives include recycled cotton, recycled polyester, organic flax and hemp.
Brands like Mantis World are committed to increasing the use of sustainable fibres year on year. Transparency through the supply chain helps to ensure that no Uzbek cotton is used, there’s no sub-contracting to unsavoury factories, all waste water is properly treated before being safely discharged into the environment and the workforce has safe and fair working conditions. They require partner manufacturers to hold relevant, reputable and recognised certifications but firmly believe it’s their long term personal relationships with factories that makes all the difference.
Ask your suppliers about their commitments to sustainability – for your customers will be asking you that same question.
Made-by.org has a useful environmental benchmark for fibres
Two excellent non-profit organisations with a wealth of information - Textileexchange.org and ethicalfashionforum.com