Oblivion is easy. It’s simple and comfortable to stay firmly behind a veil of ignorance, failing to acknowledge of the effect your behaviours have on the world beyond your own four walls. But in the retail sector, more and more consumers are peering around the veil, understanding that their role in the value chain does not end at thank you for your order. “Fast fashion”—the industry term for cheaply-produced and low-priced clothing—could account for more than a quarter of the global carbon budget by 2050, according to a report published by fashion designer Stella McCartney in partnership with Dame Ellen MacArthur. And as consumer awareness increases, popularity of mass-production—and maybe mass-pollution—brands and platforms decrease. Rising to fill the gaps are brands with environmental and social conscience woven right into the very fabric of their corporations.
Take Patagonia, for example. The brand offers high-quality items; ones with a high but well-deserved price tag. Materials and production are both ethically sourced, but where Patagonia truly stands apart is not unilaterally focused on merchandise sales. Patagonia funds multiple sustainability programs, from funding environmental grants to Patagonia Action Works, providing funding and support for grassroots activists, to Worn Wear, a resale and mobile repair unit focused on extending the life of Patagonia products. The brand is impressively transparent with its Footprint Chronicles, explaining in depth every part of its value chain from raw materials sourcing to production.
While Patagonia easily springs to mind as a commendable example of a sustainability powerhouse, smaller firms are building themselves up on a similar platform of transparency. San Francisco-based clothing company Everlane explains its foundation as “radical transparency”, providing a full cost breakdown—or as the brand describes it, the “true cost”—of each and every item offered for sale. And despite charging less than traditional competitors by more than half for almost all product offerings, company profits have been on the up-and-up since 2013.
As a whole, consumers are growing a conscience, it seems. Quality over quantity, in all steps of the process, prevails, and brands built on sustainability are quickly rising to the top.