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Fashion Business Advice

Designing Your Collection with Sustainability in Mind

design with sustainablility

Designers, you’re not dummies. If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know that as you work to build your brands, sustainability needs to be in some way, built  into your business model.

This was the topic of discussion at Texworld USA and ApparelSourcing‘s seminar: Designing with Sustainability in Mind. I sat in on this presentation and discussion by Kate Black, founder of Magnifeco.com and author of “Magnifeco, Your Head to Toe Guide for Ethical fashion and Non-Toxic Beauty” while attending the sourcing trade show earlier this week.

What was interesting about this conversation was that is was focused on the needs and wants of the consumer and then how those needs and wants impact you, as the next generation of fashion and accessory designers.

So let’s start by focusing on consumers. Here’s what Kate had to say about consumers:

  • They are increasingly interested in (demanding maybe?) to know where it was made and how it was made.
  • They are price driven and there is often a disconnect as to why ethical and sustainable fashion costs more.
  • They’re in need of a fabric/textile literacy education; what are they putting on their bodies?
  • But they are getting smarter. There are clear and growing initiatives (think Fashion Revolution) that are helping consumers to learn how to ask the right questions about what they’re putting on their bodies and the impact that these garments are having on the world and its people.
  • They don’t know what to do with the clothing at the end of its life.

While the issues listed above can seem a bit disheartening, are really an opportunity. You are building your businesses at a time when so many things are changing. Technology, economics, and spending habits are shifting the process people apply to their purchases and you’re able to leverage these changes in a way that works for your brand.

After Kate spoke about the current state of consumers, she talked about how designers and brands can respond.

  • The biggest point she made is about transparency. A buzz word, yes, but important none the less. When consumers are asking about “where” and “how”, you have the opportunity to show them. Everything. The entire process. Every single step of the supply chain. And you shouldn’t shy away from this. Find ways to communicate what you are doing and how you are doing it through your website, your social media, your hang tags, and any other touch points .
  • Another note on transparency is how perfectly you are set up to do this as independent brands. The big guys cannot do this easily. They sub-contract and sub-sub-contract and have no answer when consumers say “how?” and “where?”. But you do.
  • Share information about the fabrics and other materials you use in your designs. Give the details, talk about the process of creation; how the fiber is made into yarn, how the yarn is made into fabric, how it’s dyed…
  • When you do this, you start to indirectly answer the question about price. When you are transparent about every step of the process, consumers inevitably understand why they’re paying what they’re paying.
  • Decide on where sustainability will show up in your business. Do you encourage vintage shopping to help them lessen their consumption of more new stuff? Do you work with artisans to create your materials and/or pieces that supports ancient crafts? Are you hyper local, sourcing and making everything within a very close geographical area? Do you upcycle and use materials that are otherwise considered waste? Are you ethical in some way- cruelty free, fair trade, environmentally friendly?
  • When you are clear on exactly how your brand is sustainable and the values you hold dear, then you can work to connect with consumers who feel the same way.
  • You have to be ready to have the “how” and “where” conversation with your customers. It needs to become part of your dialogue.

My thoughts on sustainability in your business

I agree with all of the points that Kate made during her talk. But the one thing I do want to emphasize is that I don’t believe in leading your brand marketing with sustainability. It should simply be “doing business.” My friend Shannon Whitehead over at Factory45 nailed it when she said in her recent blog post “Are You Making One of These Fashion Start Up Mistakes“, …

…Sustainability and ethics should be embedded into your business model as a non-negotiable, not a strategy for saying: “Aren’t we so great?”

Because here’s the thing, it’s really easy to build your “story” around your brand’s sustainability. When you’re sharing the process and proclaiming transparency, it sometimes becomes the default branding message. But if all brands are headed in this direction, if every new brand starts building a sustainable business (as I hope will happen) then where does that leave your message?

Make sustainability a no-brainer; build your brand around a personality because that’s what will forever be unique to you.

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You’ve heard us talk about Texworld USA many time before, they are one of our sponsors because we really believe in the importance of attending shows like this as a means of learning, connecting, and building a stronger business. That’s why we sat in on this seminar and are super excited to share with you what we learned. 

Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online community and support system for independent designers around the world. She’s a traveler, a weaver, and a foodie. A deep love for the craft of fashion pared with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION were she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

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HI, I’M NICOLE.

I help fashion designers build businesses they love.

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