By now, you’ve probably heard the headlines on the U.N.’s recent Climate Report. One of the most notable revelations is that we’re on a path to 30 years of worsening climate events, regardless of the work we put in today to reduce our emissions. That means more flooding, heat waves, and extreme droughts to come. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture. However, the report also mentioned that there is a window of hope for humanity to turn the tide through rapid emission cuts in order to limit warming beyond 2050. We have a fighting chance to prevent irreversible long-term damage to our planet.
With the fashion industry accounting for 4-10% of gas emissions, it’s important to explore how we can make significant changes. As consumer pressures to be more sustainable escalate and newer technologies evolve to meet the challenge, I’m optimistic that we can course-correct while we can.
Here are six ways apparel brands can be more sustainable today:
1) Design with the environment in mind.
The most important and impactful way to become a more sustainable brand starts with the creation of your products themselves. Here are a few things to consider:
Design for end-of-life recycling - Innovative apparel brands like For Days and Thousand Fell are working from end-of-life backward to create products that can be recycled afterward. They’ve created customer loyalty loops that encourage sending back old items to be recycled into new ones in exchange for store credit.
Small batch & local manufacturing - Sustainable luxury brand Amour Vert limits overproduction and emissions by prioritizing small-batch manufacturing and producing 97% of their clothing in California, just miles from their San Francisco office.
Sustainable materials - Using certified organic cotton, natural dyes, recycled fabrics, and plant-based materials like Tencel can make a big difference.
Quality over quantity - Easy to say, harder to do, but creating higher quality clothing ensures it can be worn longer and stay in circulation.
2) Implement a recommerce solution to keep items in circulation.
According to ThredUp’s recent 2021 annual report, “Extending the life of clothes diverts textiles from landfills and displaces GHG used in garment production. Buying an item secondhand replaces the need to manufacture a new item, reducing its carbon footprint by 82%.”
Offering a recommerce solution like Treet allows your customers to buy and sell your items from each other in a safe, streamlined, and fully-branded environment. This keeps your items out of the landfill and maximizes their lifetime usage. Your customers are able to find new homes for their items and you’re able to increase customer LTV and loyalty in the process.
3) Offer a carbon offsetting solution at checkout.
Another great example of a solution that can grow revenue while decreasing your carbon footprint is to allow your customers to offset carbon emissions at checkout. Solutions like EcoCart have made it incredibly easy to add a carbon offset option to checkout and their customers see an average 14% increase in cart conversion. It’s never been easier to become a carbon-neutral brand.
4) Consider choosing eco-friendly packaging.
According to the conservation group, Canopy, “Each year the equivalent of roughly three billion trees is cut down to produce paper-based packaging, many of which come from high-carbon forests, endangered species’ habitats, and other controversial sources.”
Here are a handful of ways to reduce your impact through packaging:
Use biodegradable or 100% recycled packaging - Your first step in reducing your carbon footprint through packaging is the amount of packaging and material itself. The box or mailer is your first IRL engagement with your customers. Use this experience to show your customers how you’re making tangible sustainable choices.
Eliminate the use of plastic wraps - Conscious apparel brands like Wolven avoid wrapping their items in plastic and instead choose to wrap their items in hemp twine.
Revisit your use of inserts - How effective are your package inserts really at driving sales? If you can’t live without them, consider using 100% recycled paper.
Be mindful of spacing - Take full advantage of every box sent by encouraging bundling and selecting the right box size for the item being sent. Nothing’s worse than receiving a single t-shirt in a box that could fit 10.
If you’re looking for a sustainable shipping solution that makes your entire fulfillment process more eco-friendly), we recommend checking out Manifest Commerce.
5) Reduce returns through better size guides and technology.
Investing in improving your sizing guides and fit strategy can drastically reduce returns, leading to better margins, less packaging waste, and fewer carbon emissions caused by shipping.
Alternative sizing solutions also exist for online shoppers to obtain clothing that fits their unique body dimensions. Fit tools like WAIR’s Fit Advisor leverage AI-driven, 3D technology to provide online shoppers with precise and personalized size recommendations. The results are increases in shopper confidence, reduced return rates, and increased conversions. 3D solutions like these will pave the way for a revolution in sizing standards that bridges the gap between sustainability and profitability for clothing brands.
6) Incorporate pre-order campaigns as a way to eliminate overproduction.
Brands like Taylor Stitch have mastered the art of running pre-order campaigns through their Workshop to understand customer demand and inform how many units to produce. This is a great way to drum up excitement for an upcoming launch and gain access to capital to fund manufacturing all while making smarter purchasing decisions in the process.
Being a more sustainable brand will not only give us the best chance of preserving our planet, but will also help significantly grow your revenue, reach new customers, and be more profitable in the long run.
The caveat here is that it takes more than implementing one of the above solutions to become a “sustainable” brand. It’s a constant pursuit to challenge our current processes and experiment with new models to reduce our impact.