So much goes into choosing where to shop and which brands to support. While shopping emerging brands can be a great way to find unique pieces that are different from what everyone else is wearing, there are so many additional factors to consider when choosing where to spend your hard-earned dollars: sustainability, quality, and ethical manufacturing. These factors are integral to creating a healthy cycle in the fashion industry.
As the industry grows, so does the waste it creates. In New York City alone, 200 million pounds of clothing end up in landfills each year. Imagining that on a national scale, and then on an international scale, is scary. As consumers, it’s vital that we understand the impact of our purchases, and in the process, support brands that share our values. You can find brands of all sizes that value ethical manufacturing and eco-friendly sourcing, but often emerging brands have a sustainable edge in the field of fashion because of their small size and hands-on practices.
Overproduction is an enormous contributor to waste in the fashion industry. Every year New York State businesses and residents throw away almost 1.4 billion pounds of usable and recyclable textiles, including: clothing, footwear, belts, hats, handbags, throw rugs, drapes, towels, sheets, and other linens. The potential market value of all these materials is approximately $210,000,000. Overproduction can include companies making too much of an item and sending extras to landfills, or brands drastically marking down prices to sell extras, driving consumers to make purchases based on sales and not a need or want for the item. (I have definitely fallen for the great sale and impulse buy, and I almost always regret it!)
Smaller, emerging brands often don’t have the budget to produce huge amounts of product, which can be a benefit to the environment.
These smaller production runs are good business moves on emerging brands’ part to test the market and also an effective way to avoid over-producing.
Overproduction is such a huge contributor in creating waste that even sustainable brands need to be conscious of it. If a brand over-produces, whether using sustainable materials or not, then fabric, energy, and natural resources like water used in creating the fabric or dying are wasted. In order to be truly sustainable, even the most environmentally aware brands must keep in mind that just because they can afford to produce a large quantity, doesn’t mean they should.
Transparency and Communication
It can be a lot of work sorting through brands’ sustainability claims. As a conscious consumer, it’s vital to see proof that backs up these claims. Have a question about what the fabric content of a garment is or where it’s being produced?
Email or DM an emerging brand, and chances are you will be talking to the owner or someone in the company who has those answers.
Communication with larger brands typically goes through more people and the customer service rep you’re able to talk to may only have generic statements to give you. (Don’t have time to do research when shopping emerging brands? Check out Remake’s list of Sustainable Brands.)
Timelessness Over Trends
Many emerging brands don’t rely on the ever-changing trends to influence their designs. This can be for a number of reasons, including the desire to do something different, budget limitations, or maker availability. No matter the reason, a benefit that comes from not following the trends is the production of timeless garments.
Clothes with non-biodegradable fabrics, which is most of the clothing you own, will sit in landfills for up to 200+ years. When brands know their pieces will live longer and not be easily replaced by the latest round of fast fashion trends, they’re motivated to make their garments more appealing and longer lasting.
Small Businesses Typically Work W/ Other Small Businesses
When emerging brands support other emerging businesses, it creates a cycle of benefits. Many emerging brands work with emerging artists and businesses like photographers, models, and manufacturers. Some reasons for this are because they’re able to find them locally and they have smaller requirements which fit into an emerging brand’s production plan. For example, a small family-owned garment manufacturer is more likely to accept a small production order. On the environmental side of things, working with someone local to you cuts down on shipping materials used and travel pollution which both become problematic when placing production orders.
As a designer in the process of launching my own fashion brand, I have seen first-hand how these characteristics of emerging brands can help a brand to be more sustainable. While building my brand for the first time, I saw how much of a difference there is between large, established companies and small, emerging brands. For my own emerging brands, I decided to recycle my excess fabric into accessories, which I then donate the profits. Physically seeing just how much excess fabric came from my samples was a visual realization that overproduction is not only taking the fabric that was in the garments, but also the excess fabric left over after creating them.
If I were working with a larger manufacturer, they may not have been as willing to take the extra step of saving my scrap fabric for me instead of throwing it away.
Also as a small business owner, my development time is longer than large brands. Because of this, it’s imperative to my business to design pieces that people will want to wear for a long time, are well made, and are timeless. I realized when developing my designs, not every brand is focused on longevity when their next collection comes out a few weeks later.
Knowledge is one of the most important tools in the growth of the sustainable fashion industry, so learning while shopping emerging brands and understanding their unique practices can help give consumers the insight they need to make responsible choices when purchasing new clothes. Hopefully, as an emerging brand grows, it will continue to practice in a similar manner to its early days, creating a more sustainable product that’s both harmless to the planet and the people living on it.