It's no secret that the fashion industry is one of the most damaging to our environment. The amount of waste produced each year is staggering, and it seems like things are only getting worse. So, it's no surprise that more and more people are looking for sustainable fashion brands to support. But what happens when a sustainable brand grows in popularity? Suddenly, they face the difficult task of scaling up their business while trying to maintain their ethical values. I want to explore the challenges of scaling up a sustainable fashion brand and ask whether it is really possible to be both environmentally friendly and profitable.
Let's start by looking at the financial side of things. When a sustainable fashion brand starts to grow, they may need to increase their production and possibly even outsource manufacturing. But finding factories that align with their ethical values can be tough, and often times more expensive, especially if they are looking to manufacture locally or through freelance seamstresses. And let's not forget about the pressure from investors to make as much profit as possible to compete with these fast fashion brands– a difficult balance for any business, but especially for one trying to prioritise sustainability. Which brings into question the possibility of maintaining a brand's values and integrity. Many sustainable fashion brands have built their customer base on transparency, showing exactly where and how their products are made- oftentimes at home. But as they grow, they may need to start working with factories that aren't as transparent. How do they navigate this without losing their loyal customers? And even if they do find factories that align with their values, there is still the potential for issues like poor treatment of workers or harmful environmental practices to slip through the cracks.
Personally, maintaining sustainable practices has always been at the forefront of 'Gbadebo' so when looking to scale up, finding a factory was definitely the hardest of challenges. I wanted to have production local so as to prevent being faced with poor garment worker conditions or lack of sufficient pay. These are two points that I will never support and refuse to have my brand be associated with. Once I came to terms with my non-negotiable points, I undertook a lot of extensive research and spoke to many manufacturers till I eventually found what I can vouch for as being the most ethical I could find. I have no opposition to other brand owners manufacturing abroad as this is the norm within the industry. However, I felt that unless I could go to the factory and see the conditions myself or have proof that the workers are paid a fair wage, I could not morally commit to using their facilities. This may cause a detriment to my brand financially compared to what other brands are paying for production. But going into a luxury market, I am happy to undertake these extra costs seeing as the profit margin is a lot greater as opposed to selling to a high-street audience.
There's also the question of whether it's even environmentally responsible to continue creating new clothing when we already have so much waste in the industry. Many sustainable brands combat this by using recycled materials or implementing circular practices like clothing rentals and repairs. But is it enough? Can we truly call ourselves sustainable if we're still contributing to the ever-growing fashion waste problem? One thing I truly admire about 'The North Face' is their dedication to creating a more circular business model whereby certain collections can be entirely deconstructed and torn up into base materials for recycling into garments again. In the future this is definitely something I would love to implement- taking sustainable fashion that one step further and looking at a garments lifecycle right up til the point of disposal. I feel as though I am in a lucky position of starting sustainably as opposed to having run for 10-20 years and having to change my whole processes now, which I understand The North Face undertook a lot of research and changes to now do.
At the end of the day, there's no easy answer. Scaling up a sustainable fashion brand comes with its own set of challenges and difficulties. It may not always be possible to perfectly balance ethics and profits, but as consumers we can support brands that are actively trying to do better and push for change in the industry as a whole.