Bring To Light: What does ‘being sustainable’ really mean?

 

‘Sustainable’, a word that simply refers to something that can be done or maintained over a long and continuous period of time. Often sustainability in fashion focuses solely on the environment and while that is one very important aspect, economic and social factors are often overlooked. We like to associate sustainability with saving the earth and picking up plastic on beaches or planting trees, which is great, but what about nurturing our society and ensuring equality and human rights?

We all love to buy new clothes. Getting that new cosy jumper or breezy summer dress always feels exciting - and you don’t have to give that up to be sustainable! However, making informed choices can make a difference, and we believe that brands have a responsibility to be transparent so that everyone can make the best decisions for themselves and the environment.

To make it easier we are breaking this topic down into 3 categories, to explain how sustainability can cover different aspects of a clothing brand. There is no one way to be sustainable for brands or consumers, and every decision can contribute to change. Hopefully this article will give you some insight into the fashion industry and will get you inspired to reflect on your own impact.

Let’s start with environmental sustainability within the fashion industry, as this is the aspect most often covered when people talk about being ‘sustainable’.

 

Environmental Impact

This impact points to a way of operating from an environmental friendly policy in every step of the supply chain. This can be done in the phase of fabric production as saving water and energy, with less or Non-chemical, a responsible use of resources, but it can also be using plastic free packaging or carbon neutral transportation from factory to brand and from brand to consumers.

What we are doing for the environment:

  • Our factory uses energy saving servo motors on all equipment (which saves 80-90% compared to traditional clutch motors) and energy saving LED lighting throughout the factory, saving 70-80% of energy saving compared to traditional lighting.
  • We promote slow fashion and only release a maximum of 2 collections a year. Our collections are small and we don’t produce many items to avoid overproduction and ultimately waste.
  • We ship with Royal Mail who was identified as the eco-friendliest delivery company in the UK.
  • All our packaging is recyclable or biodegradable, and where possible we use recycled materials or materials made from sustainable or surplus resources that would otherwise go to waste.
  • The factory we work with has a vigilant and robust recycling process, ensuring zero waste manufacturing. 100% of unused textile cut-offs are recycled into new materials such as insulation, sports equipment filler and carpet underlay.
  • We work with local suppliers as much as possible. This supports our local economies and provides shorter, less polluting transport routes. 
  • We source from Oeko-Tex 100 certified mills, meaning they don’t use harmful chemicals. We choose to work only with fabric mills who take their environmental impact seriously.

 

Social Impact

Social impact is anything that affects our communities and therefore has a negative impact on people. This includes safe, ethical and healthy labour conditions and fair living wages, but can also be translated to the branding approach. For example, brands can include diversity in their core business identity, and promote healthy beauty standards with their products. The main reason clothing production is usually outsourced to other countries is because garment labour there is cheaper. A lot of brands rely on producing cheaply to make a profit, rather than safeguarding and nurturing their workers, doesn’t that seem crazy? 

What we are doing for the social impact:

  • All our lingerie is 100% made in the UK. Our factories ensure employees are paid at or above the London living wage, and are treated well and fairly. The factory provides a clean and safe working environment.
  • We offer products that are size inclusive in their cup sizes, focusing on small band sizes and big cups. As we know first-hand how hard this is to find.
  • We keep sales and discounts to a minimum to promote more mindful and conscious buying practices.
  • We do our best to be transparent about what Phaein does, and with this educate people about our products and the fashion industry, so that everyone can make informed decisions.
  • Creating an awareness that no body looks the same and that our underwear might look different on different body types, by showing a diverse branding and healthy beauty standards.

 

Economic Impact

Fashion is a profitable business, that’s no secret. The global apparel market was valued at 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars in 2020. Cheap labour is often the preferred choice by most brands to keep prices low and profits high, but at which cost? This way of business is not sustainable at all, as this stimulates an unfair distribution of wealth and puts profits over our planet and people. This type of linear economy affects the market and makes high quality garment pricing not accessible for consumers. After all this doesn’t only affect the economy, but also the social, cultural and environmental aspects as well.

What we are doing for the economic impact:

  • We work with EU based mills, local suppliers as much as possible and producing 100% of our products in the UK. This strengthens our local economies and supports local businesses.
  • We sell directly to customers through Phaein’s website only, skipping wholesale retailers. This allows us to keep prices down for consumers. (If we did wholesale our £75 bras would end up priced around £120!)
  • We produce in small quantities to avoid overproduction and rarely offer sales and discounts, as this is only feasible with mass production and directly promotes mass consumption. We care about stimulating conscious and healthy consumption behaviour.

Ultimately sustainability is about becoming as conscious and responsible as possible for our planet and society. We’ve made a start and have many more plans to include more sustainable and circular practices, such as offering repairs to become a fully circular brand and finding ways to recycle old underwear (after all what do you do with old undies?). Join our newsletter to hear more about what we’re doing, and keep up to date with exciting developments within Phaein!

 

Written by Melisa Monti on behalf of Phaein. Melisa is a creator and copywriter with a background in sustainable fashion design.