“The fashion industry impacts everyone, and it’s an industry that every one can impact, because when it comes to what we all wear, we are all stakeholders.”
Laura Hall and Sharleen Ernster, two friends and fashion executives who met at the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit a few years ago, held a Conscious Capitalism in Action Virtual Gathering where they provided invaluable insights for conscious fashion stakeholders on how to make the most impact right now in the fashion industry.
Aside from being considered the second dirtiest industry after “Big Oil”, the fashion industry boasts a long list of “dirty little secrets” that most consumers don’t know. For example, nearly 1/3 of women wear clothing items only 5 times before tossing them out; from growing the cotton to the dying process, it can take over 5 thousand gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans and one t-shirt; and over 20% of industrial waste water pollution originates in the fashion industry. The list goes on and the list is long.The good news is that there is something that can be done about it. It starts with conscious fashion’s key stakeholders: Conscious Fashion Business Leaders and Conscious Fashion Consumers.
Tools for Conscious Fashion Business Leaders – DISRUPT
Part of conscious fashion is playing the long-game and waiting to make each step profitably. Otherwise, you risk creating products that are unproven and may create more waste. In order to do that well, you may need to be creative – an approach, according to Sharleen, that is little used in fashion at the moment. She tells us, “I’ve witnessed a ton of waste in this industry, not just waste in the terms of fabric and markdowns, but a waste of ideas. There are so many innovative ways to do business that aren’t being incorporated into the business standards of the industry.” DISRUPT, an acronym created by Sharleen, represents 7 innovative ideas to build more sustainability into your conscious fashion business practices:
- Design for the future. Think about the long-game by finding materials that meet your purpose while being sustainable over the long-term.
- Incorporate digital technology. Digital printing supplies the best quality of fabric with the lightest footprint, but it costs 7x more than traditional printing. If all businesses moved to this model, it would have the greatest short term impact across the industry.
- Sustain and preserve what you already have. Plastics are everywhere. Why not use recyclable plastics to create new fabrics?
- Rethink your current business model. Ask yourself – why not and why not now? Big or small, this is the moment to take action.
- Use water as a finite resource. Recognize that water is a limited resource and consider innovative ways you can use less water.
- Prioritize regenerative resources. Ask yourself, “What can I do to start prioritizing these materials in my business?”
- Team-up to create joint value. We all need to take a hard look at what “teaming up” means. Don’t create a category you’re not great at, consider working with a company who is already great in that area and create something new together.
Tools for Conscious Fashion Consumers
“What should I wear?” It’s a question we probably all ask ourselves every day. In today’s market, the customer is in the driver’s seat. So how best can you use your power?
- Vote and promote. Vote with your dollar and think consciously about who you are purchasing from and why. Next, promote the brands you love. Tell your friends and family. Talk about why the brands are so important to you.
- Be curious. Educate yourself about the fashion industry.
- Question your brands. Question the brands you use on their policies, their partners, the processes, etc.
Tools for All of Fashion’s Stakeholders
Laura and Sharleen insist that, together, we can move the needle toward global change in the fashion industry, and we can start today using these simple guide posts:
- Start somewhere. Sharleen experienced an epiphany while at her first Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit. She realized that to make change, you just need to “start somewhere”. Whether you are a consumer looking to impact the industry with your purchases or a business leader looking to make your fashion brand more conscious, remember that starting somewhere is the first step.
- Progress over perfection (is okay). Laura’s journey began with the recognition that her industry was up against finite resources and antiquated CSR messaging. Both of these issues seemed almost insurmountable. Laura quickly realized that it’s nearly impossible to be perfect, and often the focus on perfection can lead to discouragement and giving up on the matters that are most important to us. Wherever you are on this journey, always keep in mind that progress toward your goal is the goal. The small wins you make along the way will add up to big changes over time.
- Where to shop sustainable list as recommended by Laura Hall and Sharleen Ernster
- Conscious Fashion Virtual Gathering video recording