Can Fashion Brands Innovate Sustainability?

Can the fashion industry really innovate to bring sustainability to the heart of their values? When it comes to being sustainable, the fashion world can fall short – but we’re looking at the smaller players who could teach the big dogs a thing or two…

Stella McCartney’s luxe commitment

There’s a whole section on the Stella McCartney website dedicated to sustainability. Although the brand has been around 15 years, access to non-leather materials that can turn into high-fashion products are few and far between.

Stella’s mission statement has environmental ethics are its core: “I believe in creating pieces that aren’t going to get burnt, that aren’t going to landfills, that aren’t going to damage the environment. For every piece in every collection I am always asking what have we done to make this garment more sustainable and what else can we do. It is a constant effort to improve”.

It’s that last line ‘a constant effort to improve’ that rings true and perhaps for a more high-end brand, it is easier to have this focus. As Vogue have pointed out, the modern machine of instant fashion gratification has become something of a labyrinthine nightmare. As ‘super-shoppers’ we’re becoming more used to instant gratification but our penchant for next day delivery actually has more impact than we might imagine. Lucy Sigle, in her book To Die For, suggests there are 101 stages in the fashion supply chain – and how many can you name? Her book makes a powerful argument for ‘ethical fashionistas’ to start educating themselves – to find out where, and by whom, our clothes are made.

It’s true – fast fashion can be sustainable!

New company Nobody’s Child are tackling a difficult task: fast-fashion that isn’t unsustainable or unethical. Their quick turnaround when it comes to trends means that their ‘Latest In’ and ‘Sale’ sections move fast.

The prices are low and they pride themselves in creating “Great looking, great quality clothing, which is fast, but not throwaway”.

Although they may seem like a relatively new company, it’s taken 10 years for them to build their own supply chains and production sources. They weave and dye their own fabrics, design prints and make the clothes in their own factories. In owning the entire production process, not only can they make claims on sustainability but also be held to account. Their knitting plant, dye house, print facility and distribution centre are all based in the UK and they own factories in the UK, Europe and Asia.

So yes – in this day and age, things move fast – but that doesn’t mean sustainability has to suffer.

Taking a stance

Another great fashion brand making an ethical impact is Birdsong. Although operating on a smaller scale to other e-commerce companies, their commitment to sustainability and visibility shines through. They set a great example on how an online community can be held accountable by being open.

From bomber jackets to jewellery, they work with designers from Malawi to Brick Lane, Birdsong give 50%-85% back to the women who make the products and pay a living wage. With a focus on craftsmanship, they are dedicated to creating fairer fashion and amplifying the voices of their makers. Their tagline is ‘No sweatshop, no photoshop’ and these ethics live at the very heart of what they do.


The main takeaway: fashion brands should have visibility, even if progress is slow. Of course, changing an entire industry towards a more sustainable and ethical process may take time but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. When smaller brands start to disrupt the status quo in an industry it is time to sit up and take notice.