But where to start if you want to make positive changes in an industry where supply chains are frighteningly complicated and there are no quick fixes? Amy Powney from Mother of Pearl has done the due diligence and, though she’s keen to stress her brand is far from perfect, she insists the answers are closer than you might think. “I often think that fashion isn’t sustainable in terms of how fast it is, how busy it is, how complex it is – we are all in a rat race, but the brands who are making their own rules are the ones who are winning.” Here, she shares her tips on how to excel in green thinking with Vogue.
Accept that there are no quick sustainability fixes
Lots of people come to me for advice, expecting me to give them magical pieces of information – for instance, a list of suppliers – that will instantly transform their businesses into sustainable ones. But sustainability goes much deeper than that – and it’s about asking questions. The Sustainable Angle is a good starting place for people wanting to educate themselves on sustainable fabrics, and the 2015 documentary The True Cost is also an eye-opener, but you need to be brave enough to take responsibility for researching yourself. If you go to a fabric supplier and there’s a green sticker on a particular fabric denoting that it’s “eco”, don’t just think, ‘Phew, I’ll take that’ – ask questions. If it’s made from corn starch, where is the corn coming from? If it’s organic cotton, where is that cotton grown? If it’s a recycled fibre, what is its carbon footprint? The internet is there for a reason: discovering better fibres and better materials is just a matter of research hours.
Think about streamlining your brand
Good design is about filling a gap: figuring out what you are producing and why. Function is so important, but it often gets overlooked in fashion. Designers can find themselves making collections that are absolutely huge – and they don’t even know why they are doing it. What are you trying to say with your brand? What is it for? Who is it for? If it doesn’t have a purpose or narrative or USP, the world probably doesn’t need it. Don’t make stuff for the sake of it.
Analyse your supply chain
When working on our No Frills collection, I tried to take a 360-degree approach to sustainability. For me, that came down to figuring out how to simplify the supply chain. I was asking questions like, if cotton is grown in this country, where are the scourers, the spinners, the weavers? Every time cotton moves from one place to the next, it’s packaged in plastic and racks up air miles. I decided we should try to shorten that process from the raw material to the final garment by keeping those steps within a drive-able distance – driving is better than flying, in terms of carbon emissions. There are production changes you can make that will improve the sustainability credentials of your business, for instance using shipping rather than airfreight, but condensing the supply chain will make an even bigger difference.
Make office-wide changes
Sustainability isn’t just about making your product’s journey greener – it’s about how you run your company day-to-day, too. At our headquarters in east London, we have switched to a green energy supplier, we have a water filter and have banned single-use plastic bottles, and we get a weekly delivery of fresh food from Farmdrop, an online company providing farm-to-table foods, which is delivered in super minimal packaging. This means that all our employees sit down together at lunchtime every day and have fresh, vegetarian lunches together. We recently built a terrace on our roof so we can go up there to get some fresh air.
Set yourself clear goals
Lots of people seem to freak out that if they can’t be sustainable in every area of their business, then it’s not worth embarking on a mission in the first place. But there are simple questions you can ask yourself about sourcing, production and manufacturing that will instantly point to changes you can make. Think about small changes you can make immediately, and set yourself goals for the next year. Approach it with an analytical mindset and define what you are doing and why – that approach, after all, makes good business sense.