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How to Start a Sustainable Fashion Brand: the Complete Step-by-Step Guide

By Reading Time: 8 minutes

It’s no secret that the fashion industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries and a big contributor to climate change. It’s estimated that it produces 8-10% of annual, global carbon emissions and is the source of 20% of industrial water pollution from textile dyeing and treatment.

The good news is that sustainable fashion addresses many of these environmental issues and can even help restore the balance between people and our planet.

Whether you are an entrepreneur looking to set up a sustainable fashion label, or a designer who wants to be more responsible, this article will provide you with all the necessary information on how to start a sustainable fashion brand from scratch.

What is sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion is a scientific, data-driven movement that aims to make sure that our clothes are manufactured, sold, and used in the most sustainable way possible. The movement aims to achieve a fashion industry that’s built on equality, social justice, animal welfare, and ecological integrity.

Here are some of the main subcategories of sustainable fashion:

  1. Ethical fashion focuses on human and animal rights 
  2. Circular fashion consists of manufacturing practices such as recycling and regeneration
  3. Slow fashion represents the opposite pole of “fast-fashion” and aims to reduce consumption and production 

Why is sustainable fashion important?

Fast fashion is a low-capital/labor intensive industry. It dries up water sources, pollutes rivers and streams, and creates a large amount of waste every year. If nothing changes, research has predicted the fashion industry could account for 26% of all carbon emissions by 2050.

fast fashion waste
Source: Printful

Sustainable fashion, on the other hand, focuses on saving natural resources and reducing pollution and waste. For example, just by swapping conventional cotton with organic cotton production, you could save up to 91% of water and produce 46% less CO2 equivalent emissions.

In the last couple of years, sustainable fashion has also seen an increasing demand directly from consumers. 

In a 2020 study done by Wovn, 84% of respondents indicated that they’re willing to pay more for clothing from a sustainable brand. 

So if you’re thinking about starting your own sustainable business and brand, you’ve picked the right time.

How to Start a Sustainable Fashion Brand

1. Define your intentions

Sustainability in fashion is a broad term that can be used to characterize fabrics, products, and manufacturing practices. When thinking about creating your own sustainable brand, first define what “sustainability” means to you.

  • What problem are you trying to solve? 
  • Why is it an important issue?
  • How could your brand fix it? 

By asking these questions, you’ll learn what’s important to you and how your brand can stand out. 

Remember, your sustainability practices will need to be backed up with facts and certifications. Too much vagueness can turn into greenwashing, which is a form of marketing that creates false impressions about how a company’s products are more environmentally-friendly.

Transparency is the key when it comes to sustainability, so make sure to be honest about your intentions to your future customers.

2. Come up with a sustainable product idea

Unless you already know what to sell, coming up with new product ideas can feel overwhelming. 

Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular products to sell in 2022, where you can learn about the latest trends and what people are searching for. For example, if you choose to sell in a highly popular clothing category—sportswear—you could create and design recycled polyester leggings or organic cotton t-shirts.

Another great way to generate ideas is to use Google Trends. This website allows you to explore what consumers are searching for in a specific region and time frame. From there, you can view the volume of the searches, as well as how certain trends are performing. 

Tote bag popularity from 2020 to 2022
Source: Google Trends

Remember to always look at demand and any gaps you could fill. What are people searching for but the market lacks? Producing innovative products or designs that haven’t yet been seen can make you stand out from other sustainable brands.

3. Do your research 

Depending on the fashion line you want to create, there are different aspects to look into and learn about. 

Materials

Your materials will be the basis of the products you’ll sell and should represent your brand’s values. There are many types of sustainable fabrics you can use for your clothing production. There are other popular options like organic cotton or recycled polyester, and more recently developed eco-friendly alternatives like Tencel™ or EcoVero™.

Apparel fabrics
Source: Printful

Manufacturing

If you want to create your own exclusive fashion line, you’ll have to research different production companies that can create your products from scratch.

Some of the most popular sourcing platforms are Sewport and Sqetch. There you can browse more than 1000 different manufacturers that could transform your sustainable materials into t-shirts, hoodies, and other clothing items.

a portrayal of clothing manufacturing
Source: Printful

When working with different manufacturers, always make sure to double-check the certification labels.

Some sustainability labels are created for the sole purpose of capitalizing on eco-friendly trends, so it’s important to make sure they’re valid. 

Here’s a list of some of the most popular and well-respected certifications to check out when researching your future manufacturer:

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) represents textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibers
  • Better Cotton Initiative represents better standards in cotton farming and practices
  • Organic Content Standard (OCS) verifies the presence and amount of organic material in a final product
  • Oeko-Tex represents textiles and fabrics that are free of harmful chemicals and are safe for human use
  • bluesign represents responsible and sustainable manufacturing of textile consumer products
  • Fair Trade represents safer working conditions and fairer pay. 
  • Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) and Global Recycled Standard (GRS) provides assurance that materials are actually recycled and in a final product

Print-on-demand

While manufacturing your own clothing items gives you more control over the final product, the process itself can be time-consuming and expensive.

By choosing a print-on-demand (POD) business model, you can sell third-party products in your store without keeping inventory. What ​​makes POD companies different is that they can also print designs on the products and are less wasteful overall since a product is printed only once an order’s been made. 

At Printful, you can choose from more than 30 sustainable clothing items made from organic or recycled materials. Just add your designs, push the product to your store, and we’ll print, pack, and ship the product to your customer for you.

eco-friendly t-shirt
Source: Printful

Whether you choose a print-on-demand service, an eco-friendly manufacturer, or any other product sourcing method, each business model has its pros and cons. Compare them, evaluate them, and choose the one that suits you the best.

4. Craft your designs

After you’ve done your research on materials, suppliers, and business models, it’s time to work on your design ideas.

There are several ways to go about this. You can use professional software programs, hire a designer, or explore more beginner-friendly tools like Printful’s Design Maker.

Using software programs

Got some graphic design skills up your sleeve? Adobe Illustrator® is one of the best design development editors and can deliver professional-looking graphics and logos. Some other popular editors are Inkscape and Gravit Designer.

Hiring a designer

If designing is not one of your strong suits, you can also hire someone to create your art for you. There are several online platforms like Fiver or Toptal where you can find freelance designers that offer their services at different price points.

Creating in Printful’s Design Maker

At Printful, you can choose from our eco-friendly products and make them yours using our Design Maker. There you’ll find text and design tools, as well as over 50 clipart collections and nearly 3000 individual designs you can use for free. 

an example of Printful Design Maker functions
Source: Printful

What makes Design Maker so convenient is that there’s no unnecessary file downloading or converting, you already have everything you need. Once you’re done creating your designs, just push your chosen product to your store, and you’re done! When an order is made, Printful will ship the product to your customer for you .

5. Create your brand name

Probably one of the most time-consuming—but exciting—steps of creating your sustainable fashion brand is coming up with the perfect brand name.

Your brand name plays a huge role in your brand’s marketing success. It has the potential to attract customers, communicate what your brand is about, and show what you stand for.

We’ve written an informative guide on How to Come Up With a Brand Name, so make sure to check it out to find some great tips and recommendations.

6. Build your brand story

A captivating brand story builds trust, increases customer loyalty, and inspires engagement. Similar to the first step where you had to define what sustainability means to you, now you need to define your brand identity. Great starting questions to ask are:

  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Why do you do it?
A guide to brand storytelling
Source: Printful

Your answers will help you create a story that’ll represent your brand’s values, vision, and mission. To learn more about how to create a compelling brand story, make sure to check out this definitive guide.

7. Setup your store

The final step of how to start a sustainable fashion brand is putting all the pieces together and setting up your store.

Online store

If you’ve never set up an online store before, don’t worry. With all the automated tools and information you can find on the web, it can be done without any previous experience.

Below is a list of the most reputable ecommerce platforms that you can use to start your online business:

BigCommerce flexible and scalable
Shopify fast loading and easy to use
Wix many free design themes
Shift4Shop great business management tools
Zyro affordable with no transaction fees
WooCommerce best platform for SEO
Squarespace easy to set up and has stunning template designs
Webflow great for design and customization

Each of these platforms has a tutorial on how to set everything up and get started with your business.

To learn how to connect your ecommerce platform with Printful, check out our ​​How to Start an Online Store with Printful blog article.

Brick-and-mortar store

For obvious reasons, the process of opening up a physical store is different than creating one online. You have to consider things like location, property rentals, inventory, and so on. If this is something you’re truly passionate about, we suggest checking out this Forbes article that lists 16 things to keep in mind when opening up a brick-and-mortar store.

How to market your sustainable fashion brand

So, you’ve chosen your products, created a brand story, and set up a store…now what?

You could have the most brilliant product on the market, but if no one knows about you, all that effort to create a sustainable fashion line goes to waste. Marketing your brand is a crucial step toward achieving success and will allow your brand to get exposure.

Explore the different methods

There are several ways to advertise your products. The methods you choose depend on your overall strategy, desired outcome, and target market. There’s website marketing, which focuses on good SEO scores, email marketing, which entails crafting alluring content, and social media marketing, which is currently one of the most popular and most successful marketing tactics. 

Read more: 10 Effective Ways to Market a Product

Highlight the sustainability benefits

It’s important to remember that your products will be held to a higher standard than non-eco-friendly products. They’ll be judged not only by their aesthetic and effectiveness but also by how sustainable they are. Be honest about your brand’s efforts and remember that transparency is the key.

Avoid greenwashing

Don’t fall into the greenwashing trap and start promising everything to everyone. Instead, highlight precisely what your brand offers and how it will achieve what it promises. For example, if you market your eco-friendly products as organic or recycled, make sure to also offer your customers certificates or labels that prove their validity.

Get inspired

The best way to learn how you can market your own sustainable fashion brand is to learn from other sustainable brands. Explore their websites, visuals, and language to see if there’s anything that catches your eye and could be used as an inspiration for your own business.

Here are some cool sustainable fashion brands to check out: 

Petite Lucette

Petite Lucette is a sustainable fashion label that offers elegant wardrobe pieces made from organic fibers. The brand also takes social accountability seriously and has a strong relationship with its manufacturer in Portugal. 

United by Blue

For every product purchased, United by Blue removes one pound of trash from oceans and waterways. All of their products are made in GOTS-certified factories from sustainably-sourced materials.

Reformation

Reformation creates everything from low-impact materials, rescued deadstock fabrics, and repurposed vintage clothing. They closely follow every level of the supply chain to ensure the positive environmental and social impact of their products.

What’s in store for fashion? 

The apparel industry as we know it is changing and sustainable fashion is no longer the future, it’s the present.

We hope this article has provided you with all the necessary information for how to start your sustainable fashion business. Let us know in the comments if you’ve been inspired to create an eco-friendly clothing line and take advantage of this important, socially-conscious trend. 

Good luck on your journey!

Read next: How to Start a Clothing Brand: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide

Ilva is a Content Marketing Specialist with a Bachelor’s degree in media production. At Printful, she specializes in product marketing and has a passion for content creation, visual arts, and social media.

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