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Sustainability Meets Entrepreneurship

by Edwina Huang on December 28, 2020

- credit to Amber Schmaling

There is no one clear-cut path for entrepreneurs. The road to reaching success in one’s venture can be plagued with challenges and sprinkled with opportunities. However, for entrepreneurs in a multitude of fields, one such opportunity broadly revolves around sustainability. For instance, according to a survey reported by McKinsey Insights, around 60% of surveyed consumers have gone out of their way to purchase more environmentally friendly products since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular to the fashion industry, sustainable fashion entrepreneurs can take advantage of this growing consumer trend to enhance their brand images.

Though it is no secret that a silver-lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the increased consumer awareness on sustainable, ethical products, Solene Rauturier insists that the movement has existed long before. After Industrial Revolutions brought upon new technological advancements that increased productivity, mass manufacturing and consumerism emerged. However, this was met with rebellious hippie revolutions that challenged the consumerist society in the 1960s. In this era, natural fabrics and simple ways of living were embraced. Moving along to the 1980s, anti-fur movements spurred. Arguably so, at this point, the idea of sustainable, ethical fashion had clearly emerged.

The sustainable, ethical fashion movement was challenged in the 1990s with the entrance of offshore manufacturing, which made fast fashion a reality. With the continuous rise of retailers like H&M, Zara, and TopShop, the concepts of the circular economy and ethical fashion were at jeopardy. The emergence of such fast fashion retailers was of a particular challenge to sustainable entrepreneurs because consumption rates skyrocketed due to the newfound consumer desire to keep up with trends. 

Despite the obstacles that fast fashion trends have presented to sustainable entrepreneurs, they’ve evolved through time. There are numerous entrepreneurial success stories that can be examined. For instance, startups like Worn Again and Trashion Factory act as innovators to reduce the environmental impacts of fashion. Though the product and service offerings of these startups vary from one another, they have both taken advantage of the growing trend that is slow fashion.

Worn Again is a sustainable fashion startup that makes new products out of disused materials that would otherwise be headed to landfills. Though it is now known as one of the top sustainable fashion brands, founder, Cyndi Rhoades, discusses the imperfect path to arriving there. As discussed in a video, Cyndi states that there isn’t truly one golden path to success. Some days, it’s fantastic with unique ideas flowing and sales booming. However, on other days, Cyndi feels like nothing is turning out right. The pressures for a socially-conscious brand like Worn Again are even greater because there many considerations and concerns to be taken into account. Unlike a “normal” business, sustainable fashion brands must weigh profit generation with social/environmental impacts. It can be quite difficult to weigh these often conflicting business goals, but Cyndi is certain that being flexible and open-minded are what have allowed her to find successes. In fact, though the recession and climate change have had immense negative implications, Cyndi’s flexibility and open-mindedness allowed her to view them as opportunities for pushing consumers to be more conscious. Though once seen as an alternative option to fashion, Worn Again has adopted a new title of being a provider of innovative solutions.

Olivia Lara transparently discusses her not-for-profit fashion brand, Trashion Factory. Most known for their iconic recycled bomber jackets, the idea behind the brand is to take trash and make it fashion. However, prior to starting Trashion Factory, Olivia had worked on a similar business concept with two other colleagues. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her two business partners were faced with personal challenges that forced them to leave the business plans behind. This left Olivia on her own. Despite this, Olivia stuck by her passion and developed Trashion Factory on her own. In a casual video, Olivia states that her unique desire to make the company not-for-profit was driven by original motivations of being community-focused, rather than focused on personal gain. 

Not only does Trashion Factory promote sustainability in their products, but it also embraces these ideals of positive social changes behind-the-scenes. In particular, Trashion Factory empowers women in the workplace. They do this by providing flexible work environments for women who may have motherly duties and thus may not be able to work a traditional job. By inspiring social changes on both the business (through upskilling women and forgoing profit) and consumer (through encouraging sustainable fashion trends) levels, Trashion Factory has been able to act as a role model for corporate social responsibility ideals in business.

In sum, taking a walk through the extensive history of the sustainable fashion industry can be nostalgic. However, despite any individual or industry-wide challenges, sustainable and ethical fashion has persisted. Sustainable fashion entrepreneurs have been both growing with and accelerating the trend of moving toward a sustainable future.