Sustainable Fashion Startups: Ideas and Opportunities

Laura Tolentino

In the movie, “Mrs Harris Goes to Paris,” Mrs. Harris is an average hardworking woman in 1950s London who wants a beautiful dress by Christian Dior. She goes to Paris to get her Dior gown and encounters the culture of couture.

Over the course of the film, the question arises of how to sustain the house of Dior with so many working tirelessly to please a few high-paying customers. It addresses a problem the fashion industry has seen time and again of creating a market that is sustainable.

The fashion industry has changed greatly since the 1950s and has sought to both offer exclusive lines to the wealthy and imitations and affordable pieces to the average person.

Although the fashion industry has sought to sustain themselves economically, it has unfortunately trended in an environmentally unsustainable direction, creating more waste than ever.

In an effort to create cheaper products to reach a larger consumer base, the fashion industry has had to largely use petroleum-based synthetic materials, which are not as durable. Using cheaper materials has enabled an increase in production of items that wear out faster and must be replaced.

It’s easy to see why the fashion industry has doubled its clothing, shoe, and accessory production in the past 15 years to keep up with the increased demand they’ve created.

Sadly, the clothing is too quickly discarded and ends up in a landfill or being burned. In fact, as much as 73% of discarded fashion items are burned.

Entrepreneurs and Designers Making Fashion More Sustainable

It can be discouraging when you think about all the waste from the fashion industry, not to mention the ethical considerations regarding the difficult conditions, long hours, and meager paid little workers must endure.

So, how can the fashion industry become more sustainable, reducing waste and environmental impact in the way products are made, distributed, and used?

Thankfully, where there is a problem, there is an opportunity, and many entrepreneurs have risen to meet these challenges to make fashion more sustainable.

Plato’s Closet

Plato’s Closet offers a chance for the average person to be part of the solution.

They buy and sell gently-used name brand clothing, shoes and accessories. They pay you for bringing your items in and then sell them at discount prices.

This business has locations across the U.S. and Canada, which are all operated by local business owners.

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney has been setting trends to create more sustainable fashion that is also cruelty-free, meaning she does not use fur or leather.

She only uses re-engineered cashmere, ethically-sourced wool, organic cotton, and other recycled textiles. Her fashion lines are PVC-free and her businesses only use sustainable packaging.

Stella creates ready-to-wear fashion and has introduced Clevercare, the five-step labeling system to help spread awareness of how to care for clothing to prolong its life.

Stella McCartney is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative and measures the environmental impact of her business and her suppliers.

She gives to organizations including Bioplanet, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and Million Trees Miami.

Eileen Fisher

Eileen Fisher is known for her sustainable fashion measures and secondhand shops. She creates luxurious, sustainable womenswear using recycled fabrics, organic fibers and natural dyes and has inclusive and petite sizing.

She has secondhand shops called Renew and Waste, and she collaborates with environmental conservation organizations.

Ayesha Barenblat

Ayesha Barenblat is one of the female entrepreneurs concerned about the problem of waste in the fashion industry and seeks to address “the desperate need to slash our volume of consumption” as Founder and CEO of her organization, Remake.

Remake is “a community of fashion lovers, women’s rights advocates, and environmentalists on a mission to change the fashion industry’s harmful practices on people and our planet. We make sustainability accessible and inclusive across our three pillars of work: education, advocacy, and transparency.”

They achieve their goals by creating educational films, lecturing, and doing investigative reporting. They rate fashion brands based on their environmental impact and try to educate them about becoming more sustainable.

Dominique Drakeford

Dominique Drakeford is the founder of Melanin and Sustainable Style, a website also known as MelaninASS. Drakeford has been a nature-lover since childhood, and holds a master’s degree in sustainable entrepreneurship.

She also has a degree in fashion from NYU and did public relations for sustainable fashion brands before launching her own business in 2016.

Through MelaninASS, Dominique seeks to celebrate people of color in fashion, particularly bringing awareness to eco-friendly and sustainable fashion.

Female-Run Fashion Companies

In the fashion industry, a small percentage of the top companies are run by women, who comprise only “14% of the top 50 global fashion brands.”

The companies run by hard working women deserve attention, especially the female-run fashion companies that are making fashion more sustainable, such as AVRE, which uses recycled plastic from bottles to make women’s shoes or Aurate New York, a fine jewelry brand with a model that supports sustainability.

Harvest and Mill

Harvest and Mill creates organic cotton clothing from cotton that is USA-grown and then is sewn locally in the Bay Area.

 

Those running and working at Harvest and Mill have backgrounds in organic agriculture and are knowledgeable about sustainability. They work alongside designers in an effort to create soft, quality clothing that will last.

Mien

Mien produces clothing for women of all sizes and every stage of life, including maternity and nursing clothing. Their methods are sustainable, using quality, preshrunk eco-friendly fabric made from bamboo, modal, linen, and organic cotton. All the dyes they use are AZO-free.

Their clothes are easy to clean and care for, increasing the likelihood that the garments will be used more and for a longer amount of time. Mien does all their manufacturing in L.A. to ensure ethical conditions for their workers.

Proclaim

Proclaim was founded by Shobha Philips, who sought to create a nude bra to match darker skin. She then desired to create a product that was environmentally-friendly, and decided to use recycled plastic and TENCEL to create soft, elegant underwear and bras for women of all colors, shapes, and sizes.

This company is also L.A.-based and ensures its workers are paid a fair wage.

The Knotty Ones

The Knotty Ones uses biodegradable, plastic-free yarns and non-toxic dyes to make sweaters, loungewear, and accessories. This means that when these end up in a landfill, they will have less of a negative environmental impact.

The workers at The Knotty Ones live in rural Lithuania, where they create each item by hand, reducing any factory and product waste.

We hope these entrepreneurs and fashion designers shaping the future of sustainable fashion inspire you to contribute to this market and the future of fashion.