3 Lessons I've learned about Sustainable production since starting a Fashion Brand

Written by: Cassandra Osborn



Time to read min

In the world of fashion production, where creativity meets craftsmanship, embarking on a journey to establish a sustainable fashion brand may seem like a noble pursuit. However, as I've learned through firsthand experience, the path to ethical and eco-friendly clothing is far from straightforward. This article delves into the 3 biggest lessons I've gathered along the production line, offering an authentic glimpse into the challenges and revelations encountered in the pursuit of sustainable fashion.

"Sustainablity is not an end goal, it's a journey."

Eileen Fisher

Lesson 1: Solving Problems from a Sustainability Lens is Complex

Imagine this: you've meticulously planned, revised, and double-checked every single detail. Your designs are set, your suppliers are dependable, and you're ready to jump right into action. It may seem like you have everything perfectly under control. However, as the saying goes, the real challenge lies in the finer points. When it comes to production, be prepared for the unexpected because, without a doubt, something will always go awry – always.

From snagged needles and elusive dye batches to delayed raw materials, unexpected glitches with packaging, and even sudden machinery breakdowns, these are just a few of the surprising obstacles that production throws at you. These challenges are a normal part of the process for brands everywhere.

However, what caught me off guard was how complex finding the right solutions becomes when you add the "sustainability lens" to decision-making, while simultaneously navigating a tight financial situation and meeting ever-increasing customer expectations.  Problem-solving becomes a complex puzzle of compromise. Every decision carries ethical, financial, and environmental implications.

Decisions like whether to accept slight color variations in 300 meters of already dyed fabric or start over with the associated waste and carbon impact, all while considering customer preferences, become a real balancing act. And then, there's the global shortage of a specific recycled materials, leaving me with a choice between using regular virgin alternatives or sticking to sustainability principles and skipping production cycles.

The sheer number of touchpoints, people involved, and intricate processes required to move from a concept to a finished product is mind-boggling. Preparing for the unexpected is something I expected (of course), but I didn't fully grasp how nuanced and complex these issues would become when approached from three perspectives: ethical, financial, and environmental.



Lesson 2: The Ill-Fitting Template

The fashion industry has long relied on standardized templates that fail to embrace the diverse range of body shapes and sizes. As we ventured into expanding our size offerings, we were confronted with the harsh reality.

In our pursuit of an extended-size chart, I quickly discovered that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Expectations vary not only between different customers but also among various production facilities.

Recent research, including insights from the Fashion Revolution and academic studies on body image, has highlighted the problem. One-size-fits-all size charts are woefully inadequate in a world where body shapes and sizes vary greatly.

The need for a shift towards a made-to-measure (made-to-order) system that is both time-sensitive and scalable is abundantly clear to me. We should not have to wait for months to receive a garment that fits perfectly. The current approach simply does not align with the sustainable fashion industry.

As hernest strives to showcase size diversity, refine our size chart, and learn from each production, I firmly believe that experience, persistence, and a clear vision will lead us to better solutions. With bodies that span a wide range of proportions, from short arms to long torsos, large chests to hourglass waists, and small chests to larger waists, we are all unique. This underscores the universal challenge of finding clothing that fits just right.

While I may not possess the definitive answer, I am convinced that transitioning to a made-to-measure production process is the path to a significant transformation in the sustainable fashion industry.

"Sustainability is about being responsible for the impact of our actions on the environment, on society, and on future generations"

Christina Dean

Lesson 3: The True Cost of Sustainable Production is more than a Financial Burdon

Choosing sustainability in the fashion industry is undoubtedly admirable, but it carries a profound price that goes far beyond mere financial value. It delves deep into the emotions of those who strive for change in a system that overwhelmingly favors low prices, mass production, and the constant churn of new styles.


The Financial Burden of Sustainable Fashion Production

Sourcing sustainable raw materials often comes with a premium cost, with prices that can be 2-3 times higher compared to conventional alternatives. Obtaining certifications adds extra expenses, and purchasing trims and notions from certified facilities is not always budget-friendly. Shifting to alternative, non-poly, and non-plastic packaging can increase costs by a staggering 100 times. Additionally, offsetting carbon emissions from transportation and implementing internal waste reduction procedures require significant financial commitments.


The Emotional Toll of Sustainable Fashion Production

The real challenge lies in society's skewed perception of these costs, a perception that constantly weighs on my mind as I advocate for sustainable fashion. It's not just about the strain on finances; it's the emotional toll of constantly justifying our pricing, the materials we use, and the processes we commit to.

In a world that often demands an Amazon-like experience coupled with Michelin-star service, those of us in the sustainable fashion arena face an unrelenting barrage of expectations. Customers, who have become accustomed to fast fashion and ultra-competitive prices, are quick to criticize sustainable fashion brands for perceived shortcomings. They may question why conscious brands have higher prices, and fewer choices overlooking the ethical labor, eco-conscious production, and commitment to quality that underpin these products.

This never-ending need to validate our choices can take a profound emotional toll.  The emotional burden extends to consistently addressing doubts and misconceptions, making it difficult at times to maintain an unwavering commitment to creating a better, more sustainable future.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, despite the formidable challenges and the ever-complicated puzzle that is sustainable fashion production, I believe this is important work. This journey offers a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact and redefine how society perceives fashion. It is a  challenge worth embracing. Full stop.