The first step is to know what to look for. And we start by:
Looking for the essential elements for designing a brand to be sustainable. We seek to know which negatively consequences the brand or product may cause in terms of environmental impact, social impact, the impact of animal life and ecosystems. We must then ask:
What are the environmental impact and consequences for the planet arising from the activities developed by the brand, whether in the pre-production and production phase, in the promotional and distribution phase, or commercialization phase?
What is the social impact arising from the working conditions of its employees? Here, it requires considering whether there are precarious conditions or ones that jeopardize the health and life of the employee while performing work activities. The brands must consider this concern throughout the supply chain. As we know, many of the Fast Fashion brands do not know or neglect whether their suppliers comply with labour laws, particularly when moving factories, for example, to countries where working conditions are questionable.
Some industries recognize Fairtrade value, particularly food, which we can also apply to the fashion industry. There is often the exploitation of intermediaries, making it impossible for all agents in the chain to be recognized for the substantial value of their work, specifically those who produce the clothes.
The areas we most relate to sustainability in this industry are animal life and ecosystems consequences. Historically, we associate clothing and footwear brands with the indiscriminate use of animal skins, exotic or not. The methods used for using different skin types left a part of society shocked, followed by protests to the atrocities committed over the years. Through greater awareness, brands have appeared for customers demanding more products produced from materials that do not come from animals.
Now that we’ve understood what we’re looking for in terms of impact, where can we look?
We can start by visiting the brand’s website and social media to understand what they are doing and how they are doing it. We can also research the brand’s mission, values and if they consider sustainability an ongoing purpose. On social media, it’s possible to follow the brand’s practices and if the actions proposed are meeting its promise.
The brand’s information we are searching for must be clean and intelligible to the reader, and they use total transparency in the information provided. The same should happen if we directly question the brand, something I’ve done several times.
Another way is the one we use the most, like looking at the product label and checking if there is any clue that it can be sustainable in at least one area (environmental, people/social and animal).
As advertising can say whatever it wants, it becomes more difficult to distinguish what is true or false, hence the importance of creating Standards and Certifications that can determine whether brands are sustainable or which areas are more focused.
Therefore, look for the certifications that the brand has. Certification by autonomous and independent entities ensures an item complies with the requirements to achieve certification. There are several certifications, and some of them you’ve already had contact with, for example, on clothing labels. We can identify the Certifications through a logo, an image, a series of numbers or initials.
Let’s cover certifications, knowing that not all of them certify in the same area, even if it’s within the same industry. The Certifications may require standards intended to guarantee, for example, the slightest potential impact on organic cotton production, organic fibres, and others to assure safety and the best working conditions for people who work in these crops.
Ecocert is an organization that controls and certifies worldwide organic production. With a wide range of certification areas, like organic farming, ecological and organic cosmetics, or organic textiles and fair trade, among others. The market recognized its practice with many brands displaying its certifications, whether in environmental or social terms. We can identify the ECO CERT COSMOS ORGANIC and Fair For Life for their logos.
OEKO-TEX® is an Association of 18 independent entities with expertise in textiles and leather, coming from Europe and Japan and currently located around 70 countries. The success of this Association, which today brings together several certifications, has attracted brands to adopt the standards that each one of them presupposes. In this way, consumers can buy the certified products and thus be sure that an independent entity has tested and evaluated the brand’s processes ensuring that they are respecting the standards. You can learn about even more certifications here.
“The product labels STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® and LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX® are available for textile and leather products that have been tested for harmful substances and which are thus safe from a human-ecological perspective. With the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label, you can identify textiles which have been tested for harmful substances and also manufactured under sustainable working conditions. “- OEKO-TEX®
GLOBAL ORGANIC TEXTILE STANDARDS – GOTS
GOTS started in cooperation between several world-renowned organizations with experience in the organic culture and the textile sector. The purpose would be to harmonize the various standards spread across the world, facilitating the acceptance of a standard that suits everyone that can widely implement. Being one of the most credible, it is also the one that we mostly see on textile labels (especially for clothing and home) when we look for these pieces.
“The standard covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic fibres.” – GOTS
“Organic fibres are natural fibres grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides and GMOs (Genetic Modified Organisms) according to the principles of organic agriculture. Organic agriculture is a production process that sustains the health of ecosystems, soils and people.” – GOTS
SUSTAINABLE FIBRE ALLIANCE – SFA
The SFA is a global association with members of various nationalities. Its primary mission is to promote good practices in cashmere production and encourage the adoption of certification so that the future of cashmere in the textile industry is more sustainable. These guidelines are important since a large part of the raw material comes from countries where working conditions and animal welfare can be at risk.
“We promote the SFA Cashmere Standard to encourage the adoption of responsible production practices that minimise environmental impact, safeguard herder livelihoods and meet high animal welfare standards.” – SFA
RESPONSIBLE WOOL STANDARD – (RWS)
The RWS, like the certification I mentioned earlier, is a standard intended to adopt good practices regarding the welfare of sheep. But also, since the final product is wool, the land on which they graze. The RWS applies both to shepherds who raise and care for sheep and to companies that buy or sell wool products.
ORGANIC CONTENT STANDARD – OCS
OCS is a certification intended for all products (except food) that proves to have between 95% and 100% organic material. The OCS 100 covers the multiple processes, from the origin to its distribution, making the traceability of the values present in all the intermediate phases.
GLOBAL RECYCLED STANDARD – GRS
The GRS is a standard that aims to certify companies operating in the textile sector, that uses recycled materials for manufactured finished products. It is possible to apply this certification when the final products contain at least 20% recycled materials. The GRS, as a standard, not only applies to recycling companies, distributors and brands but also to those involved in every stage of the manufacturing process.
Internationale Verband der Naturtextilwirtschaft e. V. – IVN
IVN has developed the Naturtextil IVN BEST certified and Naturleder IVN certified certifications.
Both protect and verify the entire textile production chain, whether in terms of ecological standards or terms of social responsibility standards. IVN standard applies for both eco-textiles and eco-leather.
BCI BETTER COTTON INITIATIVE
BCI is a platform that brings together several associate members, of different natures.
BCI was formed in 2005 through an initiative of the WWF (World Wide Fund), the purpose, was to ensure that one of the most pollutive and more used raw materials had a more sustainable presence in its future. Today, with over 2000 members, it is a platform that dedicates to promoting a set of standards so that all those involved in the cultivation and use of cotton can do it in a more ecological, sustainable way and with better working conditions. Products with this label guarantee they come from BCI members and that it committed them to their shared goals to become more sustainable in the future.
BENEFICIAL WOOL CLIMATE
BWC is a new certification for products made from wool. Here, the standards focus on CO2 recovery through agricultural practices that regenerate the land.
PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS – PETA
PETA is a non-profit organization, the largest defending animals with over 9 million supporters. A large part of its funds come from the contributions of its members. Their mission dedicates to eliminate the mistreatment of animals across the globe. PETA is, above all, an activist organization that, through its multiple actions, has triggered a worldwide movement to defend animals, whether in the fashion, cosmetics or food industries, among others.
PETA is not a certifying brand, since to be approved by PETA and get a license to use its logos, the brand needs to present a legally binding guaranteed statement, which has to be signed by the company’s CEO. The declaration contains a present and future commitment that neither the brand nor its supply chain will support or pay for animal testing whether for ingredients, formulations or finished products. So, when you see the PETA ANIMAL TEST FREE logo, it refers to what we just talked about, and in case the brand has its line with no animal ingredients, you can present the PETA ANIMAL TEST FREE AND VEGAN logo.
If you are particularly interested in the brands approved by PETA, you can access here.
ECOAGE is, above all, a sustainability consultancy agency dedicated to developing sustainable strategies. Together with companies and brands helps to incorporate principles of social and environmental justice. Among ECOAGE’s principles we find, fair work following human rights, diversity and inclusion, transparency, and promotion for positive change in the fashion industry.
FAIR TRADE INTERNATIONAL
FAIRTRADE INTERNATIONAL is a non-profit association that is part of a global movement to ensure that all stakeholders, through their work (from the production process to commercialization), get theirs in a dignified, humanized, and ethical manner lifestyle. Since the mission of this association is to support, apply standards and respective certification, especially to small farmers, and aim to generate greater awareness of the importance and benefits of fair trade.
There are several certifications, mainly because they apply to various sectors of commerce. The FAIRTRADE certifications that most interest us, in this case, are the FAIRTRADE GOLD which applies to gold used for jewellery pieces and comprises all processes, from its extraction through its supply chain.
FAIRTRADE COTTON is the certification that applies to the cotton sector as raw material, showing that they fairly process, from cultivation to marketing. There is also a certification for fabrics and or garments, called FAIRTRADE TEXTILE PRODUCTION, which shows that they produced ethically the fabric or garment. As I told you before, there are other FAIRTRADE certifications, but these are the ones that can appear in the fashion world.
There are more organizations, platforms, working groups, many entities that, despite being developing an excellent, work do not add more to our purpose today.
Besides certifications, there are other ways to find out whether the brands we have in mind are sustainable or not, such as through entities that carry out this assessment for us. These entities are available for consultation on their websites or even in applications developed for this purpose. In the fashion industry, my suggestion goes to GOOD ON YOU.
GOOD ON YOU is a platform that classifies brands as to their sustainability in three areas, – Planet – People -and- Animals, in view of these results, ranks the brand through a scale from 1 to 5 where one (1) is for Avoidance and five (5) classifies the brand as Excellent. It is available on the internet, where you can access the website or download the application. And it is still possible to meet other brands, which may be new to you.
I strongly advise you to get to know (if you haven’t already) an organization called FASHION REVOLUTION, which is today the most relevant Fashion Activist Movement. As it has already been active on a global scale for many years, it is one platform that brings together initiatives and promotes actions of various kinds so that openly, we can know what is happening in the fashion world. One tool we can consult is the Fashion Transparency Index, published annually, which reports the brands and their respective scores considering their actions and their negative consequences. This Index selects the top 250 brands in various segments of this industry. You can consult or download it here.
However, I must warn that currently, there are entities that sometimes show brands that are not yet sustainable enough to be considered. Some brands only promote short intended initiatives that have no real positive impact and is just a way to bring their audience closer to the brand and gain their trust.
Some brands promote their “sustainability”, but that is still more in the intention plan than in the action plan.VERA GALLARDO
There are, however, clothing, footwear and accessory brands that have already started their transition process, and they effectively translated their effort into a lower environmental, social, and animal welfare impact. To the brands that by enormous effort commits to and comply with their sustainability plan, we can and must allow the brand to achieve the success it deserves.
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