Is being green sustainable? The trade-off between economic and environmental choices, and how tech is helping to ease the pressure.
Brands, like many businesses today, are more and more confronted with demands to play an active role to reduce their environmental footprint. But how do brands balance the relentless pressure of maximising profits in a highly competitive market with the additional burden of sustainability? The opportunity cost of incorporating many environmental practices, especially for emerging brands, can seem too great and the reality is that survival takes priority. Additionally, the mounting pressure on brands to produce less and consumers to buy less, presents an obvious business-as-usual dichotomy. What business can afford to encourage less consumption?
So if the goal is to maximise both environmental protection and economic output, a decision must be made about how the two goals should be balanced – and how to achieve that balance.
Why ethical choices are important to the bottom line.
We all know that the environment is in crisis. Manufacturing and distribution waste, water use and the tonnes of discarded products heading to landfill is more than enough reasons for brands to think carefully and quickly about the changes they need to make. But ethical and environmental choices are also extremely valuable to the bottom line.
“I think it’s important for all stakeholders to get behind it. There are many reasons why, but on the simplest level in terms of a business case, audiences and customers care about it. Millennials are the most value-driven, sustainability-minded generation yet. Also, there is a pressing need for the industry to harness new systems, technologies and thinking in general, to address issues around resource scarcity and environmental impact. I would add that fashion is good at innovation – there are lots of brilliant minds working on these areas. It feels like a great time to be immersed in sustainable fashion, because there’s so much change happening, and so much opportunity.”
It’s true that as consumer demand grows for environmental consciousness and production transparency, there is a significant competitive advantage for brands that embrace the call to action. Brands of all sizes are jumping on the green bandwagon (win!) but those that are clever about their environmental choices by capitalising on tech innovations will reap bigger rewards at the margin.
Environmental changemakers: the Australian brands to watch.
With the rising tide of demand for planet-friendly products, there’s an opportunity for smaller brands to experiment with tech innovations or choices along their supply chain. There are thousands of brands taking the leap towards sustainability – each making different and necessary commitments that depend on their business model. Here, we share some insights from a number of emerging brands in the fashion industry about how they’ve implemented sustainable changes and the impact it has on their businesses as a whole.
Kulani Kinis creates superior quality and affordable swimwear inspired by the tropical shores of Hawaii.
ALEXANDER BABICH & DANIELLE ATKINS – CO-FOUNDERS, KULANI KINIS
Thoughts on why being sustainable doesn’t have to be all or nothing?
In our view, being sustainable is essential and will be critical for any brand’s growth and development, now and in the future, as customers are driving an everlasting cultural shift in what they demand from the business world in terms of sustainable practices.
Our brand Kulani Kinis began over four years ago, and we are just now established past the point of ‘needing to survive’ that we can now start to think of what are some more sustainable practises we can adopt to make our brand a better environmental contributor to the globe.
The two main reasons that are driving that for Kulani Kinis are;
- Sustainable practises will allow for sustainable growth for the brand and the planet.
- The role of brands is changing from being a ‘pure profiteer’ to becoming a more holistic global citizen, which have a duty of care to the planet for the resources (materials & people) they use to make products in the pursuit of sales.
What are the best technology solutions or changes you’ve made to reduce your environmental footprint?
Our brand sells swimwear online and through our wholesale partners – and there are two simple ways we’re working to reduce our environmental footprint. The first is to introduce biodegradable and recyclable packaging into all our logistics. Eventually, it would be amazing to even have compostable packaging however that is a longer-term goal for now and one we are still working on. The packaging does come at a higher cost which impacts our base product price, but our customer base see the value as we continue to grow year on year.
The second change we’ve implemented is to radically overhaul our online size guides and customer interactions around sizing on our website. We have developed a series of extremely accurate and specific size guides for each of our swimwear silhouettes in our collection. We developed ‘in-house’ technology on our website to show all this highly complex information in a very simple way; allowing our customers to make really informed and well thought out online purchases. On the back of this, we have radically reduced our returns rate to the single percentage digits (super low in any apparel business) – shrinking our environmental footprint by reducing the amount of fuel and carbon used due to not having to ship products multiple times when a customer wants to exchange or return.
What are some noticeable outcomes of implementing these changes?
The noticeable outcomes for Kulani Kinis has been increased customer satisfaction and also a better bottom line as our returns rate is far below the industry average 🙂
Kusaga Athletic is a profit for purpose business creating the world’s future fabrics and ethical sustainable sportswear, activewear and lifestyle apparel.
MATT ASHCROFT & GRAHAM ROSS – CO-FOUNDERS, KUSAGA ATHLETIC
What environmental impacts does your innovative fabric minimise?
Our ECOLITE® fabric, a unique blend of natural fibres that is biodegradable, compostable and sustainable. In other words, 100% planet-friendlier. Like most people, I didn’t know that it can take 3000 litres of water to make a regular cotton t-shirt. We made our Greenest T-shirt on the Planet using ECOLITE® fabric. The environmental impact of the Greenest Tee is a water use of less than 1% of a regular cotton t-shirt, just 21.9 litres, and in regards to land impact, compared to a tonne of cotton fibre, ECOLITE® uses 80% less land.
Do your customers recognise the environmental impact your brand has?
The Kusaga community has been incredibly supportive from the start of our journey. We have been lucky to work with many corporates, events and teams, who consciously chose a sustainable clothing alternative. If you add up the tens, fifties, hundreds of shirts depending on the order, the environmental impact is obvious to all. As an example, an order of 100 Greenest Tees for your event means that you are saving approx. 300,000 litres of water compared to a cotton alternative. That’s a really motivating choice to make.
You talk about the bigger potential for change through pioneering new textiles. What innovations or sustainable materials is Kusaga Athletic working with/developing that will further support your mission and build a more sustainable future?
The textile industry must innovate and develop products that are environmentally responsible. Current fabrics such as polyester and cotton, have significant impact on the environment.
To date, Kusaga Athletic has released two sustainable fabrics ECOLITE® and ECODRY®, and we will soon be releasing our latest fabric – ECOSOFT®. The name says it all, ECOSOFT® is an environmental focussed, 100% plant-based sustainable fabric that has an amazing hand feel suitable for leisurewear, activewear and bed linen.
Innovation needs to extend further than the fabrics we wear every day. Fast fashion and the impact of consumption has led to a global tsunami of textile waste. Addressing the end of life of garments is everyone’s problem – retailers, brands, consumers and governments.
Through BlockTexx, my business partner, Adrain Jones and I have developed a patent-pending process – S.O.F.T.® (separation of fabric technology) that separates polyester and cotton materials such as clothes, sheets and towels of any colour or condition back into their high value raw materials of rPET and cellulose for reuse as new products for all industries. BlockTexx turns waste into a resource and addresses the end of life challenges the textile and fashion industry faces.
Luxury outerwear and knitwear made in Melbourne and accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia.
TABATHA BRIXTON – FOUNDER AND DESIGNER, ALLORA CAPES
Do you think being sustainable has to be all or nothing?
It certainly doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I think all designers need to make a start on some level to be more sustainable as that will overall make a huge impact on the environment and fashion industry.
Finding the sweet spot between sustainable efforts and profits can be tricky for some brands due to sustainable fabrics having a higher price attached and therefore either lowering profit margins or increasing retail prices to the consumer or a mix of both. This is where education and communication with your customers is key and the more information you can share the more inclined customers will be to understand your product and its value. The conversation around sustainability and ethical practices in the fashion industry is getting bigger every day and more than ever people want to have full transparency on their garments and also the assurance that it is made ethically.
It is incredibly important to Allora to be accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia and we only work with makers who ensure their workers’ rights are protected.
What are some of the changes you’ve made to reduce your environmental footprint?
We reduce our environmental footprint largely through souring and producing our collection locally. This is something that was important to me right from the beginning when I started Allora.
We also work with suppliers who are similarly conscious of reducing their environmental footprint. For our new Australian superfine merino collection, we have added a luxurious ‘decatise’ finish which creates a chintz look and a beautiful silky lustre that feels amazing to wear. This finish is applied with a steam process, not chemicals or gas and this is something that is very important to our label and our consumer.
What are some of the interesting ways you’ve leveraged being sustainable in order to drive more awareness/sales for your brand?
Adding new collections such as Australian superfine merino knitwear capsule not only allows us to expand our product offering to our customer but also drives awareness and sales by offering a sustainable garment that people are searching for.
The Australian superfine merino we have used is an entirely natural, biodegradable and renewable fibre making it the perfect choice for those seeking garments that have a minimal impact on the environment. It is also fully traceable from farm to spinner and knitter.
For us it’s about elevating and expanding our brand through luxurious and sustainable fabrics that connect with our customers.
Can you share some noticeable outcomes/benefits of implementing the changes?
I think the most noticeable outcome/benefit apart from sales is seeing an increase in brand value and awareness. As the conversation gets bigger around sustainability and ethical clothing people are seeking out brands that align with their values. It’s so rewarding and inspiring to see not only the positive impact we are making on our own brand but that we are making a positive impact in the fashion industry too.
When customers receive a piece from Allora, they not only fall in love with their new purchase, they fall in love with the whole story behind each piece and the values we share. We are proud to be a part of a change in the fashion industry and will continue to be for a very long time.
Startups & scale-ups focussed on accessible sustainability using innovative tech.
In Australia, an estimated 3 million tonnes of textiles goes into landfill each year. Block Texx is a multi-fibre recycling eco-system and marketplace for recycled textiles which helps minimise contribution to landfill by recycling fabrics and repurposing for new goods without using virgin resources.
IndiDye has developed a revolutionary, low environmental footprint dyeing method for natural plant-based dyes. This new process uses sound waves to bind natural dyes to cellulosic fibres. Indidye’s technology uses less water, creates no wastewater, is biodegradable, and requires less energy than a conventional dyeing process. Indidye also produces a dyestuff and is developing a cellulosic fibre – both of which are 100% biodegradable.
Good On You is an ethical brand ratings app that lets customers discover the very best fashion from around the world while making better choices as an informed shopper. Good On You believes that by “choosing and rewarding responsible fashion brands that do good, over the ones that don’t, can drive the whole industry to become more sustainable and fair.”
The Good On You ethical brand rating system looks at brands impact on workers across the supply chain, resource use and disposal, animal impact and transparency.
To Me Love Me is a Melbourne based startup providing a fashion eCommerce solution that promises to help customers find their perfect fit, the first time. The fit technology reduces returns and encourages repeat purchases which has a positive impact both economically and environmentally.
PENNY WHITELAW – CO-FOUNDER & CEO, TO ME LOVE ME
Global fashion e-commerce is booming forecast to reach $706 billion by 2022. Incorrect fit accounts for on average 40% of lost profitability, resulting in a $282 billion return problem. With online shopping growing exponentially and expectations for seamless, accurate and personalised experiences at an all time high, retailers are actively looking for innovative ways to increase the bottomline. Unfortunately the $282 billion return problem is only a small part of a highly complex issue which impacts us all socially, environmentally and economically.
The question on all our minds is can we give customers what they need, maintain brand integrity, sustainability AND be profitable? ABSOLUTELY.
Our First Time Fit Technology which helps online shoppers find their perfect fit the first time is testament that you can have it all. We have successfully increased sales by 72.5%, encouraged repeat purchases by 66% and lowered returns by 34%. Customers have provided rave reviews; 97% said our solution removed sizing guesswork and 95% said it increased fit confidence, influencing buying behaviours.
But we took this one step further, beyond the pointy end of eCommerce. In order to make a positive impact and minimise waste, we need to produce more intelligently, creating garments that will actually fit and will sell in quantities that are actually required.
Some data insights that enable a more circular & profitable business model.
- By capturing customer data we can accurately profile body shapes and sizes by region, country and brand.
- Running multiple data sources through our algorithms enables us to minimise variances, creating greater consistency in sizing to improve fit.
- In-depth product SKU data identifies any flaws within the design or production process, pinpointing improvements that minimise the production of wasted stock.
- Aggregated purchase and return data supports the accurate prediction of quantities and sizes for production by product SKU, increasing profit and reducing environmental impact.
As passionate and committed innovators it is our mission to educate, empower and collaborate with industry leaders looking to make a positive impact. We believe in the power of data and harnessing insights like these to make better business decisions that deliver measurable results for all involved.
Monochain has developed an easy to integrate blockchain platform to bring primary and resale markets together to enable a circular economy and simultaneously combating fake products. MonoChain facilitates the reuse of fashion items and empowers brands to generate new revenue streams by connecting them to the resale market.
i=change builds purpose into a brand, making it simple for online retailers to give back with 100% transparency and receive the marketing benefits of turning every purchase into a memorable customer experience.
Already in partnership with iconic brands (including Pandora, Clarins, Camilla and Nobody Denim) and international NGOs, i=Change is impacting the lives of over 270,000 people in 14 countries, with a focus on women and girls’ development.
Most businesses – especially retailers – are looking to define and communicate their purpose – and don’t know where to begin on this journey. i=Change makes the entire process simple. Partnerships with best-practice not-for-profits are already set up. Each brand chooses three issues they wish to support.
With every purchase customers get to choose where the donation goes to so they are engaged in the brand’s purpose and commitment to giving back.
A recent study by Cone supported this concept finding that 93% of millennials wish to shop with brands that give back and 87% of millennials will purchase because a brand supports an issue they care about.
Launched in 2018, The Australian Circular Fashion Conference was the first not-for-profit circular fashion conference in Australia, encouraging greater collaboration within the industry and suggesting resources to gear it towards circular manufacturing models. After the success of ACFA, the Australian Circular Textile Association was created to support the Australian and New Zealand Fashion Industry in becoming fully sustainable.
CAMILLE REED – FOUNDER & DIRECTOR, ACTA
Thoughts on why being sustainable doesn’t have to be all or nothing?
This is what many consultants, researchers and future financiers are pushing in addressing the effectiveness of the new ‘triple bottom line’. It’s been said recognising the triple bottom line ‘social justice or impact’ as a main driver for business will see companies reaping the benefits sooner rather than later. Various aspects to consider identifying the ‘sweet spot’ is the rise in Millennial shoppers, renewable energy saves on running costs, producing higher quality product which has a longer lasting life-span and cleaning up the manufacturing and production line – literally.
A project conducted by the National Resource and Defence Council in the US ‘Clean By Design’ demonstrated in 2014, through different levels of investment from the parent company, maker’s facilities could be maintained and restored to operate at optimum levels, resulting in huge savings and return on investment as quickly as two years.
A value proposition factoring in environmental justice and equality is equally important as managing profit margins.
Can you share some of the interesting ways you’ve seen brands leverage their sustainability efforts in order to drive sales?
Currently good and bad examples exist, Patagonia‘s infamous ‘Do Not Buy This Jacket’ Black Friday campaign in 2011 was game-changing and attracted huge attention for the brand. Customers were urged not to purchase anything new they didn’t need. A poor example is Nobody’s Child, a new US label which claims to make their apparel from dead-stock fabric, their website is quite misleading and very wishy-washy.
We’ve seen tremendous success from the large companies in the Northern Hemisphere such as Nike, Adidas and Levi’s, who are leading the way by creating new transformative fabrics from recycled polyester waste. Their sustainable ranges are sell-out ‘must haves’. Levi’s are investigating what recycled cotton looks like in their supply chain – yet the most uncommon fact most don’t know about the company is their original denim jeans were designed with heavy duty rigid cotton so they never had to be washed!
Much closer to home we’re seeing many homegrown swimwear labels using Econyl recycled fishing net in their bikinis, Repreve recycled poly in board shorts and Tencel cellulose fibre in ladies shirts and dresses. Hugely effective communication is coming from local brands social media and blog pages mainly, in an effort to demonstrate they’re tackling the important issue.
Can you give us some examples of the best technology solutions or changes that brands have made to reduce their environmental footprint?
The rise of technology in the fashion industry is remarkable. As industry once dominated by skilled craftsman, artisans, tailors and dressmakers, fashion is now one of the biggest global markets being disrupted by a modern industrial revolution. Machines now configure patterns to optimise fabric consumption, algorithms predict trends and robotic automation is fast becoming a crucial factor in production processes.
Collecting and analysing data is key for companies to track and understand the market. One example of data collection that’s improving traceability is radio-frequency identification (RFID). As simple as it seems, RFID has huge potential to offer industry regarding the number of internal suppliers and materials they need to track and identify in order to become transparent. Both industry and consumer can benefit from RFID for many many different reasons – stock control, loss prevention, procurement, authentication, standardisation, risk mitigation – one bonus is the technology does not require ginormous server rooms to store, catalogue and track the data through each step.
What are your quick tips for regular brands trying to/thinking about incorporating sustainability into their business?
Start with bite-size chunks, look at long term visions and goals for the company and work backwards on what smaller projects are effectively do-able for the business.
Bring all staff members (from grass-roots to the board) on the sustainable journey and ensure the merit for positive impact is understood by all. A company should look at all their internal stakeholders as their tribe and ensure they’re on the same page because your tribe is your biggest asset. If a company is aligned then communication and strategy is easier to execute, again look at working on separate elements of sustainability within a business, there is no right or wrong way to start.
A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to this piece. All images are courtesy of Flaunter brands: Sans Beast (banner) – luxe vegan bags and accessories; Carlie Ballard – independent and ethical women’s fashion; Allora Capes – premium cashmere and wool capes; Mastani – luxury handcrafted womenswear.