Sustainable apparel was a key topic during this year’s London Fashion Week, and for good reason. The apparel industry knows their current status quo — the one that made them the fourth largest polluter of air and water, and responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions — is not a good look.
I recently came across the Save The Planet Go Nude campaign, which aims to educate consumers on the impact conventional clothing has on the environment. The campaign was launched by sustainable apparel company Toad&Co. This reminded me that within an industry that’s struggling to mitigate its impact, a select number of brands have found success with sustainability. And I wanted to know how.
I sat down with Toad&Co’s Materials Manager, Ciara Cates, to understand their approach to sustainability and how other apparel brands can follow suit.
Q1: What does sustainability mean to
CC: Sustainability makes us who we are
and is a personal passion of our CEO. Although sustainability is integrated
into every aspect of the business, we primarily focus on three main
materials – Our recently launched Spring 2019 line is 100% eco. This means
every garment is made from a minimum of 80% sustainable fibers
and/or fabrics that are 3rd party certified for responsible
apparel – We partnered with the Renewal Workshop to extend the life of our
garments by transforming damaged, excess, and returned Toad&Co clothes so
they can be resold and worn for longer.
shippers – We reduced the waste associated with our shipping by working with
Limeloop. They developed a reusable shipper (made from vinyl recycled from
billboards) that last for 10 years.
Q2: There are many
environmental impacts of apparel, why did Toad&Co choose to prioritize those
CC: We looked at the lifecycle of our clothing and started asking, where are our biggest impacts? Eco materials were a natural focus for us. As an apparel company, we were already keeping a close eye on our fiber portfolio. Not only is it easy to trace, but when managed correctly it can reduce our impact on the environment, benefit our fiber suppliers, and lead to cost savings.
We also knew we could reduce our impact by extending the life of our garments. Partnering with the Renewal Workshop means used clothing, including those with tears, broken zippers or missing buttons can be reused, instead of going to landfill.
Addressing our shipping was a no-brainer for our logistics team. We knew there must be a way to reduce the amount of waste generated from shipping, we just needed to find it.
Not so fun fact: in the U.S. more than 85% of clothing is sent to landfill
Q3: What were some challenges
to achieving the three initiatives?
CC: For eco materials, we had to find
good suppliers at a good price, this took a lot of searching. But it was
worth it. We ended up with likeminded suppliers that were just as interested in
providing eco materials as we are in using them. As a result, we have a smaller
supply chain made up of quality partners.
When it came to re-purposing used Toad&Co garments and finding a solution for our shipping, we really had the same dilemma… where do we even start? Since we aren’t experts in these areas, we knew we had to find partners that were. That’s how we ended up working with the Renewal Workshop and Limeloop.
Q4: Brands note cost as a roadblock to creating more sustainable clothes, how has Toad&Co gotten around this?
CC: We deal with cost issues too. When we’re faced with price, sourcing, or other challenges, we get really creative and really resourceful to meet our sustainability standards. I like to think of this as the MacGyver approach.
Q5: Where do you think the trend of sustainable apparel will be in 5 years?
CC: I’ve worked in sustainability for more than a decade, and in recent years I’ve seen a lot of progress. I think this progress will continue for the apparel industry due to a few drivers.
First, the price for resources like energy and water will continue to rise, so companies will inherently find solutions to reduce their consumption. Secondly, the pressures from consumers and regulators will only continue to grow. And lastly, I think technology will make a huge contribution to our industry by making supply chain transparency and sustainability attainable. Mapping and understanding your supply chain are huge tasks for companies, this will free up time and resources for them to implement sustainable solutions.
Q6: What advice would you give other apparel companies starting their sustainability journey?
CC: Understand where your biggest
impacts are and start with the low hanging fruit. Use the momentum from these wins
to tackle more complex issues. Brands should also view their suppliers as
partners – they can be huge in helping to achieve sustainability goals. Certification
agencies are also a great resource, they have a pulse on the industry and are there
to provide expert guidance.
it’s important to remember that this is a marathon not a sprint. For example,
it took us over a decade to achieve 100% organic cotton from when we first
started using it. Implementing initiatives can take time, but it will pay off.