The production of a garment is a long process with many different stages. However, the life cycle of a product does not finish at the sales point.
This chart summarises the Fashion Supply Chain and shows that making a piece of clothing demands resources, energy and labour at every stage.
The designer has to not only be creative about the aesthetics but also about the impact that product will have on the environment, i.e. choosing the raw materials to be used (natural/synthetic fibre, animal sourced, upcycled).
To consider the product as a system (production, use and discard) makes a difference (Life Cycle Design concept), whether it is going to be easier to recycle that piece or giving it a second life.
Tip: There are many designers and brand owners who already take responsibility for their clothes and we strongly recommend you start to get to know them.
When thinking about raw materials for the clothing industry it is important to understand that there are many different types of fibre: synthetic (polyester, nylon, etc), made from chemical processes and natural fibres (cotton, linen, etc.). However, it is important to consider that natural fabrics are not necessarily a good option, as for instance cotton requires a lot of water and pesticides to grow which in turn is damaging the environment and the farmer’s health.
Animal rights also need to be taken into consideration. Animals whose furs and skins are made into a raw material (leather, fur) do suffer cruelty in slaughterhouses where they undergo many procedures.
Tip: Avoid real leather, real fur, synthetic fibres, cotton, and always check the label (or ask if you are not sure),
First, the raw material is transformed into a yarn, which is then woven into fabric.
The fabric is then processed, usually being bleached and treated with a variety of chemicals in order to get rid of impurities and to achieve a purer “natural” colour, or for dyeing processes.
Tip: Be informed and be aware. The Greenpeace – Detox amongst other campaigns aims to raise awareness and put pressure on brands to take more action.
This is when the garment is cut and sewed. In a large-scale production, it is common to have waste of material (i.e. when cutting the fabric) as designers tend not to consider cutting efficiency.
Labour for making the garments is normally sourced and often workers are found to be working in unsafe conditions, with low salaries (below minimum living wage).
Tip: Choose brands which provide their workers with good working conditions. Fashion Revolution is a worldwide movement focusing on just that.
The distribution is present in all stages of the supply chain, because most of the times, the fashion industry happens on different continents. Normally, the raw materials are grown and harvested in a different country to where the fabric is produced, and which is different from where the garment is sewed and sold.
Also, more and more, clothes are mainly being sold through online stores. Consider how are the orders delivered (train, truck, can you pick up in the shop?).
Tip: Avoid unnecessary transportation, i.e. when buying online avoid returning products; look for brands which care about their logistics and optimise their transportation systems.
How a brand communicates with the consumer covers all aspects such as “branding”, packaging, events, etc. In many cases, brands claim sustainability as their core value since ethical issues become trendy. However, when one takes a closer look, it is clearly not true. This is called “greenwashing”.
Tip: Investigate the brand, check their information and their policies to avoid misunderstandings.
There are many aspects to be considered within a store that are often disregarded: energy (lights, ironing etc.); water; display furniture (are they new? What materials are they made of?); visual merchandising (materials used at the sale point, also part of communication); packaging (plastic or paper bags, wrapping etc.); garbage (recycling system).
Tip: When purchasing an item in a shop, choose not to take the package (plastic bags, wrapping papers etc).
One of the most impactful part of the supply chain is consumer care. That is due to laundering, drying and ironing, which all demand more resources and pollute more than to actually produce the clothes (when thinking in a larger scale, everyone, in every house, doing laundry everyday).
Tip: Taking good care of your clothes, reading the labels carefully and washing as little as possible are golden rules. Also, preferably leave the clothes to dry naturally instead of using a tumble dryer and only iron what is absolutely necessary.
Sadly, many clothes end up in landfills, sometimes still in good condition or even never worn. Rubbish is not the only way of getting rid of clothes, there are other options such as giving to second-hand shops or charities, recycling or upcycling.
Tip: Before discarding an item, check if it can still be donated, reused or re-designed (upcycling) to be worn differently, leaving “the rubbish” as the last option.
Every small action we take has an impact. We believe it is possible to make fashion without harming the environment or people, and that is what Ethical Fashion is all about.