The recent news that the sustainable fashion tracking company Made-by has gone into administration was greeted with dismay in the eco-conscious fashion industry. Made-by was one of the industry leaders in measuring the environmental impact of a garment. Their closure has sparked questions regarding the business of sustainability and its effectiveness within the fashion industry. In this blog, we’ll look to see whether the ‘business’ of sustainability is hampering genuine environmental impact, and if so, what can be done about this.

Sustainability is a great marketing tool for fashion companies

As every successful fashion brand knows, sustainability sells. Many brands are now keen to highlight their eco-credentials, including recycling initiatives and any sustainable materials used in production. To address the desire by consumers to buy ethically; smaller, eco-friendly brands have been created by socially conscious entrepreneurs. Sustainable organisations such as Made-by have also been developed to encourage collaboration and accurate global garment tracking. For big brands and companies, profitable sustainability strategies are now key to business development models and plans, working to increase profit in addition to environmental impact.

Is the business of sustainability really making a difference?

The sustainability market is saturated. To court consumers, global and smaller ethical brands are all competing within the crowded, environmentally conscious marketplace. Although these companies are working towards a sustainable fashion future, the ‘business’ of sustainability is getting in the way of real change. Traditional business models focus on profits, sales and marketing, which can hamper real environmental impact. Sustainable initiatives are often difficult to scale up across global supply chains, limiting the real influence they can have on sustainability. Brands appearing sustainable for business purposes but who are greenwashing are also a barrier to real sustainable change.

Ethical fashion brands struggle to be seen in a crowded marketplace

Smaller, ethically conscious brands must work hard to get noticed in this crowded marketplace, particularly when following the traditional business model of sales and profit first. As a result, they need to spend their time on the systems of their business; marketing, developing and creating business strategies instead of truly impacting fashion production. The closure of Made-by also highlights this saturation. There are many sustainable fashion companies but working in a crowded market is limiting their reach. If there are so many ethical fashion alternatives and initiatives, why is the impact on fast fashion across the globe still relatively small?

The business of sustainability needs to adapt

While sustainable and eco-friendly fashion companies still work with the traditional business model of sales and profit, environmental impact will be limited. Consumers have more choice than ever to shop ethically, but desire to own more and more clothes is overriding this. Competition, choice and eco-initiatives are all important to help create a more sustainable fashion industry, but to truly make a change, the traditional business model needs disrupting. Without this disruption, ethical fashion companies are effectively reinventing the wheel. Real efforts need to be made to reduce consumption, remove the coupling of sustainability and profit and encourage consumers to buy fewer, but more sustainable clothes. Without these changes, the business of sustainability will never truly succeed.

Textile Consult operates worldwide, consulting on a variety of management, training and sustainability issues within the textile industry. Contact us today to find out how we’ll work with you to find effective, sustainable solutions for your company.