The first step is to know what to look for. And we start by:
Looking for the essential elements for designing a brand to be sustainable. We seek to know which negatively consequences the brand or product may cause in terms of environmental impact, social impact, the impact of animal life and ecosystems. We must then ask:
What are the environmental impact and consequences for the planet arising from the activities developed by the brand, whether in the pre-production and production phase, in the promotional and distribution phase, or commercialization phase?
What is the social impact arising from the working conditions of its employees? Here, it requires considering whether there are precarious conditions or ones that jeopardize the health and life of the employee while performing work activities. The brands must consider this concern throughout the supply chain. As we know, many of the Fast Fashion brands do not know or neglect whether their suppliers comply with labour laws, particularly when moving factories, for example, to countries where working conditions are questionable.
Some industries recognize Fairtrade value, particularly food, which we can also apply to the fashion industry. There is often the exploitation of intermediaries, making it impossible for all agents in the chain to be recognized for the substantial value of their work, specifically those who produce the clothes.
The areas we most relate to sustainability in this industry are animal life and ecosystems consequences. Historically, we associate clothing and footwear brands with the indiscriminate use of animal skins, exotic or not. The methods used for using different skin types left a part of society shocked, followed by protests to the atrocities committed over the years. Through greater awareness, brands have appeared for customers demanding more products produced from materials that do not come from animals.
Note that: When I refer to sustainable brands, I mean they incorporated sustainability principles and standards. I am not saying that they have already fulfilled all the sustainability goals, because as I usually say – “Sustainability is not a target but a path that is adopted permanently”.
Now that we’ve understood what we’re looking for in terms of impact, where can we look?
We can start by visiting the brand’s website and social media to understand what they are doing and how they are doing it. We can also research the brand’s mission, values and if they consider sustainability an ongoing purpose. On social media, it’s possible to follow the brand’s practices and if the actions proposed are meeting its promise.
The brand’s information we are searching for must be clean and intelligible to the reader, and they use total transparency in the information provided. The same should happen if we directly question the brand, something I’ve done several times.
Another way is the one we use the most, like looking at the product label and checking if there is any clue that it can be sustainable in at least one area (environmental, people/social and animal).
As advertising can say whatever it wants, it becomes more difficult to distinguish what is true or false, hence the importance of creating Standards and Certifications that can determine whether brands are sustainable or which areas are more focused.
Therefore, look for the certifications that the brand has. Certification by autonomous and independent entities ensures an item complies with the requirements to achieve certification. There are several certifications, and some of them you’ve already had contact with, for example, on clothing labels. We can identify the Certifications through a logo, an image, a series of numbers or initials.
Let’s cover certifications, knowing that not all of them certify in the same area, even if it’s within the same industry. The Certifications may require standards intended to guarantee, for example, the slightest potential impact on organic cotton production, organic fibres, and others to assure safety and the best working conditions for people who work in these crops.