“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” — Lao Tzu
Brands today are facing more pressure than ever to deliver an amazing product that is accountable to both mama earth and its makers (at Remake, we keep that pressure turned up!). However, despite the drive to do better, creating a sustainable fashion brand is no easy feat. Similarly, wearing your values and becoming a more conscious shopper also has its challenges. The solution? You have to start somewhere.
Sharleen Ernster (aka Queen Bee) of We Are HAH is passionate about sustainable solutions and helping others see how they too can #startsomewhere. We sat down with her to discuss her sustainability journey and how she navigates challenges by remaining authentic, learning from others, and staying curious. Here is what she taught us.
1. Little actions, taken consistently over time, and by many, add up to big changes for the industry.
For an established brand, overhauling an entire supply chain is daunting, if not practically impossible. But great results can be achieved when even big brands take just a portion of their portfolio and look for innovation. One place to start is with a capsule collection, or addressing one step in the production process. Sharleen realized that investing in innovative fabric printing processes like digital and sublimation printing for We Are HAH’s prints would have a massive impact. Not only are these techniques better for the environment (using 95% less water than traditional screen and rotary printing, and greatly reducing the use of toxic dyestuff), but they also extend the life of a garment. Bonus? The more wears, the lower the carbon footprint and cost-per-wear of a garment.
One way to have exponential impact is to reduce the eco-burden in caring for clothes. Sharleen and her team partnered with their manufacturer in Sri-Lanka to co-launch their EFL fabric (Extended Fabric Life) which is not only super durable, but can be machine washed in cold water and line dried, reducing the need for dry cleaning chemicals and energy-intensive hot water and hot dryer cycles. Their proprietary fabric construction is comprised of renewably sourced ingredients (corn sugar!) that are biodegradable, yet have long-lasting durability. Sharleen started with the basic building blocks of the fabric — yarns — to see where she could make changes. By partnering with her manufacturer, they were each able to take a small step together that added up to a great stride.
Simply put: start where you are, with what you know, then go from there.
2. Be honest with your partners and consumers about where you are, where you want to go, and how you are getting there.
Another great place for brands to start engaging in sustainable actions is the area of product packaging. Overwhelmed by all of the plastic packaging rampant in the fashion industry, Sharleen and her team decided to tackle the issue and talk about it with the brand’s customers while We Are HAH worked towards longer-term solutions.
Globally, apparel products are required by law to be individually packaged in clear plastic bags, and while we often don’t receive our purchases in these bags, the reality is that they were most likely discarded to keep the plastic problem out of sight and out of mind for the consumer. Sharleen chooses to keep We Are HAH’s garments in the same packaging they go into at the factory, eliminating all of the repackaging and waste created just to appear greener. For its swimwear line, We Are HAH uses recycled, reusable, and biodegradable poly bags (an eco-friendly investment at 245 times the cost of traditional plastic packaging) as an effort to tackle one category of its business while learning how to successfully apply it to all its categories. On their website, We Are HAH talks about this journey.
Transparency boosts your credibility, fosters loyalty, and encourages engagement from consumers and peers to be a part of the conversation. It emboldens others to speak about their efforts, no matter where they are, so that we can make the sustainable fashion conversation less intimidating and easier to begin.
3. Keep an open mind and indulge passionate curiosity. This will lead you to new methods, emerging technologies, and like-minded partners to help bring your goals to life.
Most brands eager to begin their sustainability journey often don’t know where to start. As a brand (or a consumer), begin by asking questions about what you don’t know from those you see doing it right, or from your existing partners (they might be eager to learn more too and simply need a reason to get started!). You will not only learn where you need to go, but will be able to continually steer your journey in the right direction based on your findings. Sharleen has found that she and her partners influence each other and that their good habits rub off on one another.
Something else that piqued Sharleen’s curiosity: why do so many brands look so similar in their representation of “sexy” women? True authenticity is not one-note sexuality. For We Are HAH, sustainability isn’t just about products and packaging. Rather, the brand is on a mission to ensure that they are inclusive of all women. Diversity of customers and audience ensures that more consumers are being brought into the sustainability conversation, not just a homogenous few.
Sharleen was inspired to start We Are HAH by her daughters and wants to ensure that the message they receive from the brand shows them that all women are represented and valued. This past year Sharleen has been on a mission to represent diverse physical traits (sizes, skin colors, ages) in the brand’s imagery and offerings, and over the coming year the brand will be adding more authentic women muses to its website.