12 things you need to know about launching a sustainable clothing line
Launching a sustainable clothing line might just seem like an insurmountable task. But I am here to tell you it is possible. You just need to create a robust plan of action. What you have to remember is that, when creating a sustainable brand there are lots of bits and pieces to creating this puzzle, however with a bit of hard work and commitment it is achievable. Just breathe and take it one step at a time.
Prior to starting your brand and completing the steps below, one critical step is to find your “brand’s purpose”. Think about what the real reasons are for creating a sustainable brand. Is it that you want to save the environment, or is it social or ethical justice that is important to you, or is it both? Is it something more specific? Once you find your purpose, all the critical decisions you need to make with regard to your brand, need align with your brand’s ultimate purpose. This is what is called - being a “purpose-driven” brand. Decisions always come back to your original purpose.
So here are some of the basics steps and things to consider when creating a sustainable brand.
1. Decide what type of clothing you want to make
Do you want to make hoodies, t-shirts, underwear or swimming suits? Do you want to start with one type of item or multiple? Financial constraints might also dictate what you start out with for your brand.
2. Decide what type of designs you like for each garment you are choosing to make
Make a vision board of all the designs you love. You will soon notice, you are drawn to only a select few. This can help to shape the uniqueness of your brand.
3. Research the sustainable fabrics you might want to use
Look to use low impact and natural fabrics such as linen, cotton, hemp etc. These are fabrics that don’t have a huge environmental footprint on this earth compared to some of the synthetic options. Consider such things as how much water does it take to make this fabric? Try and utilise fabrics that come with a certificate (for example GOTS for organic cotton). This will ensure your fabric was made in an environmentally and socially conscious way.
Recycled fabrics can also be considered as an option. Recycled polyester is a synthetic fabric made from crude oil, however utilises used water bottles as it’s virgin input source. Econyl is another fabric that is made from used fishing nets. In addition, there are innovative fabrics out there that are made from such materials as seaweed, pineapple leaves or apples.
There are pros and cons to each fabric, however you have to consider what your brand believes in and ensure you choose fabrics that are aligned with your brand’s purpose (as discussed above). All brands are unique in their choices.
4. Identify if you will require any printing, dyeing or trims for your creations
If you require any printing, dyeing or trims for your creations, ensure you are utilising the best possible environmental options for each. For example, utilise natural dyes or printing facilities that abide by environmental standards. Try and use dyeing plants that utilise wastewater treatment plants and recycle the wastewater. Water pollution is a huge issue in garment production. If you are a small brand starting out, you can use your own dyeing techniques at home by using such items as turmeric or avocado pits to make certain colours.
5. Use patterns that create low waste or zero waste
There are many ways to ensure your brand is sustainable. However, the most critical part is the fabric and the patterns that you use. Choose fabrics that have a low environmental impact (as mentioned above) and utilise zero waste patterns where possible. Using zero waste patterns can save you up to 20% fabric that would have headed to the cutting room floor. If you cannot use a zero waste pattern for your creation, try and use the extra scrap material to add embellishments to other garments or make other items such as scrunchies or scarves. Consider if the garment you create could be multi-functional (for example a skirt that can become a scarf). You can get really creative here.
6. Consider what will happen to the garment when it comes to its end of life
Is there the potential for the garment you are making be returned and made into something else? Can the fabric be recycled at the end? These are things that need to be considered. The fashion industry in the future will include a lot of take-back, re-purpose programs and recycling in the future.
7. Create a technical drawing & prototype/sample
Find a professional pattern maker to create technical drawings for your garment. If you can try and find someone local to create your technical drawings and sample. This can save on time and shipping costs. Once you know exactly what you want, you can send this to the manufacturer you choose. There is always the option of going directly to the manufacturer to get the initial sample made. However, there can be pros and cons to each way you choose.
8. Do some target market research and send out surveys to your potential clients
You can use Survey Monkey to create surveys for you target market. Ask them questions about their spending habits, what sizes do they buy, how much do they spend a year on clothes, what clothes do they purchase most frequently etc.? Evaluate demographics and psycho-graphics (beliefs and values, style, personality, lifestyle etc.). This will give a clear picture of who your target market is.
9. Research the countries and manufacturers you would like to use
There are thousands of manufacturers in the world today throughout Asia, India, Europe, South America and North America. However, if you can stay local to where you live, than do that. It will not only save you from shipping costs, but will help save the environment in terms of CO2 emissions and energy use. In addition, you can audit the factory more easily when needed.
There are many ways to find manufacturers around the globe. You can research trade organisations, certification bodies and social media platforms to find amazing factories all over the world. In addition, you can use Sewport, a factory sourcing platform that you can use to find manufacturers.
10. Set a price and figure out what you need to manufacture the garment for to make a decent profit
According to the Chron, a descent profit margin is between 4-13%. Another strategy to stay ahead of the game is to sell goods that have a higher markup, such as jewellery, scarves and hats. When taking into account your profit margins, you need to consider the cost of transportation, brokerage fees and other hidden costs. Whether you transport via truck, air or water, it can make a huge difference.
11. Contact the manufacturers about price and sustainability practices
Prior to getting a firm price from a manufacturer, you will need to send them some drawings or examples (or sample) of what you want to make. The more details you can send to the manufacturer the better. Ask potential manufacturers/suppliers to outline what environmental and social practices they follow, what policies do they have in place and what organisations are they a part of. Ask if they utilise any equipment to reduce the use of water production and energy. It will soon become apparent what manufacturers and suppliers are sustainable and which are not.
12. Get prototypes/samples made for all of your designs
When you have decided on your manufacturer, you can start making your samples. When you get your samples made, check them out in detail. This is an essential step as you need to ensure the garments you are making are high quality. You also want to ensure the garment you are making, has been made to last (longevity is a key to sustainability and slow fashion). You may need to go back and forth a few times to get the sample exactly as you want it.
These are some of the basics of starting a sustainable clothing line and some of the items that you need to think about.
At Moda Circolare, our purpose is to help the fashion and apparel industry, live in harmony with nature.
Who is Moda Circolare?
Moda Circolare is a sustainable fashion consulting agency run by Elizabeth Cross, who is located in Vancouver, BC, Canada. They assist established brands to embed sustainability into their business strategies as well help new clients to develop sustainable brands and products. They assist with governance, environmental and social issues, circular design strategies and transparency from virgin materials all the way to the creation of final products.
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Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to have it all figured out in order to lead a sustainable lifestyle. In fact, it's better to make small conscious choices when possible, than none at all. We explore every topic under the sun around kindness to our environment, wildlife, other people and ourselves.