“Try Googling ‘fashion’ and ‘sustainability’ and chances are you won’t think ‘chic’ and ‘sexy’ when you see them,” said Giusi Bettoni, founder of C.L.A.S.S. Flipping that notion around is essentially why eco designers gathered for the 2nd Annual Sustainable Fashion Symposium held this month at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
C.L.A.S.S is a forum for those seeking to expand their eco-sensible businesses. At the symposium’s main event, guests saw samples of environmentally certified fabric (apparently fabric can be made out of milk protein and seaweed) that the group curates for its eco-library. Seven companies presented their colorful, creative, and yes, even chic, sustainable garments at a fashion show. According to speaker Sophie Faris, Community Developer at B-Lab, the accessibility to information and social media has fostered more environmentally conscience consumers. However, as many panellists stressed throughout the day, new companies must take caution when labelling their product with a broad term such as “eco-friendly,” or risk permanent damage to their reputation.
Rather than use a vague term, “say it’s 40 percent recycled,” suggests Deanna Clark, a lawyer and FIT professor. Without a specific definition, “eco-friendly” can mean anything from just the packaging being made from recycled material to the clothing being made of only 3% reused cloth.
Consumers will respect that specificity more, but if you lie, it will be hard to gain back that trust once it’s broken. Chipotle was mentioned twice at two panels as an example of a company that was willing to be honest with their customers. They are slowly phasing out their GMO foods but until then, they are labelling which items are genetically modified.
And while the FDA regulates food and the FTC regulates clothing, Kristen Arnett, Editor-in-Chief of Green Beauty Team reminded guests that the beauty industry has yet to enforce stringent regulations on what can be considered “natural” or “organic,” since a legal definition for those terms still does not exist.
Environmental responsibility is on the forefront of consumers minds, especially after the Bangladesh factory disaster in May, which left more than 1100 people dead. Several major U.S. companies recently signed a safety pact to ensure safer factory conditions. According to the AP, the agreement came only after those companies, including Target and GAP, faced criticism for not signing a separate agreement entered into, mainly by European retailers.
For those companies who are new to the fashion market, the public is only going to grow more concerned about transparency. As a precaution, panellists discussing sustainable business and marketing suggested that start-ups try to receive 3rd party verification. Make sure, however, that the party verifying you is reputable. Non-profit organization B-Lab provides free tools for start-ups. Here are some other resources for sustainable fashion start-ups:
1) MakersRow.com– A company that lists various domestic manufacturers
2) C.L.A.S.S.– Giusy Bettoni’s organization that seeks to connect commerce and fashion innovation. They will also give you access to their eco-library.
3) FTC Green Guidelines
4) FIT’s Sustainability Program for Entrepreneurs
5) Ecouterre.com/ – A site focused on highlighting the latest trends in eco fashion and ethical apparel
6) Franyoshioka.com/– Trend forecaster
7) Fashion Compliance – A Youtube program on fashion law
8) Magnifeco – For those companies seeking some PR, the site publishes stories on sustainable brands.