10 Steps to Ethical Fashion Production

for Small-Medium Brands in Europe and the UK

In recent years, the fashion industry has become increasingly aware of the importance of ethical and sustainable practices. As a small-medium fashion brand in Europe or the UK, you may be wondering how to ensure that your clothing production is both socially and environmentally responsible. In this blog post, we will outline 10 steps to help guide you through the process of ethical fashion production:

  1. Design with sustainability in mind
  2. Source sustainable materials
  3. Choose ethical suppliers
  4. Opt for local production
  5. Minimise waste during sampling
  6. Implement energy-efficient production methods and practices
  7. Aim for zero-waste production and true-to-season releases
  8. Use eco-friendly packaging
  9. Plan efficient logistics
  10. Communicate your commitment to sustainability

Sustainable and ethical fashion design quality control

1. Design with sustainability in mind

Did you know that 80% of product-related environmental impacts are determined during the design phase? This is why the design phase is crucial for creating sustainable garments. When designing your styles or collection keep the entire product lifecycle in mind. How is it going to be made, sold, used, repaired, re-used and re-cycled.

A lot of the buzz words right now are about the latest new garment-to-garment recycled fibers of or which new technology is used to track transparency, but for a small-medium brand this can be very complicated and way too expensive. Try instead to focus on things you can control without blowing your whole budget, like the user phase ie. how long is the customer going to keep the garment in their closet, and the after use phase, ie. is it worth repairing or updating.

Focusing on trends is a shortcut that many designers take, but it's important to create designs that reflect your brand's values and vision. Trust that your customer is there for a reason, and it is your unique vision. Break away from traditional methods and try something new, such as modular designs that can be easily updated or refreshed without replacing the entire garment.

Get as creative as you can in this stage. The old methods of creating fashion just aren't working, so don't try to follow them— break the rules and try something new! 

2. Source sustainable materials

Sourcing sustainable materials can be challenging for small brands due to high MOQs (minimum order quantities). Don't try to follow the latest textile news, you see big brands implementing, focus on actionable ways to source more sustainably, both for the planet and your wallet.

Get creative by choosing fabrics that can be used for multiple seasons, this way you might be able to buy from a more responsible supplier with higher MOQ's and you will also most likely, get your fabrics at a much lower cost than if you are buying small batches.

If you don't have the capital or space to invest in buying larger quantities, try sourcing deadstock from factories or designers. Usually deadstock fabrics and trims are much cheaper than buying "new" materials, and there are some really great options in Europe. There has been a lot of controversy about deadstock, more on that another time, but a company that is removing some of this controversy is Recovo.co. They allow designers to buy and sell surplus fabrics from previous collections, in small to large quantities.

No matter which method you choose, always request samples to ensure the quality and suitability of the material before committing to a purchase, as this can save you time, money, and resources in the long run.

An easy way to stay informed on which fibers to look for, follow Textile Exchange and their annual reports on "prefered fibers vs. conventional fibers". Here you can read about which types of fabrics are considered prefered to the conventional fabrics such as cotton, polyester, viscose ect.

Sustainable and eco-friendly materials and trim for your fashion brand

3. Choose ethical suppliers

European labor laws help ensure reasonable pay and working conditions, but it's essential to research and select suppliers that adhere to fair labor practices and share your commitment to sustainability.

You can look for certifications like Fair Trade or the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and consider visiting the facilities in person. You can also refer to resources like Fashion Revolution's Transparency Index to find suppliers that align with your brand values.

If you are a small team or individual, it can be overwhelming to take this responsibility on, which is why there are many agencies and companies, like us, who can assist with ensuring your suppliers are practicing safe and fair production. This way the manufacturer is pre-vetted and you have a person close to the site.

4. Opt for local or continental production

Many european brands are moving production from back from Asia to their home country or just inside EU. This partially happened after the shock of what a pandemic can do to slow down overseas logistics, but also to take back more control of the ethical practices.

Working with small manufacturers or individual seamstresses allows for greater control over the production process and quality, while making it much easier to ensure fair treatment and pay for workers.

Producing garments closer to home also reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation and supports the local economy. Nearby production enables you to build strong relationships with your suppliers and react quickly to changes in demand or production issues.

Samples of your customised fashion designs

5. Minimise waste during sampling

The sampling phase can be expensive for small brands in terms of time, money, and resources, so this is the time to be a bit perfectionistic because your sample is going to be the standard for your production quality.

Be specific about your requirements by making sure your tech pack is as clear and precise as possible with every detail accounted for. Consider using reference pictures or even reference garments, if you are able so send this to your manufacturer, to communicate your vision more clearly. This is not the time to slack, you might think some things are obvious, but trust us, nothing is obvious unless you spell it out.

Virtual prototyping, such as CLO3D is a great way to save time, money and resources in the sample phase. When using digital prototypes pre-sample, you can eliminate a lot of design, pattern and fit mistakes, that otherwise would have to be corrected by the manufacturer after them receiving comments on a physical prototype, which takes a lot of communicating and time for transport. If you use digital prototyping you can correct design or fit issues live, even if you work with an outsourced digital prototyper like us.

Programs like CLO3D also allows you to control fit and grading across the size range, reducing the need for physical size-set samples, you can use our Avatar set from EU 32-54. All of these things combined will save a lot of raw materials on prototypes and samples, as well as transport time and money.

6. Implement energy-efficient production methods and practices

Work with your manufacturer to identify and implement energy-saving measures during the production process, such as using energy-efficient machinery, minimizing water usage, and optimizing production schedules.

Also, consider your own practices in your office or studio, such as using energy-efficient lighting and equipment, and adopting sustainable office supplies and practices. Small changes in your daily operations can have a significant impact on your overall energy consumption and carbon footprint.

7. Aim for zero-waste production and true-to-season releases

There is a lot of waste generated in the production phase, both in terms of scrap fabric cast aside or overproduction due to a lack of understanding of the demand. Strive to eliminate waste during the production process by using techniques such as zero-waste pattern cutting and recycling offcuts.

Zero waste pattern cutting doesn't mean you necessarily have to make oversized square clothes, if you spend some time on it, you can try to make your pattern pieces fit together like a puzzle (remember not to only think about the pieces fitting together when you are producing one, if you plan for the production layout, you'll have more options).

If zero waste is not for you, you can also try using scraps from your production that can either be made into small accessories or patched together to create a larger piece. And for the very small scraps, see if it is possible to arrange for them to be sorted recycled to be used to create new fibers.

Producing in small batches of garments that are relevant to the current season of your customers geolocation. This minimizes the possibility of your customers "buying for the future season" and then ending up not using the garment when that season finally arrives.

Working with local pr nearby manufacturers is a great way to accomplish this, as you have shorter reaction times and closer communication. It's also great for producing additional batches if demand is high, that way you can start with smaller batches, to test what your target audience like.

Eco-friendly packaging

8. Use eco-friendly packaging

When it comes to packaging for your finished products, think less is more. You can choose packaging materials that are recyclable, biodegradable, or made from recycled materials, but at the end of the day, the less packaging you use the better.

Avoid single-use plastics and where is is possible recycle your packaging. Consider partnering with local businesses to source excess packaging materials that can be used for your products, or explore innovative packaging solutions like RePack, which offers reusable packaging for e-commerce.

9. Plan efficient logistics

Opt for train and truck transportation, which are the most environmentally friendly and efficient options for short distances within Europe. Collaborate with your suppliers and logistics partners to plan efficient transportation routes and reduce the carbon footprint associated with shipping your products. You could also consider using carbon offset programs or partnering with environmentally responsible shipping companies like DHL's GoGreen program.

10. Communicate your commitment to sustainability

Lastly share your brand's commitment to ethical and sustainable practices with your customers. Document your journey with pictures, videos, and diary entries detailing the obstacles faced and lessons learned. Set public goals and involve your customers in the journey to reaching them. Transparency and honesty are key to building trust with your audience and demonstrating your dedication to responsible fashion production.

In conclusion, by following these 10 steps, you can ensure that your small-medium fashion brand is producing garments in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Not only will this help to protect our planet, but it will also appeal to the growing number of consumers who are seeking out ethical and sustainable fashion options, all whilst optimising your supply chain.

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