When you want something cheap and lots of it, eat rice! Fast fashion, cheap just like rice, but unlike this delicious grain, the environmental impact is kilotons of disposable clothing. We talk regularly about plastics in our oceans, and non-environmentally friendly fabrics making their way into our ecosystems, but what are we doing about it!? Better yet, what am I doing about it? I am one of the quickest people to blame the companies for the overuse of plastic packaging and get frustrated if I must pay too much for a pair of jeans, right, wrong, or otherwise, it is human nature.
Unfortunately according to Vauhini Vara’s article in Wired magazine, “the burden of making fashion more ethical will continue to rest largely on individual consumers—a strategy sure to fail.”
That said, there is hope, hope in businesses stepping up to do their part. Entrepreneurs like Amahlia Stevens, founder of Vitamin A, not only support the sustainability movement in all senses of the word but have created a brand around her authentic commitment to her personal values. As Stevens explains, “I created a brand based on my personal values and use these values as a filter for everything we do from the team we hire to the factories we work with.”
What are these values? You only need to spend a few minutes speaking with her, and it quickly becomes apparent.
Steven’s inspiration and rise to leadership in the sustainable swimwear space started on a design project with Patagonia founder and environmentalist Yvon Chouinard. When taking the concept of sustainable swimwear to fabric suppliers she met her first significant challenge, according to these suppliers there was “no market” for swimwear made of recycled fibers, and therefore would need to create her own. Her company now has several sustainable high-performance fabrics meeting the highest of global standards.
She donates 1% of revenues to a partnership with “1% For The Planet”, an international network of responsible businesses giving back to environmental non-profits to create a healthier planet. She believes in this so strongly that for her a personal measure of success will be the ability to increase this annual contribution.
As a company, they have saved nearly four million litres of water, diverted over 37 thousand kg of waste, avoided close to 400 thousand lbs of emissions, and saved over 1 million kWh of energy. They are doing amazing things, but how do you compete with companies like Shien who are producing kilotons of waste, and do not seem to care?
How Business Should Think About Sustainability
It will take a significant mind-shift in business, for the burden to shift to the businesses from the consumers, but when you look at people like Stevens and Chouinard, there becomes hope. But how should this be viewed, as a shared burden, but regardless, there are three key concepts all businesses should consider.
- There are financial indicators that suggest that there are profits in sustainable business models, and a recent Nielsen study indicated that 66% of people reported they would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable brand.
- There needs to be an authentic adoption of the idea and concept so well stated by Yvon Chouinard, “This is not philanthropy. This should be a cost of doing business. It is paying rent for our use of the planet”
- Hardest of all is that to truly adopt sustainability it needs to be integrated deep into the business. It is not just about giving back to the planet as much as it is ensuring all your channels from your suppliers, factories, staff, and more are authentically connected to the bigger vision.
If the burden of making fashion more ethical will be on the consumer, as suggested by Vauhini, then we need options, and options like Vitamin A, Patagonia and the network of businesses contributing to 1% For The Planet is an excellent place to start. It is not easy for these companies to compete against the fast fashion companies that are producing mass amounts of cheap clothes for bottom basement prices, but they are trying to make a difference and provide consumers with options.
So to all those entrepreneurs out there who care, I would like you to hear very clearly the words of Amahlia Stevens when she said to me, “I started the brand purely as a creative vision, it was just a dream, and following that dream … don’t be afraid to dream big and surround yourself with the people who also believe you can achieve your dreams; And don’t let doubt influence your decisions.”