‘Sustainable fashion’ is one of the most widely used terms in the fashion industry today.
You must be wondering, why talk (yet again) about sustainability?
Sustainability! A word everyone seems to be associating with their brand today. Just using 100% organic cotton or natural dyes to produce garments. Is that what the term amounts to? In today’s context, the term has been used and misused to the extent that the the true meaning and the complex processes that make up the term have become blurry. What exactly is sustainability? Do genuinely sustainable products really exist or is sustainability still nothing but a so far successful marketing technique?
It is not only about the trend of socially responsible brands with eco-friendly products or coming up with some regulatory policies but also for catering to upcoming demands of conscious consumers to adopt sustainable fashion. Us as consumers, we have evolved. We have become educated about the materials and manufacturing process, which results in a growing interest to make socially responsible choices while updating our wardrobes with a value tag.
Today, sustainability is much more than a buzzword. You don't have to choose between what's good for business and what's good for the planet. Business and environmental objectives can and should work together. That’s where “Zebra companies” come in. A zebra company is both black and white - it is both profitable and works to improve society. In this way, zebra companies are defined as having a “double bottom line.”
Why zebras over unicorns?
You’re probably familiar with unicorn companies, which are startups that have experienced exponential growth and are valued at one billion dollars or more. These startups may seem impressive, but the unicorn model offers zero consideration to sustainability and sacrifices corporate ethics. In response to the growing concern for the effects of business on the environment and society at large, zebra companies have stolen the spotlight from their predecessors.
A play in words, zebras are known to move in groups, and zebra companies are characterized as mutualistic, tending to band together to support and preserve each other.
Khara Kapas designs artisanal clothing with pure fabrics with a minimal design aesthetic.
At Canvas and Weaves, we strongly align with the zebra business model whereby we strongly focus on quality and craftsmanship, rather than rushing to grow through exponential sals and funding. We work with other sustainable brands to produce a greater synergistic product and build a strong community of likeminded conscious lifestyle enthusiasts who are educated and aware of the choices they make.
What exactly is sustainable fashion? Do you know the real deal?
Sustainable fashion is not just about what material you use/ reuse, but also how a garment/ product is made, who made it, what resources were used to produce it, and how it was sold, and purchased while considering the impact of its existence on the environment and eventually how it will die/get reused.
As more and more consumers demand environmentally conscious products, many companies are eager to jump on the bandwagon. However, some brands have been committed to sustainability from the beginning.
Apart from International giants like Stella McCartney and Patagonia, Indian homegrown labels like Raw Mango, Khara Kapas, Jodilife and The Summer House made ethical fashion a pillar of their label way before sustainability was a hashtag or buzzword. They are candid about the immense harm fashion inflicts on the environment—it’s the second dirtiest industry on the planet after oil—and has paved the way for other eco-minded labels to follow their lead. These brands are dedicated to design and offer clothing made using fair and ethical means such as providing safe working conditions to the factory workers, working with handloom weavers and artisans to create handcrafted products, sourcing organic or recycled raw materials and up-cycling post-production and post-consumer wastes. The gradual shift from fast fashion to a sustainable and socially responsible fashion is clearly visible around the globe. New and established fashion brands alike are making strides toward sustainability through innovative business models, new fashion labels, and sustainable supply chain practices.
Ethical Sourcing & Innovative Design Thinking
Sourcing the right raw materials is where it all begins. With innovations in the textile industry natural fibers such as 100% organic cotton, hemp, tencel, bamboo, Khadi, etc are more readily available and an excellent resource Indian labels like Rias, JodiLife and THREE have been pioneering. While brands like The Terra Tribe and Sui opt for lightweight and durable hemp, others are turning to innovative materials such as Tencel. Founded by Rekha Datla and Shivangini Padhiyar in 2005, The Summer House work with high quality, responsibly made fabrics - with a preference for handwoven, organic and modern explorations like ECONYL regenerated nylon and ethical tencel. Tencel is a new age fibre made from sustainably harvested trees. Wood pulp is converted into fibre using a solvent that has low toxicity and is recycled in a closed-loop process, which means that 99.5% of chemicals are reused. What this translates to is minimal chemical waste being dumped into the earth and its waters.
Founded in 2018, Ura Maku is another Indian label making leaps with organic materials like Eric silk.
Great design is just as important as eco-friendly fabrics and processes. Apart from sourcing, at the design stage, brands are using zero-waste design techniques such as zero waste pattern cutting, draping, smocking and plaiting eliminate waste. It is about innovative design thinking to ensure minimal wastage of raw materials. Achieving a zero-waste level of production remains a diﬁcult task, but most brands have started taking initiative by using various ways to minimize waste. The use of leftover fabrics to create trims like buttons, tassels, and embellishments, or crafting them has become common practice for designers. Kriti Tula, the designer of Delhi based emerging label Doodlage, is known as ‘The Upcycler’ (Vogue India, May 2018). She uses scraps of fabrics, industrial waste with organic cotton and sustainable materials. She uses techniques like patchwork, up-cycling small pieces of fabric and threads, which would otherwise have been rejected for her designs.
Founded in 2020, Yam is another print-centric brand using traditional techniques of weaving, embroideries, sketching, and painting. Through innovative design thinking, they make garments and accessories consciously and with zero wastage using textiles from across India, including silks from Benaras and cotton and canvas from weavers in South India.
Apart from that, the reason early adopters like Raw Mango, Khara Kapas, Akaaro and THREE are so successful is because they don’t compromise on style. The silhouettes are sleek, the fabric choices breathable and the designs timeless. THREE uses functional, timeless, minimal designs perfect for a workday or weekend. It is about thoughtful design that transcends any one lifestyle. Jodilife is the best example for a brand that celebrates indigenous Indian textiles are the craft of blockprinting with designs that are young, bold and fun to wear. Jodi is an India-based design studio and marketplace founded in 2014 by longtime friends Gauri Verma and Karuna Laungani. Offering joyful, fashion-forward designs, work with natural, Indian textiles while championing artisanal craft techniques such as hand block printing, bandhini dyeing, and hand embroidery among others.
Sustainability managers are now popular within the brands to check all the vital points to be labeled as environmentally conscious brands. Our production processes must minimize water and power consumption; our supply chains must be transparent and traceable; our retail systems need a revamp to include sustainable habits like renting/reusing clothes.
Fair & ethically made
The thumb rule in sustainable fashion is a product that supports the makers and their crafts. The production and procurement of raw materials, as well as the manufacturing, is done in such a way that pays fair wages to the workers or people living on the land, provides safe working condition respecting the environment and promotes sustainable farming. Major independent Indian labels like World of Crow, Jodilife, Khara Kapas and many more explore hidden corners across India to work with artisan clusters and celebrate their skill and craftsmanship. Equal emphasis is given on fair & ethical standards regarding their working practices. Many brands today are encouraging transparency regarding artist working hours, safe working conditions, and fair wages.
Thinking of the End
With the shift in the business of fashion there is a new market for businesses such as thredUP and Rent the Runway promoting the power of sharing economy and rent instead contributing to curbing the back of closets or landfills.
There are new dimensions emerging like circular fashion business models such as rentals, resale, repair, and refurbishment. Also, dedicated platforms, for example, Depop which contribute to selling vintage clothes are showcasing the great potential for circular fashion.
According to sustainable fashion industry statistics, the market is expected to rise to $9.81 billion in 2025 and $15.17 billion in 2030 at a CAGR of 9.1 percent, due to the growing awareness of ethical fashion.
Thrift and secondhand buying are currently en vogue. Customers are now becoming conscious about their buying decisions. They are mindfully spending their money while acknowledging that clothes need not necessarily drop their qualities just because they were pre-worn. Thrift stores not only offer pre-loved clothes at cheaper rates but also opportunity to develop one’s sense of style. Singapore based brand “Swapaholic” is a clothing and accessory swap that helps declutter and refresh your closet. Other brands like The Fashion Pulpit and The Reoutfitter are other Singaporean brands pioneering thrift shopping. The Reoutfitter is a fashion and wardrobe styling consultant in Singapore with an emphasis on promoting circular fashion and tailored fashion.
Innovation across the fashion supply chain does not come only from indexes and metrics. Other types of tech-based tools may have an equally or even-greater impact on sustainability; great examples are:
- AI technology that lets consumers better understand clothes’ size and fit; this would reduce items’ returns, and thus, environmental impact caused by transportation.
- AI solutions that predict trends and demand, so brands are better able to plan future designs, production and prices; these would help brands avoid over-production, with clear benefits for the environment and for a brand’s economics.
- Marketplaces on which to buy and sell second-hand items, even if mono-brand or company-sponsored (e.g. Patagonia).
- Marketplaces allowing brands, e-commerce and people to rent garments. This type of marketplaces, together with second-hand marketplaces, should extend the items’ lifespan and thus reduce waste.
At Canvas and Weaves, we understand that our strong knit community wants to feel great about their clothes, and that includes feeling great about how they were made with a concern of social responsibility. That’s why we make sure we work with brands are companies that love the earth, respect the artisans and produce happy clothes for you. We are rooting for zebras who value our environment and traditional craft heritage for true growth and prosperity. Who are you cheering for?