If you’re curious about starting a fashion brand you’ll get value from Leslie’s advice. Here she shares tips on what type of material to consider and why your slow fashion brand can make a difference to our planet.
Leslie Burns is the founder of Responsible Global Fashion, a business providing educational products and services around responsible designing, manufacturing, and retailing of fashion merchandise within the global fashion industries.
Now, on to my talk with Leslie
What strategies do you recommend eco-fashion businesses implement when getting started?
There are several strategies companies use to run a sustainable fashion business. The most common is using environmentally sustainable materials like fibers and fabrics and processes that reduce the use of non-renewable resources.
This may include using organic cotton, recycled polyester, etc. They can also include strategies to assure that the design of the products facilitates a circularity of resources, meaning that the resources can be used for a longer period.
Lastly, companies should be transparent to the consumers. They should answer the questions: What are they doing? Why are they doing it? What is the authentic and accurate evidence of their impact?
Many resources are available for anyone who wants to learn more about the industry. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, for example, has some great overview resources related to fashion.
The two more organizations I highly recommend are the Global Fashion Agenda and the Fashion Revolution. Both of these provide great information about strategies.
Aside from this, you can also read my three books which detail how entrepreneurs can run a successful fashion business based on my experience. The first book is called The Business of Fashion, now in its sixth edition.
The second book specifically focuses on sustainability, which is called Sustainability and Social Change in Fashion. This book lays out the framework for the strategies that other companies that are successful in their sustainability efforts use.
The third book is Stories of Fashion, Textiles, and Place: Evolving Sustainable Supply Chains. It follows the journeys of five companies that successfully created sustainability throughout their supply chains. It contains the challenges, processes, and advice to others so they can succeed too.
Why should we use organic cotton over non-organic?
Organic cotton, particularly certified organic cotton, doesn’t use pesticides and herbicides. In general, it also uses less water, and most of the time, it uses dyes that don’t pollute. This means it’s a more environmentally sustainable option than any other materials.
Is the use of organic cotton profitable despite being more expensive?
While buying cotton (both from the manufacturer and the consumer) seems expensive, it is a wise investment.
One of the root causes of the negative environmental aspects of fashion is the overconsumption of products made from virgin resources designed to be worn for a short period and then disposed of.
As fashion designers, we want products that will last longer and be healthier for the environment, which organic cotton provides. Thus, we should invest more in that clothing.
Part of promoting it is educating the consumers and making them realize that cotton is an investment since they will be able to wear it for a long period of time.
Fashion businesses need to show consumers why it is important to choose organic cotton versus a cotton fit that is traditional and dyed with some toxic chemicals.
What is a common problem of fashion businesses trying to be sustainable? How can they overcome this?
One common problem I see is when a fashion entrepreneur has not clearly articulated their business purpose beyond profit. What are their social objectives? How are they benefiting society?
While not every fashion business should be a social enterprise, they still need social objectives when considering environmental sustainability.
They should answer the questions: What issue are they addressing? How are they addressing it? If they were successful, what change would have happened around environmental sustainability?
This is not easy, but it is crucial as it will guide entrepreneurs in their business decisions and strategies.
For example, if my social objective is to reduce textile waste, my strategies will probably revolve around that. This could be designing higher quality products, designing fewer and more seasonal lines, or using deadstock fabric (the leftover fabric that might have ended up in the landfill).
It could also be upcycling T-shirts into some fashion products or using zero-waste design techniques. So fashion entrepreneurs need to identify what they want to achieve and how they will do it. This needs to reflect their values around sustainability and make it happen.
What is upcycling?
Upcycling is when you take materials and create something new out of them that is worth more than those old materials. This is different from recycling, where you use materials worth less than what you started with.
One example of upcycling is buying old T-shirts from a thrift store, cutting them apart, and using as much of those materials as possible to create fashions that are more innovative, and are worth more than the old T-shirts.
What is a realistic budget to start a successful eco-fashion business?
There are so many variables that go into this. For instance, they need to look at their estimated operating costs for starting their business, product design, production capabilities, and marketing. There are a lot of resources out there to know this.
So I’m not going to tell an exact budget amount because it varies on business. However, one thing I advise is that entrepreneurs should also consider their living expenses before starting a business.
Since they’re not going to sell something immediately, entrepreneurs should initially have 4–6 months of savings to run their business.
Their first few months will be spent designing, creating, manufacturing, and selling their product to the market. They should also have their listings in their pocket before they get started.
Do you think slow fashion brands can make a difference?
We can all make a difference. I think as more companies focus on environmental and social-cultural sustainability, there will be a change in the mindset of consumers. So companies need to educate and bring consumers along toward their cause continuously.
Consumers need to understand that when it comes to fashion, it’s a matter of buying less and better. They need to think about the impact of their purchases and put their money into companies that reflect their values around sustainability.
I hope you enjoyed my talk with Leslie and that you took away some value. If you want to listen to the entire interview, click play below or head over to your favorite platform (Apple, Spotify, or Google.)
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