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The Ultimate Guide To Sourcing Sustainable Fabrics For Fashion Brands

Zilingo Editorial Team
Consumers, today, are becoming more environmentally conscious than ever. Many consumers are choosing brands that take a stand on important environmental and social impacts. One way how fashion brands can minimize their environmental impact is by choosing sustainable fabrics for their clothing brand. However, choosing sustainable fabrics is a complex process that involves finding the right suppliers for your fabric. This guide will help you simplify your sustainable fabric selection process so that you can make the perfect choice for your clothing line.

What is Sustainable Sourcing?

The fashion industry is known to be one of the most polluting industries on the planet. It accounts for nearly 8-10% of carbon emissions and 20% of industrial water
pollution globally.

Sustainable sourcing refers to the practice of integrating environmental, social, and ethical aspects into the sourcing process, i.e. while purchasing raw materials from suppliers and manufacturers. Procuring sustainable fabrics helps in minimizing damage to the environment across the supply chain. Sustainable sourcing requires finding and partnering with the right suppliers and must be carried out from the beginning of the supply chain.

How to Source Sustainable Fabrics for Fashion Brands

In recent years, fast fashion businesses have received criticism for environmental pollution.

According to UNCTAD, every year the fashion industry uses
around 93 billion cubic meters of water, enough to meet the needs of five million people. Moreover, around half a million tons of microfiber (the equivalent of 3 million barrels of oil) are dumped into the ocean every year.

The above statistics paint the picture of the negative environmental impact of the fashion industry and call for the need of integrating sustainability practices into business strategies. If you want to make an impact in the fashion industry, you can start by sourcing sustainably. While it can be difficult to know what textile options are sustainable and how to select them, the following steps will help you purchase the perfect sustainable fabrics for your clothing brand.

1. Identify your sustainability goals

Sustainability is a broad term that may have a variety of metrics. So, the first step is to identify what aspects of sustainability would you like to prioritize. You will need to develop a set of sustainability standards against which you want to evaluate your potential suppliers or manufacturers.

Once you identify and document your sustainability goals, you can begin to survey potential partners to check if they can meet your standards. If your main objective is to have a measurable impact on the environment, then you can add some of the following goals:
  • Focus on environmental management practices
  • Use natural or biodegradable material
  • No or fewer emissions and waste in the supply chain
  • Transparency
  • Reduce the carbon footprint throughout the supply chain
  • Protection of workers’ rights

2. Find the right sustainable supplier

The next step is to find a trusted supplier who can provide you with the quantity of sustainable fabric you need. Before confirming your contract with the supplier, you can have a pre-qualification process where you can evaluate their environmental and social performance.

You can create a pre-qualification questionnaire to ensure that the textile supplier can meet your sustainability standards. The questionnaire can include the following:
  • Does the supplier follow environmental management practices?
  • Does the supplier have any sustainability certification?
  • What is the environmental impact of the fabrics?
  • Does the supplier maintain legal compliances?
  • How much waste is created in transforming fiber into fabric?
  • Does the fabric use hazardous material?
  • Does the supplier follow ethical practices?

3. Check the origins of the fabric

To address sustainability issues in the fashion industry, fashion industry players must work towards more sustainable forms of production. To become an environmentally conscious fashion brand, you must check the origins of the fabric that you are sourcing. You can start by requesting more transparency from the suppliers. You can ask them to share information on the origins of the raw materials used in their fabrics.

You will need to understand the environmental and social impacts associated with how the raw materials for the fabrics or textiles are sourced. The impacts could be related to the consumption of energy or water and the carbon footprint.

Prefer sustainable fabrics that are made from natural or recycled materials to reduce harm through the production process, fiber properties, or overall environmental impact. Some examples include organic cotton and hemp.

According to the UNEP, it takes 10,000 liters of water to grow
one kilo of cotton needed for a pair of jeans. It is equivalent to the amount of water one person would take 10 years to drink.

In contrast, organic cotton is typically produced without synthetic chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides, and has a 91% lower water consumption than conventional cotton, according
to the Soil Association.

You can also contribute to creating a circular fashion industry by choosing materials that eliminate waste and pollution and can be recycled. With an understanding of the impact of fabric creation on the environment, your fashion brand can create a positive impact.

4. Ensure no harm is done to animals

According to PETA, billions of animals suffer and die every
year for clothing and accessories. Animal skin is used to make a variety of textiles, due to which they are caged, harmed, and even killed. Unfortunately, animals have to go through abuse in the fashion industry for their skin, leather, wool, feathers, or fur. The production of animal-derived raw materials harms the environment as it contributes to climate change, pollution, water contamination, etc.

Due to its harmful impact, many clothing brands are ditching animal-derived raw materials and are opting for vegan materials. So, while sourcing fabric for your clothing brand, you need to verify sourcing and production methods, ensure that no animals are harmed, and check for vegan alternatives to animal-derived textiles.

5. Check the quality of the fabric

Making apparel that lasts longer is important for eco-conscious brands. You will need to cater to the needs of your environmentally conscious customers – that the clothes will not quickly fade or tear after a few washes. Produce clothes that can be worn for years and can be recycled or biodegraded into the environment.

To make long-lasting clothes, you must ensure that the quality of the fabric is superior. To evaluate the quality, you can run some tests on the fabric to check abrasions resistance, shrinkage, tensile strength, crease-resistance, colorfastness to washing, etc. You can also ask the suppliers to run tests to evaluate various aspects.

6. Ensuring transparency and traceability

In today’s fashion industry, many brands claim to have a sustainable clothing line. Some of them claim it without supporting traceable details about the product. This is known as greenwashing.

Due to increasing awareness among consumers, brands are now focusing on becoming more transparent with the customers. In the context of sustainability, transparency can be viewed as sharing knowledge about social, environmental, and ethical impacts throughout the supply chain.

Traceability is being able to trace the whole lifecycle of a product from the raw material to the finished product, customer, disposal, and recycling. This can be achieved by sharing information about the suppliers from the point of origin to the point of purchase. Traceability is not limited to conveying details about the source location but also the environmental and social impacts of the product. Traceability as a whole contributes to a more transparent fabric supply chain.

You should create strategic partnerships with suppliers who are open to both transparency and traceability and proactively invest in environmental sustainability.

Bottom Line

Sustainable fashion isn't going anywhere as more and more customers are becoming aware of the negative impact of fashion and are opting for sustainable options. It is imperative for fashion brands to incorporate sustainable sourcing standards not only to benefit their brand reputation but also for achieving customer satisfaction.

If you are a fashion brand, Zilingo can help you source fabrics that are sustainably produced.
Get in touch with us today to get started with high-quality
sustainable fabric sourcing.

Zilingo Editorial Team
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