Feel overwhelmed sometimes by all the causes we’re meant be contributing to and fighting for these days? our how to guide on putting the environment at the forefront of your fashion choices

In our Sustainable Fashion Benefits of Recycle and Reuse part 1 we broke down some of the basic concepts of sustainable fashion, fast fashion and talked about why we should care. In part 2 we explore what we can do and how can we make a change.

Are there any sustainable and ethical companies out there then?

Yes, in fact a lot of large fast fashion companies are jumping on board the sustainable fashion train and pledging to be more ethical in their practice of manufacturing garments.

Each year Forbes Magazine releases a list of the Top 50 Companies globally ranked on sustainability and ethical practices separately. More often than not, the two don’t seem to go hand in hand. Company's overarching objectives seem to vary drastically as shown in companies that rank highly for sustainability and poorly in ethical index or vice versa. For example, in 2016 Adidas was named by Forbes as No. 5 in the World's 50 Most Sustainable Companies but also received an ethical index rating of which falls under the category of “Avoid”.

In terms of a sustainability ranking, companies are assessed on whether they are getting the most out of their capital, maximizing employee performance, and making careful use of resources. For their ethical index score, companies across a number of industries are asked 180 questions to form Ethisphere’s proprietary “Ethics Quotient“ score—part of a vetting process that evaluates them in categories including ethics and compliance programs, corporate citizenship and responsibility, culture of ethics, governance, and leadership, innovation and reputation. Note though that the Ethisphere Institute’s annual ranking is made up of companies that have submitted to be vetted for the chance to become an honouree. In 2016 H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB and Marks and Spencer PLC both received high ranks for apparel brands.

H&M have had their Conscious Collection in stores since 2011 and also encourage recycling through their garment recycle scheme where customers can bring clothes to recycle and receive a voucher or discount of another purchase. The H&M Group’s other brands also offer extra sustainable choices, like Weekday’s Remains, a capsule collection that started in 2016 made from leftover denim materials which minimises waste.

Zara (part of the Inditex group) have released their “Join Life” sustainable clothing collection and followed H&M’s footsteps in doing a recycle campaign where they allow customers to drop off secondhand clothing for recycle. The Zara "Join Life" garments can be deemed sustainable if it meets a series of internal criteria including the following: All the products are made using more sustainable raw materials such as organic cotton, TENCEL® lyocell or recycled fibers. Products must be made using water-saving technology and also made in factories that use renewable energy (further info here )

You can see the push for these brands to think about their products and the clients in terms of sustainability and ethical standards. They are trying to be more conscious of their material sourcing, their waste emissions and standards of work conditions for their employees. On their website, H&M state that “Every year, we work intensely to increase the share of sustainably sourced fabrics and materials in our clothes - by improving working conditions at our suppliers, and reduce any negative impacts our business might have along our value chain. By making conscious choices in each step of a garment’s life – from cotton farms to customers – together, we can make a difference”.

With the manufacturing industry spreading from China to other parts of Asia more rapidly in the hope of reducing costs, It’s important to think about sustainable and ethical solutions that companies can adopt in manufacturing and production to reduce their natural resource consumption, increase the work life standards of their employees and ways in which we as a consumer can impact these rising waste and pollution levels as well. Because really, the diminishing of natural resources and increased waste and pollution levels affects each and every one of us even if it is not in our face day to day. In the long run we will all be affected as a result of the decisions we make now for our planet.

So what exactly should I look for when shopping?

As mentioned before, the standards across companies change in terms of what classifies a garment as sustainable or not but we have a couple of basic rules you can follow and look out for when making your next purchase:

1. Branding: This can be hard to do sometimes when you are out and about and see that bag you just have to have but ideally before making a purchase, read up about the brand. Most good brands will have a company profile on their website and you can gauge a lot about their commitment to sustainability and ethical fashion from their website. A company who just drops a line “we focus on sustainability” with no further back up statements has generally just added in the word sustainability because their marketing manager told them to. The companies who actually care and make a difference will give you a good background as to how they actually achieve this.

2. Make: A lot can be told from the make or a garment. Those products with better quality stitching and finishing are quite obvious. Also keep a lookout for where they are made. If they are made domestically they are generally better but also the better a company is at caring for the health, safety and wellbeing of their workers and the more they want to shout it from the rooftops.

3. Material: Another obvious sign is the material. As stated earlier, material is a big environmental impactor and the companies more aware of this and doing something about the make of their material will generally state it or at least publish so on their website and promote their conscious effort to do so. Some more responsible materials include linen, hemp, Tencel (lyocell), organic cotton, alpaca and recycled or organic non-mulesed wool. To reduce their impact on the environment, some companies also use vintage or deadstock material and will generally state if doing so.

4. Sustainability Report: A little harder to assess while shopping, but companies should produce a ‘Sustainability Report’ as part of their annual or quarterly reporting systems in which the public can access. The reports which are generally available online, are often a good indication of the progress a company makes and their intended goals in the area of sustainability. For example you can find H and M 2015 Sustainability Report here.

We’ve also made it easy for you and compiled a list of some great brands and initiatives you can get behind.

What else can I do to be more sustainable?

Six simple steps you can follow to becoming more fashion conscious and sustainable.

1. Get Informed

The first step in the process is becoming more aware and learning more about brands and companies that are focused on ‘green’ and ethical clothing.

2. Buy Less but Invest More

Start by slowing down your purchase rate at fast fashion outlets and put the money you would normally spend on a weekly shop at your favourite store into one item a month or every few months maybe that you will truly care for and cherish.

3. Buy Handmade and Support Local Brands

Buying from the big chains means your clothes are most likely made in large factories in China or India in poor working conditions. Buying locally from a designer means you can talk with the designer on their working practices in person and most likely the products will be handmade or made locally in small industrial areas with more concentration on the lifestyle of the workers.

4. Care

By caring for your clothes you provide a longer garment life. It takes a lot of energy to grow, manufacture and transport that cotton t-shirt—but did you know that the most energy goes into caring for it? One load of washing uses 151 litres of water. One load of drying uses 5 times more energy than washing. In saying this you can therefore also reduce your environmental impact by thinking about how you launder your garment. More info here.

5. Re-wear

Rather than throwing your old clothes away, sell or give away those pieces that can be reworn. Someone will love getting a new piece to their wardrobe and it will give the garment a whole new life wear. There are a number of companies set up locally and globally to collect clothes and old textiles to aid these processes.

6. Reuse

Clothes and textiles that cannot be reworn can be turned into other products such as cleaning cloths.

7. Recycle

Recycling is a great way to help reduce the natural material sourcing. Recycled clothes are those unable to be reworn or reused and turned into into textile fibres then used for things such as insulation.

A zero-waste fashion industry seems unlikely but as a consumer you can help reduce the tonnage of textiles sent to landfill each year and the natural resources consumption through these simple steps. With more global companies getting on board the sustainable train, we will hopefully see a reduction in waste and pollution numbers and reduce the impact of the industry on the environment. We also hope to see more com

Rug Lane supports sustainable fashion and shopping and aims to promote ways to reuse, rewear, reduce and recycle in Hong Kong. Come join us at the upcoming Rug Lane Vintage and Secondhand Clothing Market on November 12 at Ethos Gallery in Kennedy Town where you can sell and purchase secondhand clothing and accessories. Details can be found here. You can also pledge your ZERO WASTE WEEK goals on the Zero Waste Week website.

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