Fashion and construction: unlikely partners in promoting responsible sourcing?


In an effort to expand my horizons and meet new people passionate about making their industry more sustainable, I have been seeking out new events to attend. On 28th September I went along to the Sustainable Fashion Drinks hosted by the Ethical Fashion Forum at the Clerk and Well in London. Considering I have spent most of my recent career in the construction industry (think 99% white and male – not an official stat) it was really refreshing to be in the minority! The attendees included well known magazines, high street retailers and independent producers.

After some introductory talks we broke up into groups to discuss specific topics. I joined the discussions focussed on “Making sustainable fashion visible” and “Alternative business models”.

A lot of the conversations focused around the channels for communication, marketing campaigns, who should be an ambassador (Emma Watson was a very popular choice) and how to make waste clothes a resource. What was unclear was how these companies were demonstrating they were being sustainable, and I’m sure many are taking different approaches. What I found fascinating when I did ask about how these organisations were reducing their impact, they were all focussed on the ethical, or social, side of sustainability. This was a refreshing change from the industry I was from, where the focus tends to be on energy, water and waste, though this is shifting.

However, the simplest way for any organisation to show they are being sustainable is to publically report on their energy, water and waste impacts. Today, any organisation can open up a spreadsheet and start recording their energy and water use, by reading their meters, and waste can be measured by counting the number of bin bags you dispose of. Set some targets, record your data on a regular basis and you’re showing that you are considering your impact, in its most basic form. If you can get a Hollywood celeb to shout about it too that’s great! Sometimes I think, as passionate sustainability advocates, we forget that the easiest and most basic of actions can still have a huge impact.

I am not saying that responsible sourcing schemes are not of value, I am a huge supporter of responsible sourcing certifications. I have implemented various schemes and had the pleasure of working with FSC, Grown in Britain, BES 6001 and ASi. When they are done right, they are fantastic for all parties involved, increasing trust, raising standards and improving reputations. I’m simply saying, if you’re starting on your sustainability journey there are things you can do today, right now, which will help you be more sustainable!

The more I thought about this the more I realised how many similarities there are between the sustainability of the construction materials supply chain and the fashion industry supply chain: sourcing from developing countries (particularly India and China); potentially vulnerable labour; plant based materials (timber, bamboo, cotton); transport of goods; waste reuse/recycling; raw material resources; fair pay; accommodation; work place conditions; health and safety; pollution prevention; water efficiency; emissions reductions.

They are all the same challenges, surely the two industries could work together, learn together and progress faster together? Maybe the new ISO 20400 will facilitate a new era of collaboration.

I think energy, water and waste management should always be the first step on an organisations journey towards sustainability, and Totem Sustainability wants to make this easy and affordable for all organisations. Check out our website for more information about how we can help.

What do you think? Could the construction and fashion industry help each other? Are there any other industries you think could be part of this?

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