Sustainability in fashion requires a systematic approach capable of looking at a garment’s life cycle and understand how a lighter carbon footprint can be achieved by breaking down its value chain in its individual components. A product’s value chain is in fact comprised of 4 stages: product development, production, distribution and use, in order to minimise its environmental cost in each stage, sustainability practices can be implemented. In this post, we are going start focusing on the second and third stages foreseen by the Eco-Sustainable Strategy Wheel, the material sourcing stage and the manufacturing stage. In these stages, a designer or a fashion company will source the raw materials necessary to construct a product and process them into a piece of garment. Manufacturing comprises a series of industrial operations necessary to the refinement of raw materials into consumer products.
We can say that there are three areas of responsibility and accountability when it comes to environmental sustainability during these stages:
In this post we are going to discuss in more detail the second of the three stages of responsibility, in particular focusing on:
There are essentially 5 material sourcing approaches to consider in the context of sustainable fashion:
Sourcing environmentally-conscious materials is a great way to impact a firm’s environmental footprint, however, it’s only the first step in a long journey. Let’s move on and see what options are available for sustainable manufacturing.
General sustainability principles in materials usage foresee:
In addressing manufacturing we need to take into account that we are discussing a very complex area of operation. Industrial-intensive processes present serious environmental challenges in terms of labour\energy and materials with serious health and environmental consequences for a wide variety of stakeholder due to chemical exposure of workers and excess waste dispersed into the environment.
Moreover, with the term manufacturing, we indicate a wide variety of processes dedicated to transforming fabrics into products. In general terms the manufacturing process comprehends three main processes:
Instances of sustainability can be obtained by using streamlined knitting processes. Fashion technology companies provided a great technological leap in the process of whole-garment knitting, where no excessive fabric is used when assembling the garment with a zero-waste process.
On a more operational level, however, there are a variety of manufacturing optimisation strategies like:
Once a firm has selected sustainable materials and optimised the labour process then it can move to efficient distribution strategies to alleviate the high environmental cost of distribution within its value chain.
Other basic rules for optimised manufacturing entail:
Distribution refers to the movement of three categories of products:
The distribution stage is very taxing on the environment as 15-35% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transport. This allows companies to be creative in both packaging strategies and distribution.
Aside from packaging strategies, other efficient distribution strategies include:
Other virtuous practices in the distribution are:
By looking at this stage of the garment’s life cycle we have seen how an important segment of its life is lived under the control of industrial processes. With increasing globalisation trends more and more companies are trying to escape their own accountability in terms of environmental footprint, but those companies who are instead pursuing environmental choices are rewarded by the market.
So far we’ve seen only the part of the garment life cycle which is under the control of the firm. In this post, we’ll see what happens when the product lives its “consumer life” and how it can be disposed of at the end of its cycle. Those brands capable of earning positive reinforcements and environmentally-aware associations can strive to influence consumer behaviour by promoting campaigns aimed at change the way consumers approach their daily lives and alter their own perception of ownership and use.
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