Jemma Finch is Co-Founder & CEO of @storiesbehindthingsStories Behind Things was built on a desire to re-connect to the things that we consume on a daily basis. It aims to celebrate the power of storytelling when trying to live a more sustainable life. What began as a passion project has now grown into a multi facetted platform and force for change.
“Sustainable” is becoming an overused buzzword in the fashion industry as more and more brands are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact. But what does it take for a product to be *actually* sustainable? Research released by Mintel reveals that 30% of consumers would choose a fashion retailer based on whether or not they sold sustainable products. However, in spite of those positive intentions, 79% of participants still find it difficult to know which fashion retailers are ethical. In reality, sustainable fashion is an incredibly difficult mindfield to navigate because it's often subjective, there is no easy guide book to determine if a brand is sustainable or not. 

With the rise of planet friendly brands, we also see a wave of brands attempting to take a piece of the fast growing customer base who are searching for greener fashion purchases. The term ‘greenwashing’ is becoming ever more relevant in separating the do-gooders from those who are taking advantage of the trend. The term is used when a brand’s marketing around sustainability runs counter to its actual business practices. Essentially, brands recognise a sales opportunity by running sustainability-focused marketing campaigns with no intention of living up to their claims. The ultimate issue is leaving consumers confused, overwhelmed and unsure whether their purchase is helping the planet or putting another penny into a greenwashing machine.⁣ 

So what actually makes a product sustainable? Here are my top 3 things to look out for!

  1. Materials

The issue: The most widely used materials are often the cheapest and therefore the most environmentally hazardous textiles made from petrochemicals (oil) aka, polyester. Polyester emits tons of pollution in the production process and ends up in landfills. Once in landfills or in our oceans, the petrochemical-derived materials are not biodegradable and break down into tiny pieces called microplastics, which accumulate as toxic build ups in our ecosystems.

Top tip: Planet friendly materials will do less harm to the environment, the people who are responsible for growing the raw materials should also be protected and treated with respect. Look out for certifications like Organic, Eco Age Brandmark, Positive Luxury and others that vouch for planet friendly fabrics. Examples can consist of organic cotton, recycled fabrics & surplus waste being repurposed. 

  1. The Manufacturing Process

The issue: Many large fashion retailers do not use sustainable manufacturing processes nor do they have ethical or responsible supply chains. This is particularly true for one of the dirtiest stages in clothing manufacturing: the dyeing process. Chemical dyes can be incredibly toxic, both to humans and our ecosystems. If not dealt with in the correct way, these toxic chemicals work their way into our waterways and produce great risks to living species.

Top tip: Look out for slower fashion brands, and cross check their sustainability claims on their website. Look for stats and real sustainability reporting to ensure they are holding themselves to account by an authorised third party. 

  1. Capsule collections v. holistic approach

The issue: Many large brands who have widely known unsustainable practices have been spotlighted in the press for bringing out small eco friendly collections, this often in a bid to reframe their perception amongst their customers. It’s important to note that usually, these global (often fash fashion) brands produce a small number of planet friendly items, the system in which they sit in is often unethical. 

Top tip: If you see a global brand release a capsule collection of sustainable products, approach with caution! Research whether you think their ethos is in line with this collection and don’t be afraid of using your voice via email, instagram or twitter - ask them questions and hold them accountable!

 My favourite Wolf & Badger designers who are excelling in sustainable product and material innovation:

All photographs taken at Wolf & Badger Studios. For more information about the photographs go to wolfandbadgerstudios.com