In recent years, sustainability has become a gimmick used by fast-fashion retailers to reach young buyers. But smaller brands are still setting the standards for environment consciousness in the industry.
Sustainability, green fashion, slow fashion and many such terms have been making headlines recently. These have found a prominent place in the fashion ecosystem. From small-scale homegrown brands to international big retailers, everyone is talking about going green. However, the recent industry insights are pointing towards a rather dismal bigger picture. These days, “sustainable fashion” is being used as a marketing gimmick as opposed to an ethical practice manufactures abide by.
When it comes to eco-friendly measures, big brands have always been vocal about their participation—whether it is through CSR activity or some sustainability-driven special initiative. However, these steps are never fully incorporated into their day-to-day functioning.
On the other hand, small homegrown brands are not just driven by their eco-friendly beliefs, but they are often a result of a belief system that has sustainability at its heart. Most homegrown sustainable brands take pride in how they were born—with the idea of bringing about change. Their identity is based on their mission to have a positive impact on the planet and its people. Hence, smaller brands follow these principles thoroughly as they form the basis of their entire business framework. This is in complete contrast to the way fast-fashion brands operate. The reality is that most players in the fast-fashion space do not fully understand the idea of sustainable development at a deeper level and most of them have jumped on the band wagon as it appears to be in trend.
A majority of retailers only have a small segment, of around 5%, allotted to sustainable clothing in their entire seasonal range, as opposed to smaller brands, whose products, in their entirety, are underlined by sustainability. As they weren’t conceived with the idea of sustainability, most big international brands falter when it comes to imbibing and honouring the true spirit of the movement.
Another aspect that is fundamental to this context is the difference between the business models of a big international fast-fashion retailer and a smaller, homegrown brand. With top of the line growth being a common goal in bigger organisations, all resources are aligned towards solely generating revenue. On the other hand, most local brands are driven by multiple goals—from providing livelihood to artisans to reviving a craft, from making natural textiles popular to ensuring zero-waste practices.
Almost all small sustainable brands make sure that they follow eco-friendly processes, like choosing natural dyes over chemicals, and handmade elements over machine manufacturing. Most of the smaller brands are careful about every such aspect—from raw materials sourcing, processing to manufacturing and packaging. This level of quality assurance is possible if your clientele is limited and your production line manageable. This is not the case with big fast-fashion retailers, where the quantities are huge and standardisation a constant struggle.
Small homegrown sustainable brands are also more personalised, ensuring conscious and consistent efforts throughout the product cycle. The limited scale of such brands is often a boon in this scenario where they can ensure that the desired outcome towards sustainability is achieved.
The other important facets of holistic sustainability are ethical fashion and fair business practices. Unlike big retailers, who may have exploited craftsmen in the past, younger brands have a community-led perspective that pays attention to supporting craftspeople through fair wages.
The authenticity and sustainable practices are transparent in smaller brands, unlike in the market-movers who may be using eco-friendly practices at one stage and an environmentally hazardous practice in the next.
One of the crucial aspects of the sustainability cycle is waste management. Owing to their production scale, most bigger brands create large inventories and when the unsold merchandise turns to dead stock, it is conveniently discarded in an irresponsible way. Irresponsible dumping of goods in landfills damages our environment, because when this waste breaks down eventually, it produces methane, a gas more hazardous than carbon dioxide. To avoid these environmental hazards, responsible and foresighted brands make smaller quantities and resort to upcycling their unsold products. Minimal wastage is rarely practiced by fast-fashion retailers in contrast to authentically organic brands whose entire identity is based on zero-waste policies.
Most fashion retailers believe in the idea of rapid consumption and huge sales figures. Whereas small brands that are true to the spirit of sustainability will always encourage you to buy less and use things for a longer duration. To avoid wastage and pollution, small sustainable brands endeavour to create timeless designs in great quality so that consumers don’t feel the need to shop every season. Fast-fashion retailers neither support this ideology nor practice it—even though this is the essence of sustainable fashion and very much the need of the hour.
So the next time you are wondering where to shop, check out a small boutique store in your city and give the mall a miss. The clothes from a homegrown sustainable label will not just look bespoke, but also make you feel good about your contribution to the cause of sustainability.
The author is founder and principal designer, Paashh, a multi-concept store in Pune promoting sustainable living