Most Canadians have heard of sustainable fashion but do you know what it involves? Sustainable fashion, or Eco-fashion, is a term used to describe the way we manufacture fashion textiles or products. It includes the production of raw materials (e.g. cotton, bamboo, hemp, polyester), manufacturing processes, work process/working conditions, fair wages, and how environmentally friendly the final product is, even after its use. We have reached the point where we need to take immediate action to protect our environment and try to repair some of the damage we have inflicted on our planet over the last few centuries.
The Importance of Sustainable Fashion
Clothing, like food and shelter, is one of our basic needs. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the global apparel industry is the 4th largest industry in the world - worth 3 trillion dollars, or 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Unfortunately, according to Forbes, it also generates 10% of global carbon emissions. Aside from the pollution, the fashion industry also plays a part in soil degradation and destruction of the rainforests.
Let’s not forget that clothing made in Third-World countries is produced by people who work under horrible conditions for long hours and extremely low wages. The European Parliament referred to these garment workers as “slave labour.” Additionally, according to the International Labour Organization, an estimated 260 million children work in the garment industry - of those children, 170 million are considered child labour (defined by the UN as doing work for which they are too young or is considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited.)
Main Issues Related to Sustainability
To achieve sustainability in fashion, four specific issues must be addressed successfully:
1. Consumption and pollution of water during all the stages of the garment process (from cultivation of raw material to how often you wash them).
2. The emission and energy needed to produce and maintain your garments.
3. The amount and types of chemicals used in the cultivation of raw material and the manufacturing of fabrics.
4. The waste created by the manufacturing process and our discarded clothes.
Sustainable fashion practices aim to produce garments or clothing from natural resources that can be easily replaced. Also, once their life-cycle is completed, the garments can be naturally reabsorbed into our ecosystem causing minimal damage. Of course, sustainable garments must be produced and used in a way that carbon emissions are minimized across an entire chain of contributors: by the farmer who plants the crops, the fabric and garment manufacturers, and even by consumers who buy and wear them. Currently, only 20% of all clothing is recycled.
Consequently, the fashion industry needs to become more sustainable, and create garments that are fully recyclable after we use them.
The Canadian Sustainable Fashion Industry
In Canada, there is a growing number of fashion designers like myself who want to produce clothes that cause minimal harm to the environment and are socially fair. For example, all fabrics used to manufacture Brenda Laine Designs are supplied by Canadian companies that produce functional textiles that are environmentally and socially responsible.
Taking Steps in the Right Direction
There is an increasing number of small and midsized clothing companies identifying as “slow fashion” - meaning they produce clothing that aims to prevent the exploitation of labour and the environment. To support such costly initiatives the Canadian government has been encouraged to establish regulations such as carbon pricing and a landfill ban that will require clothing manufacturers to take back end-of-use products for recycling. The government can also help the Canadian sustainable fashion industry by offering financial and tax incentives to decarbonize and innovate. Furthermore, our government can help by establishing take-back and sorting systems for recycling our clothes.
On April 18-24th of this year, Fashion Revolution Week 2022 was held to discuss how we can create a just and equitable fashion system for everyone. Environmentalists and fashionistas discussed issues regarding this year’s theme of Money, Fashion, and Power.
There were discussions regarding fair wages and ethical working conditions for those working in the manufacturing sector, the responsibility and actions of big brands, overconsumption, and how the fashion industry can help stop climate change.
Brenda Laine Designs - Sustainable Fashion
The fabrics I use are produced in mills that meet the highest standards required for global and international certification. In fact, all fabrics come with certification GOTS (Global Organic Textile Certification), or OEKO-TEX®Standard 100, a certification process that tests for harmful substances used during all stages of production (raw materials, intermediate, and end product). This includes testing for illegal substances, legally regulated substances, known harmful (but not legally regulated) chemicals, and other parameters for health care.
My sustainable, organic clothing line has existed since 2009, entirely in retail/wholesale up until March 2021. Then I began working hard to launch my online D2C (Direct to Customer) side of the business. The garments designed and made for Brenda Laine Designs provide a comfortable fit, with tailoring and elegance allowing a woman to feel that she is “dressed!”
The garments we produce are designed to last. I choose to use high-quality fabrics such as organic bamboo, hemp, linen, and cotton, as well as woven fabrics and Tencel blends. All garments are machine washable and well-made classic designs that are always 'in style'. We want to give you the option to buy fewer clothes that you will be able to wear longer and more often, and help shatter the “Pareto Principle” which states that 80% of clothing in your closet gets worn 20% of the time.
The Process of Creating Brenda Laine Designs Sustainable Clothing
I work at home in my studio and hand draft patterns of all my designs. I sew my samples, reworking the pattern, and re-sampling until I get the exact fit and look I'm after. Then the pattern is sent to the manufacturer who enters it into the computer (digitizes my hand-drafted pattern) and grades it to create a range of sizes.
The manufacturer then sews another sample (from their new digitized version of the pattern - to be sure it has been translated perfectly into the system). The sample is sent to me for inspection to see if I want to make any final alterations to the pattern or make any refinements to the design. In this way, I have complete control over my design and the finished garment. I can be confident about what the finished product from the factory will look and fit like.
How Brenda Laine Garments are Manufactured
All my garments are made by a small Vancouver manufacturing company that I have worked with for over 10 years. The company is headed by a woman who started her career as a fashion designer. She employs a pattern technician, fabric cutter and production manager, as well as 7 sewers. Therefore, I can ensure my customers receive high-quality garments produced by individuals who received a fair wage for their hard work.