A few tips on how to find the best fabrics and maintain a sustainable fashion business.

Fabric selection is an important part of the design process. For sourcing to run smoothly, a profound knowledge of textiles and potential suppliers is required. It gets even more difficult when you decide to work with ethical fabrics only. We asked industry professionals for some tips on how to conduct the sustainable sourcing process.

Alan Gunner, Business Development Director at Adjuno – a supply chain platform

Work together with competitors

Sustainability shouldn’t be an area of competition and those who work more closely with their rivals often find greater efficiencies when it comes to measuring sustainability. Being able to openly review and contribute to shared factory audits is not only economically beneficial for retailers but ethically beneficial as any red flags will be raised earlier. Buyers in these types of communities can make quicker purchasing decisions as they have access to more reliable information and don’t have to go through so many lengthy checklists.

Ensure you have the right tech

Due to the ever-increasing customer expectations, supply chains are becoming more and more detailed. With globalisation and the need to flex the supply chain according to local environmental, ethical or sustainability issues, it can mean sourcing patterns grow quickly in size and complexity, with the number of stakeholders increasing too quickly, leading to disjointed processes. As a buyer you need to be able to easily and accurately keep track of all your suppliers so that no warning signs can slip through the net and you reduce the risk of committing to unethical products. To keep things running smoothly, and have a sharp eye on sustainability, ensure you implement supply chain visibility tools that will let you have all the information you need to hand so that you won’t be caught out further down the purchasing process.

Amandine Cha, the Founder of Les Trouvailles d’Amandine – an ethical fabric supplier

Be curious

Learn about textile materials, chemicals, factory workers’ working conditions and never hesitate to ask your fabric supplier about them. It’s an important part of your work as a designer to know how your fabrics are made and to be able to see the difference between a ‘greenwashing sustainable’ fabric and a truly sustainable one.

Be meticulous

When choosing a fabric, check if it is certified or not and can it be recycled (reused or composted) – make this part of your creative process. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certificate is one of the strictest and it controls important aspects of organic textile production such as the environmental, sanitary and social impact. Choosing a GOTS certified fabric guarantees greater transparency and reduces the negative impact your company has on nature and other human beings.

Rachel MacHenry, Textile Designer and Co-Founder of Botanica Tinctoria

Educate yourself to make good design choices

Connect with some of the excellent online resources that can help you to understand the important issues and ideas in ethical fashion today. Familiarise yourself with the main certification systems. For organic materials, GOTS is one of the most important. In terms of ethical labour, Fair Trade certification sets some of the highest standards, although other certification systems are currently under development in this rapidly evolving area.

Decide upon the most important factors

When you are looking for sustainable materials, you have to decide which environmental and social factors are the most important for your vision, and choose materials accordingly. For example, the numerous environmental benefits of organic cotton, linen and hemp may be important to you, determining the kinds of fabrics you choose. If social impact is more your focus, you may select Fair Trade cotton because of the benefits to growers, or you may choose to use locally grown wool in support of local farmers. If you are more concerned with preventing waste from going to landfill, you may source recycled polyester or upcycled materials. For your material choices, make sure you understand the benefits of the fabrics you are selecting, and make sure that those benefits align with your brand’s outlook and ethics.

There is a number of good online resources for designers that focus on sustainable materials. The Sustainable Angle holds the annual Future Fabrics Expo in London, this year taking place January 24th-25th, in which they showcase a wide range of materials from both large and small mills. All materials are clearly identified with their environmental and social benefits, such as reduced water usage, organic fibres, closed loop production, or Fair Trade certification, as well as minimums – costs and lead times. If you can’t attend the expo, the materials are accessible via an online portal through a membership fee system.

The Ethical Fashion Forum (re-launching as CO in 2018) is the best all-round source of information and resources for sustainable fashion designers. They list a wide range of material sources for small-scale designers, as well as listing ethical garment producers.

Look for the right certifcation

Fair Trade certification ensures high standards of employment are being met for workers. The following certified garment production companies will take small minimum orders and are thus well suited to working with emerging designers:

Fair Trade certification provides a high level of accountability, however, there are many kinds of production available, depending on where you decide to produce your garments. If factories or producers are not certified, you should visit in person to determine how the facility is run and to ensure you are comfortable with how things are done. If you are producing in Europe, there may be options to produce with a social enterprise; often these businesses provide a range of social benefits to their employees, or work with vulnerable populations, such as refugees.

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