The fashion industry runs on two halves; the halve with desire, status, identity and the halve with more practical concepts of production and natural resources. Both these halves of the industry cannot exist without each other. The practical side of the industry often gets over shadowed by the other halve which has led to the creation of “fast fashion”. Fashion collections (often runway knockoffs) released every 2 weeks or so in impractical numbers made from cheap materials at sweat shops to shorten the shelf life of the products in order to promote more purchase. These clothes are made sacrificing labor rights, human rights, environmental standards and a lot more. Sustainable fashion is the only way out of this mess we have collectively created. A change from linear (cradle to grave) to circular (cradle to cradle) economy is the answer to the climate change, loss of biodiversity and global warming faced today. In the paper, steps to improve sustainability and elements of sustainable business model have been discussed. A case study of Everlane, a sustainable brand and its scope of improvement has also been highlighted in this review paper.
Sustainability can be described as the fulfilling of the needs of the present generation by maintaining an ecological balance and not compromising on the ability of the future generations to meet their needs. That is, it is development without disturbing nature or other social being. Apparel production and processing have become the reason for natural resources depletion, pollution, sweatshop like working conditions (for garment workers) and accumulating landfill waste from the past few decades. If it continues its conventional ways of production and manufacturing soon the planet will be left with no water to drink and no clean air to breathe. Figure 1 given below shows the negative impacts of the Apparel Industry .
There cannot be garments that are made 100% sustainable but the small steps taken can make a big difference and reduce pollution and environmental impact levels . Sustainable conscious customers are on the rise from a few decades. This rise is seeing a peak like never before and it will continue the same in the next few years to come as the pandemic has given us all the time reflect upon our life choices. Fashion and textile are not only the industries that are trying hard to go green, other prominent sectors such as food, automobile and medicine are also on the run. The materials used to make our products can be changed and altered to bring about more responsibility towards the environment. Fabrics such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, soya and pina are sustainable and well known to reduce environmental impact . Sustainable fashion has been more of consumer led movement where the brands and designers are forced to act upon the demands and desires to survive in the industry. The use of innovative materials can be hence an environmental as well as social responsibility fulfilment . When we say sustainable fabrics, it does not mean that only new innovation can count. The used fabrics can be collected from the consumers and instead of landing up in a landfill these can be used as the raw material for the next collection. This is what circular economies aim for. A completely zero-waste brand or company can be achieved only in the long run with significant efforts. The new raw materials can be sorted according to quality, grade, colour etc. and processed to make yarns and then fabrics . 3D bio-printing uses bio-compatible inks and materials that creates textile materials without causing pollution and does not compromise on quality . Bio-fabrication can solve a major issue faced by luxury fashion especially, that is leather. Leather tanning can be highly polluting and health risk to the workers as well. Lab grown leather is a great alternative to conventional animal leather. Replicating mammalian cells and regenerating cellulosic cells can be not only used for organ generation but also to make leather in labs [7,8]. Bio-fabrication involves cell and developmental biology material science and mechanical engineering. This can be field that provides employment opportunities to many in the upcoming
future . Advanced Denim is a new innovation that uses up to
92% less water and 32% less energy. These numbers can make
great environmental impact difference . Everlane is company
that promises the cleanest denim in the world with its partnership
with Saitex . Consumers demand for the labels to have more
information regarding the sustainability of denim they purchase
and are also whiling to pay extra to get sustainable denim .
These are the few steps that can improve the sustainability
index of individuals as well as companies given by Design and
Alter in their blog . Figure 2.
Organic fabric: Fabrics grown without the use of harsh
fertilizers, pesticides etc. are being utilized. Cotton is known
as the dirtiest crop because of the amount of water used for its
production along with all the chemicals. The organic counterpart
of it is said to be sustainable and less polluting. Fabrics like
bamboo, hemp, wild silk, and wool are also considered sustainable
provided other factors such as workers health and hygiene, wages
etc. are also taken care of well. There is an increasing trend in the
use of ethically made fabrics in the fashion industry especially by
the luxury and premium sectors.
3D Garments: When it comes to 3D garments many
intermediate processes of traditional garment manufacturing
are eliminated leaving a short supply and production chain. A
reduction in the supply or production chain length means lesser
energy and resources used. A 3D garment is printed right from
the yarn forgoing fabric manufacturing, fabric checking, testing,
cutting, processing and stitching. Hence 3D garments have less
carbon emission and is less polluting to the environment.
Bio-Fabrication: Bio-leather is bio-fabricated leather made
from artificially developed collagen and cultured fibroblasts.
This fabric is biodegradable and does not involve the killing of
livestock for their skin. Leather being made from the by-product
industry of the food industry does not make it any sustainable
because of the tanning and dyeing process that it has to undergo
before finished products . In vitro synthesis of collagen and
cultured fibroblasts allow the production of artificial leather that
is both bio-degradable and cruelty free. Bio-fabricated leather
can significantly reduce the use of energy, land, and greenhouse
gas emissions . It can reduce the production of livestock that
accounts for 30% of global land surface and 15-24% of global
greenhouse emissions .
Sustainable denim: Denim is the most used and stylized
fabric among youngsters as well as older ages. Denim processing
is very polluting, consumes tons of water and energy. Eco-savvy
consumers are now demanding more information about the
sustainability of their pair of jeans in the labels. Denim is one of
the fabrics that must undergo sustainable improvements in the
near future as we cannot do without and do with the current
levels of pollution it creates . Zero water technologies in
denim washing, ozone wash and laser wash should be employed
on a larger scale to reduce the impact of denim processing on the
environment. These are also chemical and energy saving, reduced
waste production, improved tensile/tear strength of finished
goods . For denim to be truly sustainable there are other
social issues that need to be resolved such as child labor, farming
practices for the raw material-cotton, chemical and insecticide use
and lung diseases caused by processing of cotton. These issues can
bring down the sustainability rating of even the world’s cleanest
denim in terms of processing .
Recycled plastic in apparel: Fast fashion clothes made from
cheap plastic materials (polyester, rayon, acrylic, polypropelene
etc.) are filling the landfills while plastic bottles, fishing nets etc.
are polluting oceans. We cannot wait for these to be decomposed
so the best way to improve our planet is to collect these reprocess
them into raw materials and incorporate these into new clothes,
shoes, bags etc. Well-known brands in mass market as well as
luxury are doing this. It is shown that up to 95% of textile waste
ending up in a landfill can be recycled. Integrating circular
economy into manufacturing practices can bring about the change
in the environmental impacts of the 21st century production and
manufaction . Adidas introduced its 3D printed soles and
world’s first sneakers produced from 95% recycled ocean plastic
. Levi Strauss have used at least 8 plastic bottles (recycled) in
producing it’s a pair of jeans . However just recycling existing
plastic and not creating new is not just enough. There should be
technology to produce synthetic fabrics and others that do not
shed micro-plastics. Micro-plastics have entered everywhere from
oceans, lakes to even human lungs. This can lead to adverse health
and environmental effects .
Zero waste designing: A company does not need solar panels,
water recycling plants etc. to be labeled as a sustainable business.
There are others ways they can achieve sustainability. At the
design stage the company can make use of environment friendly
fabrics and trims. Zero waste design where only minimal waste
is left after the product is manufactured is on the rise now. The
same applied to all the packaging material such as tags, polybags,
cartons, threads etc. can help decrease the carbon emission of the
company itself .
Manufacturing tools: Lean Manufacturing Methods such as
Value Stream Mapping (VSM), Standardization, 5S, just in Time
(JIT), Statistical Process Control (SPC) can be applied into the
manufacturing processing to save money, energy and resources.
This in turn will also reduce the company’s emission of greenhouse
gases and carbon footprint .
Supply chain management: A long supply chain can
complicate things for the company as well as the environment.
Air shipped goods have more carbon footprint than sea freight.
Keeping in mind that transportation of the raw materials and
that of finished goods itself cause a lot of pollution can help bring
new ways to reduce these. Locally sourcing raw materials and
packaging materials can help increase the sustainability index of
the manufacturer .
A sustainable business model would have four pillars. Value
Proposition, Business Infrastructure, Customer Interface and
Financial model. What makes it different from the conventional
business model is that a sustainable one will have socioenvironmental
values as its core goals. It also has nine building
blocks that include Key Partnerships, Key Activities, Key Resources
as part of the Business Infrastructure, Value Proposition,
Customers, Customer Relationships and Channels parts of its
core Value Proposition, Costs and Revenue as part its Financial
Model. All these works together to make sure that the company has financial profits that enable for growth and paying salaries, without compromising on the environmental and social values
/ commitments. Some of the companies that have integrated
sustainability into their core business models are Puma, Mud
Jeans and Dilling.
Puma: 10 for 20 strategies, aims to incorporate 10 of the
sustainable development goals proposed by UN by 2020 into their
core business model.
The figure below shows the different sustainable goals
announced by UN  (Figure 3).
Mud Jeans: All their jeans are a combination of recycled fiber
from previous jeans and organic cotton. Consumers are engaged
as suppliers as well when they return their worn out jeans. It’s a
zero waste system.
Dilling: The Danish organic underwear brand controls
production as well as organic dyeing of their products. The
chemicals that go into their products are controlled strictly. These
are some of the brands whose efforts at sustainability have been
Toms shoes: 1 for 1 strategy, for every pair of shoes that you
by a pair is given out to the needy free of cost. This Argentina
brand embraces its people’s love for football and is more of a
social business. The shoes are produced in local markets and hand
painted by craftsmen all over the world.
Ecolf: Broken fishing nets from small fisher men, bottles,
coffee waste etc. and repurposed and made into high quality
fabrics that finally gets converted into garments and bags.
Vigga: Maternity and kids wear that is organic and can be
accessed on a monthly basis and are returned after use. The
returned clothes are cleaning and shipped to other users again.
A representation of the sustainable business model has been
shown below  Figure 4.
Everlane is a San-Francisco based brand started with
sustainability as its core issue by Michael Preysman and Jesse
Farmer in 2010 [20,21]. The brand promises clothing and
accessories made with exceptional quality, ethical factories and
radical transparency. Everlane, as a sustainable brand has a wide
market now worldwide owing to their affordable prices, clean and
efficient website design and promotion through social platforms
including sponsorship offerings. However, the brand has been in
the lime light for certain other not so ethical issues recently after
the pandemic outbreak.
The information indicating Everlane’s sustainable practices has
been taken from their official website where they have explained
in detail about the factories, price and denim production. Other
information is cited from blogs, YouTube (mostly from influencers
who have been once been sponsored by the company) and a
document from the former employees of the brand addressing the
happenings inside the company circle. Comparative analysis of the
brands sustainability practices to the ideal is done using the texts,
models and extra reading materials from the “Sustainable Fashion
Everlane goes by the tagline- Exceptional quality, Ethical
factories, Radical transparency. In an interview, Michael Preysman,
Everlan’s co- founder says that they invest very less on advertising
on behalf of their brand and looks for the longevity of the brand
rather than making short-term profits. They prefer their brand
to be known to people by social media and word of mouth from
customers who have purchased from them. The brand wants
its consumers to be able to use their products for years to come
and not just a few weeks. This is exactly how an ideal sustainable
fashion start-up would come into picture. Their website takes you
through everything you would want to know about the brand’s
functioning except a few but critical aspects (for claiming to be
totally sustainable) which will be discussed later in this case study.
1. The brand uses recycled plastic bottles to make shoes,
manufactures carbon neutral sneakers, GOTS certified cotton and
has partnered with the LEED certified denim factory, Saitex to
produce the cleanest jeans.
2. They pay visits to their factories across the globe to make
sure ethical labor conditions and run factory audits to cross check
the factory certifications. The factories they work with are ones
that have some sort of reliable certification in place.
3. Every Black Friday, all their profits made on that
particular day would go to a charitable organisation or for
improving the lives of their workers.
4. The true costs of the garments are displayed on their
website. They have cut traditional retail markups in their pricing.
5. They source only high-quality materials to make their
products. (ex: Grade A- Cashmere sweaters, Italian shoes, Peruvian
Pima tees etc.)
6. Their partnership with Saitex, an LEED certified facility
to produce the world’s cleanest jeans. The factory recycles 98% of
its water through a 5 step filtration process that finally sends back
the water to the system. The water that comes out of the filtration
process is said to be drinkable. This factory utilizes only 0.4 liters
of water after recycling whereas traditional denim processing
would use up about 1500 liters in standard processing. The use
of solar power has led to an 80% decrease in the factory’s CO2
emissions. The jeans are 85% air dried after which recycled hot air
from the factory machines are used to dry them. Japanese fabric
is used to make these jeans which makes them last longer. The
denim manufacturing creates a toxic byproduct called Sludge. This
Sludge is extracted and shipped to the nearby brick factory where
it gets mixed with concrete making it non-toxic to the environment.
These bricks are then used to build affordable homes. The factory
has contributed to the building of 10 homes so far. Below the unit
in Saitex factory is shown  Figure 5.
7. The brand promises to eliminate the use of virgin plastic
in their supply line of products by 2021.
Everlane has chosen Sitex to be its Technological Partner
helping it make Jeans that are less polluting to the environment.
The factories facilities have reduced the amount of water, energy
and waste generated in the manufacturing and processing of
denim. Everlane has sponsored social media influencers to
endorse and review their products to world. The company releases
new collection every month which is a balance between the Fast
trap and Slow trap that companies with sustainability goals can
1. From a circular economy perspective, Everlane does not
keep track of what happens after their products reach the end
users. They have no idea of the value retention or deterioration of
their products after the bill is payed. No steps are taken to extend
the use, reuse and recycle phase of products .
1. Majority of their clothes are still made of 100%
conventional cotton which is the most polluting and dirtiest crop
in the world. Conventional cotton uses up enormous amounts of
water and energy leading to pollution and waste generation.
2. There is absolutely no sign of investment made by the
brand in any new technology to reduce environmental impact or
in innovative eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton, tencel,
3. There is no third-party verification for their product
standards or quality. The claims given by the company website are
not backed up by any evidence telling the consumers that they are
sustainable or ethical.
4. The brand has failed to address raising issues against
its claims and practices lately. This questions its very core
objective of radical transparency. The brand has dismissed most
of its customer experience workers right at the beginning of the
Covid-19 Pandemic (April 2020) in-spite of informing them that
it was doing surprisingly well in online business. There are claims
that this action of the brand was a reaction to the unionizing of
these workers [28-30].
5. The workers who were dismissed have drafted a
document indicating their personal experience from working
with the brand. The topics included white-supremacy, pay
discrepancies between white and other people of colour,
discrimination of models who are not white etc. The company has
responded to this by apologizing and hiring an outside counsel to
lead an independent investigation of the organization.
6. The brand does not have a carbon footprint tracking in
place to actually analyse its sustainability level and improvements.
There are no evidences of the brand’s textile waste managing
systems or worker pay schemes.
7. The brand makes use of animal products such as leather,
wool and exotic animal hair in their products without specifying
Everlane is one of the first brands that customers would think
of buying from when they initially decide to shift from fast fashion
or conventional shopping habits to more sustainable fashion. This
is due to the brands reach through social media, its well-designed
online store, sustainability claims and affordability. Although the
brand has taken significant steps to bring sustainability in its
products and practices there still is a lot of scope for improvement.
Their minimalist designs and basics are well received by the
customers. Improving the work atmosphere for the workers
and taking in more racial groups into the company can improve
its identity among people. Having a regular valid third party
verification for their products is crucial in backing up their claims
of being sustainable. Investing in new kinds of technological
innovations to improve product quality, minimize environmental
impact and creating a more holistic approach to branding will
encourage more customers into buying from Everlane.
Sustainability being the most discussed aspect of every
industry in the current world has brought about differences in
the mindsets of consumers and manufacturing and production
techniques of the industries. It is more of a consumer led
movement to which brands are forced to react to by being more
responsible towards the society and environment. Gone are the
days where brands were done with their products after it reached
the end consumer. The cradle to cradle approach is driving a more
circular economy aiming for zero waste. Although we have a long
way in reaching a zero waste economy small steps taken now will
put us one steps ahead in the journey. Fabrics are the basic for
the production of clothes, certain accessories, shoes, bags and
even automobile parts. Sustainability in fabrics can be achieved
through a number of ways such as shifting to organic farming
processes, using recycled man-made fibers instead of producing
virgin fibers, reducing water consumption and energy usage
etc. the social cues of sustainability should also be kept in mind,
no child labor should be used, labor hours, payment and health
should be apriority as well. As consumers it is our right to demand
sustainability in our clothing and as manufacturers it is our duty
to produce sustainable goods as satisfying our responsibilities to
the society, environment and planet as a whole.
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