As a heritage based African fashion brand, sustainability is a core brand value that sits at the heart of everything we do. Every decision we make, from our materials to manufacturing, is informed by the environmental impact. We understand the importance of preventing further damage to the planet and people whilst producing our garments.
This is why we uphold strong ethical commitments to the communities we work with. Working collaboratively with the local artisans who create our collections allows us to support them every step of the way. We are always transparent, so that our customers can have trust in the entire process.
Our dedication to ethical practices has inspired us to create a sustainability series. Within this, we will be highlighting the things that make a business truly sustainable, whilst debunking the myths and confusion surrounding some of the most commonly used practices.
What is sustainable fashion?
In the current climate of fast fashion, sustainability has become a hot topic - and rightly so. But as more and more people push back against the practices of bigger brands, sustainability has quickly become an industry buzzword. Greenwashing - where a brand exaggerates or lies about their values and ethical practices - is a common marketing technique.
How do you know if a brand is sustainable?
Contrary to popular opinion, sustainability in fashion extends above and beyond the fabrics used. For a brand to be truly sustainable, they must meet the following criteria at every step of their production line.
Social sustainability is a huge factor that is often overlooked. How a business treats their employees must be taken into account. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a commitment pledge for businesses that ensures they are using socially, economically and environmentally responsible practices that do not negatively impact the environment. While it is important to look out for a companies CSR, you should also be mindful that this is not always a true representation of what is going on behind the scenes.
A more reliable way to determine whether or not a brand is sustainable is by looking for certifications like B Corp and Fair Trade. These are given to companies who are consistently transparent about their staff working conditions and waste management. The Transparency Pledge is another great initiative whereby businesses provide the locations and names of their factories as well as the number of workers. Sharing this information at such an integral point in the supply chain prevents people from being exploited in detrimental working conditions.
What are the best sustainable materials?
Once you have examined all other credentials, the materials chosen should be considered carefully. Fabric choice directly affects sourcing, processing and disposal, so any brand claiming to be sustainable without harnessing eco-friendly materials may be using greenwashing tactics.
Cotton is renowned for being wasteful due to the large quantities of water it takes to produce. A single pair of jeans uses roughly 20,000 litres of water. As well as this, cotton tends to contain pesticides and chemicals which are harmful to the environment. At Sika’a, we use GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified cotton, which contains at least 95% organic fibres and is free from formaldehyde, bleach or other toxic substances. Organic cotton uses around 88% less water than its non-organic counterpart and companies that have obtained GOTS certificates must meet certain ecological and social standards across the textile supply chain.
Another alternative and one that we use frequently, organic silk can be created sustainably and is a low waste option when reared organically. It is produced naturally by silkworms that feed off of Mulberry trees, which rarely require pesticides. As a material made from natural fibres, organic silk is biodegradable and does not cause any environmental pollution. Despite this, silk does have certain drawbacks - the fact that it is non-vegan being one of the main ones. Unfortunately, the silkworms are killed during the extraction process, something that cannot be avoided.
Due to its durability and versatility, linen has been relied on in textiles for centuries. Made from the fibres of a flax plant, when left untreated by dyes it is entirely biodegradable. It does not need to be treated with pesticides either, uses considerably less water than cotton and produces little to no waste as the entire plant is absorbed in the process. For these reasons, it is one of the most reliable and sustainable materials within the fashion hemisphere.
Similarly to linen, hemp originates from the stem of a plant and is a natural fibre. It resembles linen in texture, too. What makes it such an attractive option is its ability to prosper on its own. It requires no pesticides or chemicals because it naturally eliminates these. Organic hemp needs very little water to thrive, replenishes the nutrients it uses from the surrounding soil and takes small amounts of land to grow. Because of this it has been coined a ‘self-offsetting crop.’
The majority of lyocell comes from eucalyptus trees, which naturally grow in abundance on land unfit for crops. After being combined with the pulp from other trees, it then goes through a closed-loop process that utilises low energy and all-natural resources. Lyocell fibres are biodegradable and water wasted is recycled, while the need for harsh chemicals is eliminated early on in the harvesting process. Furthermore, washing natural fibres does not release harmful microfibres into our waterways which disrupt the delicate ecosystem.
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