What Does Sustainable Fashion Mean and How Can a Company be More Sustainable?
Everyone is talking about sustainability in fashion but what does it actually mean?
Sustainability when it comes to fashion is a subject which is gaining much attention and is forcing many fashion brands to address their environmental and ethical footprint, especially high street retailers that deal in mass-market, low-cost goods in a fast fashion environment. For many, however, the term is confusing and it is used under false pretences.
In a global market, being a truly sustainable fashion brand is hard. To be truly sustainable the brand needs to have a supply chain that doesn't pollute the environment (or a plan to offset any detrimental impact). They also need to consider how to safely extract or source raw materials in an environmentally and ethically positive way, whether that is using materials which are a natural by-product of other industries or recycling waste products to produce new materials. Then they have to transport them to the factories in a way that doesn't pollute (or has minimal pollutive effects) and then produce the products using non-toxic materials, avoiding harmful chemicals and in consideration of the workers, before onward transport from factory to retailer or customer.
If the products are made in a single country, with all raw materials being sourced from that country and an end-user residing in that country, then it is easier to have a more transparent supply chain and it is easier to create, manage and monitor if the journey from source to end-user is short. When it comes to footwear, however, the demise of British shoe manufacturing in the women’s footwear space means that almost all shoes now have to be imported. Transporting goods into the UK is unavoidable so brands need to decide where they source their shoes and how they transport them, whilst considering the environmental and ethical impact this will have at all points of the supply chain.
At Sargasso & Grey, we certainly do not claim to be a sustainable brand but we do endeavour to minimise the detrimental environmental impact of our supply chain as much as we can. Whereas many brands, often in the luxury space, import their shoes from China, usually using air freight, we source all of our shoes from Spain and we use road haulage for delivery. Fewer miles covered, and less fuel consumed, means less pollution. We try to plan our orders to the factory so that we have fewer, yet bigger orders, to reduce additional transportation, whilst ensuring that our stock levels remain healthy.
Leather is rarely viewed as a sustainable material because regardless of whether the leather was a by-product of the meat industry animals take up grazing space, cows emit harmful gases, and the process of dyeing the skins uses energy and resources. However, don’t be fooled by the increasing claims of environmentally friendly Vegan materials. Whilst there are some brilliant leather alternatives that use natural cork, pineapple fibres and even apple and orange skins, the overwhelming majority of leather alternatives are often made from highly polluting plastics. PVC, a common choice for fashion and footwear, is one of the most dangerously toxic materials around.
Why we use leather to make our shoes
Given leather arguably doesn’t tick the sustainable box, why do we choose to use it for our shoes? We use it because it is safe for skin and is soft and flexible, so it is comfortable and practical to wear. It is a natural material which means it is absorbent and won’t make feet sweaty. Crucially, we use it because it is durable and will last. This is, for us, one of the key points to sustainability in fashion: choosing products that will last. Having a sustainable supply chain is only one part of the solution and the onus is on the supplier to deliver this. The other part is helping consumers be more sustainable in their shopping habits. Having a sustainably and ethically made product is all very well but if the consumer then purchases the product and finds that it is not well made and durable, and thus quickly discards it, the shoes just add to landfill.
How our shoe factory acts sustainably and ethically
Our shoes are made in Spain by expert shoe manufacturers in a company that was established nearly 40 years ago and has a reputation for creating exquisite high-quality footwear. They employ local workers and abide by all EU employment laws.
Ensuring that their shoes truly are ‘Made in Spain’ all of their materials are sourced from other Spanish companies who also manufacture their goods in Spain, so they know how and where the materials (leather, heels, soles, insoles) are sourced. Our shoe factory uses sustainable, chrome-free materials, materials admitted by the EEC, and they are also enrolled in SEDEX which is one of the world’s leading ethical trade service providers, working to improve working conditions and global supply chains. SEDEX audit the factory on an annual basis to ensure they meet its high standards and maintain their approval.