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Sustainable Fashion: iii. A More Responsible Supply Chain

  • We have witnessed the beginning of a revolution in fashion. Innovative individuals and groups have already pioneered extraordinary changes. One example resulting from new research and development is the concept of the 'circular economy', promoted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, based on the Isle of Wight. This seeks to promote the principles of 'waste and pollution elimination', 'circulation of products' and 'regeneration of nature'. Environmentally aware designers have used these principles, such as Stella McCartney, to guide her brand's business development.

  • New manufacturing technologies such as Evrnu, a regenerated fibre made from post-consumer cotton garment waste, create 80% less greenhouse gas emissions than polyester, viscose or elastin, emits no plastic microfibres, needs no farmland and does not contribute to deforestation. Econyl and Worn Again also use new technologies to break down and re-purpose synthetics endlessly round the supply, manufacture and re-cycling chain.

Green Recycling Arrows illustrating Circular Economy in Fashion

  • Some ecologically-aware brands are switching their supply of cotton to sustainably farmed organic cotton. Cotton produced organically does not contain the harmful chemicals that create water pollution and damage soil quality, is not derived from fossil fuels and is more easily re-cycled. However, both cotton and organic cotton use large volumes of water in production.

  • Natural indigo is being grown as an alternative to synthetic indigo and sold to cotton and jeans manufacturers. (Synthetic indigo, which ends up in rivers and the water supply, contains toxins including formaldehyde). Growers hope that natural indigo will make up 2.8% of the indigo market by 2024.

  • 'Right-shoring' is a model of business that offers an alternative to 'offshoring'. Rather than competing with the frenetic pace of business that produces different parts of the same garment in multiple locations worldwide, right-shoring aims to compete with fast fashion brands by designing, producing and selling clothes in one place. Reduced transportation, no use of sweatshops and more emphasis on 'making to order' and sending garments 'direct to consumer' cut down on transportation costs and the need for very cheap labour.

  • Vegan leather is now being used by some of the bigger fashion houses eg. Stella McCartney (exclusively) and others including Hermes, Gucci, Chanel (partly). Using plant-based or synthetic materials, it can achieve a similar quality to leather and avoids the environmental impact of cattle rearing. However, cattle ranchers themselves are also working to reduce methane emissions, by feeding cattle alternative diets which produce less methane, such as seaweed.

  • As much as environmentally-aware brands can change their business practices to create a more sustainable fashion supply chain, they are also dependant on consumers opting to buy these products. To read about what you can do as a fashion consumer, please read part iv. ( ).


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