Do you think sustainability in fashion applies better to small or large businesses?

Clean, vegan, organic, sustainable – is the mot du jour currently. Everyone is talking about ethical fashion, zero waste living these days. They reflect a trend that’s rapidly growing momentum and revenue. The sustainable fashion movement, once a niche trend, has gone mainstream. The fashion industry’s rude awakening on the detrimental environmental effects of a rampant production cycle has resulted in an evident shift in our buying and consumption patterns. Therefore; what are we as fashion brands and consumers of fashion doing about it? What does it mean to buy from a sustainable fashion brand? What is ethical fashion?

To better understand these questions; we first need to have a clear view of what it means to be sustainable. The dictionary defines sustainability as the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance. It includes practices that are clean and safe for the environment.

With regards to fashion, it is about producing clothes and accessories in an environmentally and socio-economically sustainable manner. It also includes viable patterns of consumption and use, which necessitate the desired shifts in individual attitudes and shopping behaviour.

We have known the impact of fast fashion and landfills on our environment for a long time, so it’s no surprise the call to arms to do something about this is much stronger now than ever before. 

With this in mind; does sustainability in fashion apply better to small or large businesses? Creating a sustainable brand is not easy; period. It requires a conscious effort and a clear and correct understanding of everything from the procurement of raw materials, responsible packaging to the life trajectory of the garment; its consumption and impacts on the planet. Being fully sustainable is a pretty impossible task in this industry either for small or large fashion houses. 

But in saying this, I would also like to point out that it’s a smidgen more manageable for smaller brands to be sustainable when compared to their bigger counterparts. I have accounted below some of my personal experience and reasons for saying this:

  • Small brands don’t need to rush into collections or show at every season of the fashion calendar. The emphasis is only to make a product when they genuinely believe in its design and think it has the longevity to be transferred from season to season for years. The brands explore the concept of circularity; wherein fashion isn’t wasteful. It is about creating designs where garments can be cherished for years to come, reinterpreted and restyled. 
  • Small businesses produce in small quantities with most of it made to order; avoiding the issue of dead stock. For short runs of clothing, they use local family-run workshops, minimizing the carbon footprint of the manufacturing cycle. Some small brands also use deadstock fabric in their clothing and accessories so as not to create demand for new fibres; using offcuts and reworking them into new products, thereby reducing waste.
  • There is a certain reluctance on big fashion houses to branch towards sustainability; possibly coming from a place of assured arrogance. Why change when not broken, is the mantra here; wherein they consider it not worthwhile to improve because the vast majority of their consumer base will continue to purchase from them regardless. Smaller brands, on the other hand, need to set themselves apart and create a niche to target customers. They are building in a world that is increasingly critical of unethical practices, hence have little excuse to produce products not sustainable. 
  • Small businesses start small and build it slowly and sustainably. Necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s the ethos behind a lot of small sustainable brands today. Sustainability increases creativity working inversely proportional to reducing its cost. It forces the brand to think more independently and come up with creative economic ways to utilize resources that already exist. 

One of the main hurdles of a small business is that sustainable materials often cost a lot more as they are not in as high a demand. But every challenge comes with an opportunity, and often these independent brands use this opportunity to educate their consumers in conscious consumption. 

The term ‘Greenwashing’ is being rampantly used these days in regard to the big high street fashion businesses. It mainly stands for small efforts made by a business to give the facade of being environmentally friendly. For example, the introduction of separate lines as opposed to implementing changes broadly along with all aspects of production; makes sustainability look more like a fad rather than a committed pledge. The big giants have a global influence to create real change within the infrastructure of the fashion industry and encourage the same concerning consumer habits on an unprecedented scale.

In my opinion; small companies are blazing the trail for the rest of the fashion industry; hence their continued progress is critical. They recognize that they cannot create this disruptive change on their own. Big brands, on the other hand, need the flexibility and fresh ideas that only small businesses can guarantee. As a consequence, some large fashion conglomerates are outsourcing innovation to small, highly specialist companies, which in turn help them to stay ahead of the curve.

The industry as a whole understands that the future of sustainable fashion rests on mutual give and take; collaboration to commercialize and scale the innovations on the horizon. It is of pertinent importance that marrying of the small and large-scale business remains a lifelong commitment to boost the fashion industry’s long-term environmental and social performance; and profitability.

As the famous saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Every collaborative step we take towards eco-friendly living is one that helps the world.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelloPost.)

Contributed by Dina Udupa, Founder & Designer for the UK based fashion label – ‘Dina Udupa’. The brand provides quality sustainable fabrics with subtle designs which can be effortlessly worn to an Indian wedding or a western soirée.