In a market economy driven by price, and whose key performance indicators like profit & loss are used to gauge the competitiveness of a company, sustainability is one way of measuring how much value a company’s products and services are worth and if consumers are likely to buy what they are selling.
Sustainability, for Eustace Designs, means thinking of tomorrow today.
In this issue of Articulate, we briefly explore the Apparel industry through the lens of sustainability, using PESTLE as a tool to peek into the business environment in which both producers like Eustace Designs and consumers like you interact. Our thoughts are based on the periods in which our business Eustace Designs has been a ‘player’ in the UK Apparel industry, namely in men’s fashion.
Politically - both UK and EU regulations are driving clothing brands towards sustainable fabrics and the sourcing of it. In turn, consumers have more visibility in what they are buying. For example, both UK and EU regulations on fabrics, mandate that the composition and content of fabrics must be clearly labelled on a garment. Those brands who are not selling the purest form of a fabric in the clothing they advertise are not easily able to trick consumers into buying it. This means their supply chain (textile suppliers) must also conform to these regulations if they wish to enjoy the patronage of clothing brands.
There is a change in investment attitude. Government backed schemes like Made Smarter and grants like UK Research and Innovation are more easily accessible to apparel businesses; particularly those businesses whose strategy includes small batch production or/and those who seek to adopt cutting edge technology like blockchain and 3D scanning into their business models.
Source Made Smarter and UKRI
Economically - there is a realisation that buying it cheap could mean buying it twice. In these uncertain economic cycles, fast fashion; low quality and cheap, is giving way to circular fashion; reusability and durability. Businesses are constantly scanning the market for high skills and quality craftsmanship to meet demand. This is more prevalent among independent clothing brands and premium brands whose value proposition relies on the longevity of what they are selling.
Alternative options to ownership like rentals, no longer peculiar to occasions and events but also as a lifestyle is becoming a mainstay. This trend is seen as a cost-saver and more dynamic in its offering as consumers keep up with latest trends by ‘rotating’ and avoiding ‘piling up’ clothing. A 2023 Vogue article listed Vince Unfold as one of the best clothing rental services for women. In the men’s domain, Heat and Moss Box, endorsed by GQ, are worthy mentions.
Socially - if there is one factor that has spurned on the fashion industry, it is the social factor; gender, place of birth, profession, social status, and trends. Concepts like gender-neutral are amply demonstrated in clothing and the market for it is a burgeoning one. Gender neutral brands like Riley Studio create the durable pieces that people in that space can express themselves in. Similarly, is Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), where online purveyors like TheLuxeLend provide the platform for collaboration.
The role of influencers, in particular micro-influencers contribute to growing a brand’s following. Micro-influencers selected to represent brands are normally the target audience themselves. The goal is to build a demographically homogeneous following that sees the value in the goods being sold or service provided. Fashion bloggers and critics equally play a role in educating consumers and matching them to brands that appeal to their values. Respected names like Simon Crompton (Permanent Style) and David Evans (Grey Fox Blog) are some examples.
There is also the power of social media. Through complex algorithms, hashtags connect like minds, reels direct people to Instagram pages customised to meet the taste of the consumer. People on social media are shopping far more than they realise. Despite its security concerns, TikTok has become a shopper’s souk where established brands jostle like Marrakech traders with independent brands and grey-market sellers to entice new and returning shoppers.
Technologically - the internet is the mother of all things. The Apparel industry has leveraged the internet to understand consumer behaviour and drive sales. With online shopping, consumers can, with a few clicks of a button, purchase what they need without having to step out of their room, never mind their front door. But online shopping goes deeper than that. With concepts like augmented reality, consumers can see what they are purchasing in 3D, whether that’s footwear or sunglasses. Virtual try-ons are another way to see how a garment would look on the buyer. 3D scanning really lends itself to better decision making, particularly for clothing that requires a closer fit or is closer to the body. For those who are more ‘hands-on’, platforms like Creator Studio - where anyone can design, make, and print professionally looking garments using generative AI, are bringing awareness to hyper bespoke fashion. These are just examples on the consumer’s side.
On the other side of the table, the concept of virtual sampling is gradually becoming the modus operandi for brands ranging from mass production to haute couture. Time and money spent on moving samples from point A to B to achieve the final iteration for production is significantly cut short through 3D fashion software programmes like Optitex. These types of software create not just the patterns, but also plot, mark, and nest. Added to its features is 3D modelling that allows designers to simulate the patterns on avatars and diagnose the virtual garment by evaluating the degree of fit, tension, and stretch to name a few. This is accurately captured through the ability to simulate the behaviour of the garment on real life avatars – an adoption of best-in-class practices from the gaming industry. Companies like Daz3D and Alvanon have invested capital to make this innovation a game changer in the apparel industry. In addition, various body morphs, active positions, motion, and virtual runways provide all the scenarios for designers to understand how their garments look and ‘feel’.
All this ties in with the adoption of fabric converters. Through sophisticated scanners and cameras, physical fabrics are converted into digital fabrics. Clothing brands and textile businesses can better convince their customers to invest in luxury fabrics because the customer will have the chance to see what the fabric looks and feels like on an avatar in their mould. This value-adding process of fabric digitisation is drawing interest from customers who wouldn’t dream of parting with their money for a bespoke navy unstructured silk and cashmere-blend blazer, if all they could see, and touch was a swatch.
Legally - it is now in this part of the world at least, the minimum expectation that workers in the garment industry be paid a living wage. This is embedded in UK’s national minimum wage law and applies to workers 23 years and over. This law is partly down to the efforts of ‘little platoons’ like Ethical Trade Initiatives that have shed light on some of the harsh pay conditions workers were being subjected to. Abroad, in countries like Bangladesh which employs more than 4 million workers and is the second highest exporter of clothing, there are calls by clothing brands for garment factories to pay workers more as some workers earn as low as 8,000 taka (£59.71) a month.
On ethics, social enterprises like Fashion Enter take a firm position. With the adoption of digital systems like Galaxius, it is apparent to those on the shopfloor, what level of work was done on a garment, to what quality, time, and how much was paid for the work activity.
Source Eustace Designs
Consumers on the other hand, are increasingly conscious of these issues. When scrolling web pages of clothing brands or viewing the tag of a clothing item, they are asking themselves ‘where it is made?’ ‘What certification or attestation has this company or product attained?’.
Environmentally - the environmental factor is probably the most topical of all the factors. There is a debate as to why this is so. Perhaps it is because climate change is the most controversial issue of the day. Or that the environment is something we inherit as a collective asset such that no person can singlehandedly acquire and manage, therefore, we must depend on the cooperation of others to conserve it.
As previously mentioned, the industry is adopting practices like virtual sampling and doing more with less. These are driven by the need to innovate and meet demands, whilst conserving the environment by reducing carbon footprint. Although, a lot more is required on that front if the Apparel industry is to reduce its carbon footprint. Its parent the fashion industry is the second highest contributor of greenhouse gases and apparels are a main contributor to it. Take for example, every year, 1 billion clothing items are discarded into incinerators, 11% of those garments are never worn for reasons such as poor design, wrong design, over production, etc.
Stepping back from it, in its individual parts, a lot is happening. Take for example, the use of water-soluble dyes is now the first option and not the last consideration for most clothing brands. This applies to dyes for fabric and dyes for printing.
Quicker, energy-saving machines are where money is being invested because they reduce heat, carbon, and noise. Some of these machines are used in the production of sustainable natural man-made textiles like Lenzing’s Lyocell and Smartfiber’s Seacell: the former derived from eucalyptus while the latter from a combination of seaweed and wood cellulose.
Local production and small-scale production, a popular strategy adopted by independent and niche brands, is a trend that is becoming a culture, thus ‘Made in China’ and made by the thousands is fading away.
And to how these garments are packaged, sustainability is evidently woven into the practices of established businesses like Printing Blue and newcomers like the London-based solution provider Kvatt. Printing Blue uses recycled materials as the base material of their product offering, whilst Kvatt leverage returnable and reusable packaging as their value proposition.
On a separate note, and on the consumer side, Ginetex offers an encyclopaedia-like approach to how consumers can better care for their garments through detailed descriptions on wash and care instructions, to encourage longer use of garments.
Care Symbols, Source Ginetex
…As debutants in the Apparel industry, Eustace Designs is proud of the strides the industry is making to reduce emissions and drive innovation. Equally, there is demonstrable evidence that the industry is a space where people can earn a respectful living and consume products and services that are reliable.
Source Eustace Designs
On our part, we remain a male undergarment brand, committed to designing our products digitally, and manufacturing in the UK. Not only will we adhere to the regulations and legislation on matters like labelling and wages, we will also uphold the highest standards and seam together best practices. Where viable, we will adopt technologies like 3D scanning to add value to our brand and improve the decision-making of our customers. Some of the businesses mentioned are part of our network and others we look forward to a working relationship with, either as partners, complementors, or coopetitors.