Founding Executive Director, Fashion Takes Action
Kelly Drennan, Founding Executive Director of Fashion Takes Action, shares her insights on what it takes for fashion companies to be more sustainable and ethical.
What are the biggest barriers fashion brands are currently facing that are inhibiting them from integrating sustainable frameworks into their business practices?
For many brands, the biggest challenge is that they lack both the knowledge and a strategy to implement sustainable actions. Some were quick to get on the sustainability bandwagon but had a poor strategy to execute, and then ultimately failed. This leads to a lack of motivation to give it another go.
Another challenge is deciding where to start. There are so many problems facing the industry, from water use and pollution, waste, and labour, to carbon emissions and toxic chemicals. It’s impossible to do everything at once and there’s an overwhelming number of resources available. Brands really need to assess where they’re at and what their greatest risks are, and then prioritize.
Why is it important for sustainability to be incorporated into all elements of the fashion industry?
We really have no choice. This industry is one of the world’s largest polluters and the fashion supply chain is global. This makes it challenging for brand owners because so much of their supply chain isn’t visible. Traceability and transparency are key to the industry being able to level up and reverse the damage it has caused to the environment.
What is the biggest misconception surrounding sustainable and ethical manufacturing?
First, I think the words sustainable and ethical are confusing to many. They can mean so many things, including reduced emissions, using less water, zero waste, organic, fair trade, and so on. Brands need to get more specific about what they’re doing and not just hide behind these blanket terms. This is where transparency is key!
I also think there’s a misconception that perfection exists. Nobody can achieve perfection. Instead, we need to celebrate the progress that’s being made and applaud those in the industry for the changes that are being made, (while at the same time holding them accountable — particularly regarding public-facing targets or goals).
How can consumers ensure they’re making informed decisions when it comes to purchasing clothing?
Buy less and buy used — these are the most important things to remember (reduce and reuse). If you have to buy something new then read the label, do your research (which isn’t that onerous given we all have smartphones), and visit the brand’s website. If they don’t mention sustainability or if they do but it sounds like fluffy greenwashing, then don’t buy it. And look for third-party certification to verify claims that are being made. If it says “organic,” see if they carry an organic certification.