As a ‘cruelty-free blogger’ and vegetarian, it is safe to say that I am committed to ensuring no animals are harmed through the purchases that I make, whether that be skincare, make-up or the clothing that I buy. But what if I was to tell you that being ‘cruelty-free’ is not enough, that we must also look at ways that we can reduce our carbon footprint and promote sustainability. Because the reality is that our clothing contributes to the destruction of our planet, through the way it is manufactured, produced and shipped, which all adds up to air miles and increases emission costs. But there is more to sustainable fashion than just using ‘local couriers’ to reduce air miles, we must also think about how our clothing is made. What factories is the clothing being created in? How does it affect its workers and are they employing workers for an unfair wage?
As someone who does live on a budget, despite my moral intentions, many of the brands that I do wear are ‘cheap’ and thus have questionable moral ethics surrounding their manufacturing process. But we shouldn’t boycott suppliers who are not sustainable, instead we should educate them and ourselves. Don’t forget that clothing made is a response to our wants and desires, whether that be clothing that is fair-trade or in alignment with ‘fast consumer culture. The truth of the matter is, while 80 % of my wardrobe is made up of ‘fast-fashion’ due to its accessibility and price within my budget range, the other 20 % is sustainable. So the more that we raise awareness and increase demand for organic fabrics like cotton, the more sustainable our wardrobes will become in the process.
While I had always been interested in ‘sustainable fashion’, it was not until I came across Hawthorn, a manufacturing ‘supplier’ that I actually put ‘real thought’ into how clothes are manufactured outside of a ‘factory environment’. After all ensuring I am cruelty free and making more attempts to be ethical in my consumption of food, clothing, products and more is one thing but what if I was to tell you that the manufacturing process is just as integral to maintaining the credibility of ‘sustainability’? Moreover it is through ‘manufacturing’ that we can help conserve ‘energy and water’, recycle and reduce waste and as a result minimize our ‘environmental footprint’. Which is why I was interested to get to the heart of the source and hear what Rob-founder and CEO of Hawthorn- thought about sustainability.
1) Tell Us A Bit About Yourself…
My name is Rob Williams and I’m a Director here at Hawthorn, a clothing manufacturer based in the City of London. Although our headquarters are in London, we work internationally and have factories across the world. We mainly work with clothing brands, however we also have some corporate customers who we produce uniforms for. We produce everything from casual wear such as tee shirts, all the way up to high end tailoring and everything in between, fully customized to the requirements of the client.
2) Tell us about your average customer. Do you work with any sustainable brands?
Because we offer low minimum order quantity clothing manufacturing; the lowest in the industry in fact for fully custom garments, we work with a lot of start up and small to medium clothing brands. We do indeed work with sustainable brands and have seen an increase in the amount of sustainable brands we have come to work with over the past couple of years. At first the requirement for organic cotton was high, however we have also come to work with brands who specialize in fabrics derived from bamboo and hemp for example.
3) As A Cruelty Free Blogger, ensuring that the clothing I buy and the products that I consume are ethical and cruelty free is integral to my personal beliefs. Tell me why consumers should ‘care about sustainability ‘ and how it can reduce our impact on the environment?
What you mention here is something that is becoming more and more important to the general public, and echoes the beliefs of many of our clients who are looking to move towards sustainable fashion and who want to be able to show their retail customers that they are being responsible when it comes to their supply chain. Retail customers specifically should care about the sustainability of the clothing they buy, simply because more sustainable products being bought will help to reduce the environmental impact and carbon footprint of the fashion industry on the planet. For example, fossil fuels are used to produce polyester – a fabric which is traditionally used by “fast fashion” brands to keep the cost of a product down. Although polyester does have some practical uses for active wear, tee shirts only usually have a synthetic element as a component to reduce costs, whereas if that were swapped for organic cotton, it would have a serious positive environmental change.
4) Sustainability often has this label of being ‘un-affordable to the masses’, which seems to be a reason people give for choosing ‘fast fashion’. In your own words how can we make ‘sustainable fashion’ more accessible?
Part of the reason for promoting sustainability is that at this point in time it is slightly more expensive to produce environmentally friendly fashion, however this doesn’t have to be the case. As demand increases for fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo derived fabrics and hemp, the costs will reduce as volume increases. Making sustainable fashion more accessible is a case of convincing large brands, and those high street chain stores who produce items in the hundreds of thousands to begin working with sustainable materials. This will have a massive effect on the cost of eco friendly fabrics, and is something that needs a real push from the big players in the industry to achieve. This will make these fabrics more affordable for the likes of our customers who are smaller businesses who are usually being cost conscious in the start up phase of their business.
5) As a fellow entrepreneur, I am interested in how you maximize your brands potential and where you see your brand in the next five years. Tell me, since you started your brand, what have been your main objectives and how have you outlined ways to meet them?
We actually started Hawthorn after beginning our own fashion brand and having a lot of trouble with other manufacturers. This led us in to producing clothing for ourselves at first, and then small batches for other brands, before deciding that manufacturing, rather than actually being a clothing brand ourselves was a lucrative business to be in. We originally set out to be an all encompassing brand solution, and we set about positioning ourselves as a manufacturer of everything that a fashion brand could ever want, including accessories.
However, over the years we have realized that clothing specifically is where the demand is, as you would imagine, and that production of other items were taking our focus away, so we narrowed the business down to be just clothing, and have removed accessories. In 5 years time, I hope to be continuing to work with brands and most importantly, making a difference to the industry in a bigger way than we are right now. For us, sustainability is a big part of that, and we actively encourage our customers to choose sustainable fabrics for their products.
6) We live in what I call a ‘fast consumer culture’ and over the years I have noticed patterns emerging in the clothing and manufacturing industry. Tell me in a paragraph what you think the future holds for sustainability and why?
The whole “fast consumer culture” notion is becoming increasingly frowned upon within not just the fashion industry, but all industry. In fashion, even those brands who’s business models are “high volume – low price” are starting to make the effort to introduce sustainable methods of manufacturing in to their ranges. As this continues and other brands follow suit, the cost of these fabrics will fall to a level which means it is more accessible than it is currently, and smaller brands will naturally follow suit. With the “fast fashion” label being something most brands want to disassociate themselves with these days, it is highly likely that sustainable fashion will become increasingly popular for that reason alone.
7) You mentioned that you work with both sustainable and non-sustainable brands. What percentage of the clients that you work with are sustainable clients and how have you seen this percentage increase over the years?
Presently around 15% of the brands we work with only use fully sustainable materials, however a further 10% have sustainable elements within their ranges. We have introduced stock materials which are fully sustainable such as organic cotton, hemp and bamboo fabrics which we encourage our customers to use in their ranges. There has been a marked increase in the use of sustainable fabrics over the past two years; before that no customers were using them, however due to the increase in awareness over the topic and our introduction of them to our capabilities, they are gaining in popularity. We aim to have 50% of our customers using fully sustainable fabrics within the next two years now that it is something we are directing them towards.
8) I have found that many start up companies who are interested in manufacturing and exporting sustainable clothing have dedicated forums . Is there a forum at your company for aligning and cross-pollinating ideas on sustainability? If so why?
We do not have a dedicated forum at Hawthorn for aligning ideas on sustainability, mainly because our customers prefer to keep their identities confidential and by its very nature a forum would take away from that. It is a great idea to promote sustainability however, something which we are trying to do using our blogs. We have recently published a blog about sustainability which can be found here.
9) It is great that more and more brands are reducing their impact on the environment but it is still not enough and there is more to be done. As a manufacturing company that produces both sustainable and non-sustainable clothing, what do you do as a brand to reduce your carbon footprint and how can other brands follow suit?
As a clothing manufacturer, we have a direct link to the subject in hand and are actively promoting sustainability in everything we do. With that being said however, some brands will never be able to use fully sustainable fabrics since their products require the use of man made materials. Those who use polyester in active wear and tracksuits for example. We have introduced new fabrics to our capabilities and are promoting them, along with trying to educate our customers through blogs and our outreach methods. This isn’t the only way that we are reducing our carbon footprint though. We have recently had an internal initiative to become more environmentally friendly in everything we do, from ensuring equipment and machines are not left switched on when in use, to becoming more economical with fabric usage to bring down the amount of material required for a batch of items.
10) It is difficult to guarantee that a product will be 100% sustainable, after all with travel importation, many clothing suppliers ship out their products to clients worldwide. Do you exclusively work with ‘home clients’ or do you work with clients abroad too?
We work with brands all over the world, meaning that there will naturally be some elements such as transportation which will never be fully sustainable. We believe however that if we can help to make the fashion industry more environmentally friendly at source, this will have a great impact on the planet. As other industries, such as transportation become more sustainablethemselves through the use of renewable energy, the overall carbon footprint of everything we do and everyone we work with will fall.
11) With other 7.5 Billion people worldwide it has become increasingly difficult for manufacturing suppliers and clothing retailers to spread the message of being ‘sustainably conscious’, with many consumers relying on ‘fast fashion’ to meet their demands. The Question is in your eyes can we achieve sustainability in the context of exponential growth of demand and an exploding population and how can manufacturing suppliers like yourself help curb this ‘demand’?
You’re correct, we are a small part of a huge industry and change is required not just from us, but from those who have previously been the pioneers of fast fashion. The sustainable clothing industry is similar to the organic food industry in some ways, with only a small number of consumers currently willing to pay the extra for something which is environmentally friendly. We believe the secret to real change is to promote sustainability, and make it something which consumers will want to be a part of, thus giving the large corporations and high street stores who use fast fashion in abundance to make a change to meet this demand. Suppliers like ourselves are helping to promote this notion by bringing more small sustainable brands to the market, each of whom have an influence over their following.
Thank you Rob for speaking to us about ‘sustainable fashion’ here at Faded Spring, it has been an enlightening Q &A to say the least and has made me more conscious about the ‘materials that I choose’ when purchasing products. In fact I don’t know about you (readers) but as a consumer, I had no idea that the production of ‘polyester’ and other man-made materials was made from ‘fossil fuels’, to reduce clothing costs. While materials like ‘organic hemp’ or cotton are more expensive than synthetic materials, if we continue to ‘seek out’ more ways to bring more organic products into our home, suppliers and manufacturers will recognize a pattern emerging, where consumers are seeking more ‘ethical alternatives’ to ‘synthetics’ and naturally due to consumer demand, this will transfer into more clothing retailers promoting sustainable fashion!
What Are Your Thoughts On Sustainable Fashion?