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How to start a sustainable fashion brand [Ultimate Guide]

Includes the most popular certifications in eco-fashion 

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Are you planning to start a sustainable fashion brand? Here’s a checklist to guide you through the must-haves to run a successful eco-friendly & ethically made clothing brand. Find out what are the top certifications to gain the right sustainability credentials.

Starting a fashion brand and making it a successful business will be an adventure. Especially if you are someone with no prior knowledge of how a fashion brand works. On top of this, you want to make sure that the brand you are building follows the most updated sustainability and ethical compliances. But how does one do it?

In this article, you will learn the basic framework required for making the right decisions while starting your own fashion brand. For better understanding, this article will be divided into two sections.

In section 1, we will look at the 10 steps that are required for starting a successful fashion brand and in section 2, we will dive deep into sustainability certificates that are available in the textile industry to ensure that your brand purchases are sustainable and ethical.

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SECTION 1

10 Steps to Start Your Sustainable Fashion Brand

1. Decide your Sustainable Clothing Brand’s Niche

In fashion, there are a huge number of niche markets available for someone to get into. A niche is a specialized segment of the market for a particular kind of product. Men casual wear, premium wear, activewear, yoga wear etc. are some of the niche markets available in the fashion industry.

It is ideal to select a niche that you are passionate about and there is a gap in the market for the same. Building a product based on your requirement can also be a great start. Imagine if you are a yoga practitioner and you wish for a certain type of product to be available in the market but no one has made anything yet. Then it is high time that you build one.

If you are unsure about this strategy, just follow the social handles of celebrities who are in your targeted audience category. (A target audience refers to the specific group of consumers most likely to buy your product.) Make a list of all the clothes they are wearing in their latest uploads. There you have a possible collection.

Without a niche market, it will be difficult to focus on brand building as you grow. That is why this step is crucial.

2. Choose a Brand Name & Create a Digital Presence

Brand name plays an important role in the success of a fashion brand. It literally sets you apart from others. If you do not have a name in your mind, you can take inspiration from generating a name easily using this business name generator.

Once you have a few names that you are planning to finalise, check for the availability of the domain and social media handle. I really do not want you to register your brand name and both domain and social media handles are taken. It would become a disaster, which I want you to avoid.

Only finalise a brand name that has domain and social media handles available. 

3. Finalize Designs

Before you panic about your lack of knowledge in fashion designing, let me assure you that you don’t need to have a degree in fashion design to come up with a collection. All you need is a bunch of photos to put ideas together on your desired clothing item and a bit of good taste.

Check up competitors websites to get clearer on size guides and material composition and other information about the product.

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4. Finding a Manufacturer (where Fair Trade & Sustainability comes into play)

Did you know that most of the apparel in the world are manufactured by a handful number of countries? Countries like China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and India are at the forefront of apparel manufacturing. But it is important to ensure they are working under fair trade standards. 

Whenever possible, we encourage you to keep manufacturing locally. You’ll be surprised about the increasing amount of local factories, instead of outsourcing the whole production. Your customers will also appreciate that the product has been both designed and made in the country. 

If you are in one of these countries, then you can easily find manufacturers with an easy google search. In case you want to minimize risk while dealing with manufacturers, you can use sewport to find apparel manufacturers of various MOQs (Minimum order quantity)

It is better to approach 2-3 manufacturers at once. Share the product images with them and ask them to send you samples made with eco-friendly textiles. Samples may have certain flaws, but with iteration, they can be perfected. Go with the manufacturer that suits your budget, quality and other factors.

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5. Creating a Website for your Eco-Fashion Brand

There are numerous ways in which you can develop your website/e-commerce site without knowing to code. Integrating payments, shipping and inventory management only takes a couple of clicks, especially when using integrated platforms like Shopify, Woocommerce or Wix. 

If you do not know where to start with your marketing, you can book a 30-minutes FREE Eco-Consultation with team OurGoodBrands here!

6. Pricing & Positioning your Sustainable Fashion Brand

Pricing plays an important role in the number of sales you receive. And for this, we recommend you really dig deeper into pricing marketing techniques. Pricing strategy also helps you in positioning your product in the consumer’s mind in a certain way. 

Depending on the type of people you want to target, you can set prices accordingly. The golden rule is to start with a profit of 20% – 30%.

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7. Eco-Packaging & Labelling

For an e-commerce business, packaging and labelling have direct impact on the customer experience. It is the top emotional interaction with the brand. We have a whole eco-packaging business section for you to explore more. Besides eco. go for personalized packaging and labelling as it increases the value of the product. Add something extra to please your customer.

Since packaging waste makes up one-third of landfills each year, please consider sustainable packaging like Noissue.

Small business looking for sustainable packaging, compostable mailer and tissue? noissue!

8. Setting Realistic Goals

Once you have the above steps executed, it is important to have set realistic goals. It means creating a roadmap for the upcoming few months. It should have detailed goals and how to achieve them. Some goals should sound like this.

  • Make at least one sale a day
  • Post a new content everyday on social media

We can help you to start, position and target, as well as design the right communication strategy for your brand (including impact measurement!). Book a 30-minutes FREE Eco-Consultation with team OurGoodBrands here!

9. Marketing & Promotion your Sustainable Clothing Collections

When it comes to fashion, marketing is crucial for success. Marketing helps to share the brand story and helps you connect with the audience in a much deeper way. There are many types of marketing but you can choose to go with paid or organic. Depending on your choice the strategies will change accordingly. 

It’s always important to allocate some marketing budget to ensure you get your product out there! If you are on a tight budget, it is better to start off with a small marketing budget (rather than none!) and scale as you grow your business.

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10. Scale your Sustainable Fashion Brand

If everything goes well, you will start receiving consistent orders for your products. During this stage, it is recommended to diversify and include various products to increase the chances to make sales.

For example, if you start with yoga wear, try to include yoga mats and nutritional and natural supplements range to complement a purchase. Upsells are a great way to help you increase your chances for higher sales volume.

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SECTION 2

Sustainability Certifications in Fashion [Beginners Guide]

Now you know exactly how to launch a sustainable fashion brand. Now you need some certifications that back up your sustainability credentials. 

In order to achieve this, we have to ensure that the parties involved in the entire supply chain are also following sustainable models and practices. This will include yourself. Or the raw material used for making the product should be naturally sustainable, like hemp.

Because there is no universal definition for “sustainability”, and they vary across the board, we want to help the consumer identify our brand as an ethically and eco-friendly made label. This is where we depend on third party certifications that have the highest credibility in the market. 

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What are sustainability certifications?

Sustainability certifications are nothing but guidelines used by businesses that demonstrate their commitment to a good environment, social and ethical practices. There are more than 400 types of such certifications available. This indicates that the market defines sustainability in more than 400 ways.

It is important to choose the certifications that align with our products. Most of them are provided by NGOs and other independent third parties. We have to admit that some certifications are shady as their auditing process is not thorough.

Sustainability certifications have certain features attached to it. They are:

  1. Independent: Sustainability certifications are provided by independent organisations.
  2. Standard Based: There are always some guidelines or standards to be met in order to qualify for the certification. This prevents measures against companies that try to outdo their competition by spurious claims.
  3. Verifiable: Certifications and products can be verified against practices. It is done by independent third-party organizations. 
  4. Voluntary: Obtaining these certifications are not mandatory for companies. It is a voluntary act.
  5. No government regulatory requirements: These certificates don’t come under any government making them adaptable and flexible. The guidelines are often market-driven.

In this section, we will look at the most popular and widely used sustainability certifications by the fashion industry and apparel manufacturers.

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What are the most popular sustainability certification?

Here is the list of some of the top sustainability certifications available in the world. They are popular because they are authentic and can be traced. Many multinational fashion brands use these certifications to establish them as a sustainable brand.

1. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

Global Organic Textile Standard is an internationally recognized certification that certifies for organic products. They ensure the use of organic materials at every stage of the production cycle, GOTS conducts on-site auditing. It checks the entire supply chain from harvesting to manufacturing and labelling. If any chemicals is involved, then it should also meet the strict environmental and toxicology criteria to become a GOTS supplier/brand.

How much it costs to get GOTS certified?

GOTS certification costs differently to various businesses depending on their annual sales. But the basic certification cost for a business having up to $25000 in organic product sales will be charged around $1100 + travel cost (If more than one plant is there for inspection) + licensing fee ($165)

How to start a sustainable fashion brand [Ultimate Guide]

For more information: https://www.global-standard.org/

2. Fair Trade International

Fair Trade International is a certification given to small and medium businesses and traders to certify that they follow its guidelines. The foundation of fair trade international is price. As per the certification, the companies are paying farmers a minimum price to protect them from market price falls. It makes sure that farmers are not exploited in difficulties. When farmers benefit, their whole community prospers.

Fair Trade international cost is calculated per kilogram of items sold. It varies from 6 cents/kg to 13 cents/kg depending on countries.

How to start a sustainable fashion brand [Ultimate Guide]

For more information: 

https://www.fairtrade.net/standard/fairtrade-standards

 

3. OEKO-TEX

OEKO-TEX is a popular certification that analyses and certifies every part of a finished piece including threads, buttons or other accessories, has been independently tested for “harmful substances and therefore is harmless to human health”.

The average cost of OEKO-TEX certification is $6500. All the certified businesses are listed on their website for other people to explore buyers with its certification. This acts as a source for manufacturers to find buyers.

How to start a sustainable fashion brand [Ultimate Guide]

For more information: https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/

4. BCI Cotton

Better Cotton Initiative reduces the impact cotton production have on the environment by using better crops and less pesticides. It focuses on improving the livelihoods and economic condition of the cotton-producing areas. It ensures better pay for the farmers. It is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world.

The BCI certification cost includes two parts, membership fees + variable volume-based fees. The membership fee is calculated on lint footprint and volume based fee is calculated on how much better cotton is sourced.

The membership fee starts from 6000 euros, and the volume-based fee starts from 11 euros if the volume is less than 200 million tonnes.

How to start a sustainable fashion brand [Ultimate Guide]

For more information: https://www.bettercotton.org/

5. Organic Content Standard (OCS)

Organic Content Standard certifies that a product is made up of 5%-100% organic material by tracking the flow of raw material from its source to the final product.

The cost of certifying with OCS starts from $1100 + $150 as a licensing fee.

How to start a sustainable fashion brand [Ultimate Guide]

For more information: https://textileexchange.org/standards/organic-content-standard/

6. Global Recycled Standard (GRS)

Global Recycling Standard is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of recycled content, chain of custody, social and environmental practice and chemical restrictions.

The cost of acquiring this certification starts from $1100 + $300 licensing fee.

How to start a sustainable fashion brand [Ultimate Guide]

For more information: https://textileexchange.org/standards/recycled-claim-standard-global-recycled-standard/ 

These are only a handful of sustainability certifications in the textile manufacturing industry. 

While developing your products, makes sure that the factories that are involved in the production of your products have any of these certifications. It is also to be noted that these factories also acquire raw materials from certified sellers. This way you can make sure that your fashion brand is sustainable across the entire supply chain.

I hope that this article was helpful for you to have a general idea of how to start a sustainable fashion brand from scratch. Now it’s your turn to take action. Good luck!

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Palanivel K

Palanivel K is a textile engineering technocrat with more than three decades of experience in woven fabric manufacturing. He is heading a team of over 300+ people at one of South India’s leading manufacturing company.

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