How to Start an Eco-fashion Label – the experience of Mighty Good Undies

Have you ever wondered what it takes to start an eco-fashion label? I certainly have. So I decided to ask one eco-fashion entrepreneur- Hannah Parris- to spill the beans. Hannah is the founder of eco-fashion label Audrey Blue and the co-founder of sustainable fair-trade underwear label Mighty Good Undies

If you are needing some new underwear, I highly recommend supporting their crowd funding campaign. But you’d better get in quick- the campaign is closing this weekend. 

In the meantime, let’s hear what Hannah had to say about starting an eco-fashion label. 

Recipe for an ethical fashion brand

Pretty frocks and lots of fun designing stuff aside, have you ever wondered what it actually takes to start an eco-fashion venture? From our experience at Mighty Good Undies, we think there are three things you should know.

1. Know why you are doing it.

Organic, fairtrade, locally made, up-cycled, recycled, tencel, carbon neutral, bamboo, vegan, handmade, no-waste….there are many different definitions and dimensions to what we call broadly call ‘eco-fashion’ these days.  First thing you realise is that you can’t do it all or at least not all at once. So which of these eco-fashion values are you going to champion? Every business and production decision you make will be informed by these value choices (e.g.local or overseas production, upcycled or organic fabric etc…) so it is vital you are really clear about what you are doing and why and also being comfortable in NOT doing the things you leave out.

When we set up Mighty Good Undies we made a deliberate decision to concentrate on organic and Fairtrade cotton produced in India for a  very specific reason. India is the world’s leader in certified organic and Fairtrade cotton   — and these systems of production successfully address what we consider the worst elements of the global textile supply chain — toxic chemical use, labour exploitation (including child labour) and environmental pollution.

This means that, yes, we generate transport related carbon emissions (which we have purchased carbon offsets for) and it is not creating Australian fashion jobs. But we are okay with that, as we are helping create work in a country that desperately needs good jobs too. Some people disagree with us, others applaud us. We don’t mind either way as we know what our priorities are.

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2. Know your supply chain.

Trust, credibility and transparency is everything in the eco-fashion world.  Your consumers must trust that you are delivering what you say you are. As a small brand it can be difficult to really get to know your suppliers if they are in another country (or even in your country) — after all, how can you be sure they are telling you the truth about what they do?

You could, and indeed should, visit your suppliers. A personal relationship with them is vital.  But think hard about how realistic is it, as a small start up brand, to physically monitor and enforce ethical standards on a supply chain where you are probably just one of their (smallest) clients?

For this reason,  we chose to use only a certified supply chain for Mighty Good Undies. Our supply chain is fully certified under the Fairtrade Cotton Standard (FLO)  and the Global Organic Textiles Standards (GOTS). Readers are probably family with the FLO system through their Fairtrade certified tea or coffee. GOTS does essentially the same thing, but with textiles, once the cotton leaves the farm.

What this means in practice is that we have a whole system that tracks, and documents, our supply chain from the cotton growers to the manufacturing stage to our store cupboards.  Each stage is required to implement a long list of  ethical labour standards and worlds best practice environmental standards and each is independently assessed by a third party NGO or expert assessor and reported against publicly available standards.

Certification is expensive and time consuming, but it is ultimately easier (and cheaper) than taking the responsibility of physically monitoring our supply chain ourselves and enforcing standards. I am proud of the fact that we can back up our claims using independence evidence and I think that is something consumers like as well.

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3. Line up the hacker, the hipster and the hustler.

Your eco-fashion credentials may get people interested in your brand but they will only buy stuff it if fits, looks good and is comfortable. And as a small start up brand, don’t underestimate how hard it is to get people to actually know what you are doing. To tick all these boxes — works well, looks great and people know about it — requires the work of a hacker (maker), hipster (branding expert) and hustler (sales guru) and for that, you probably need a team.  It is probably not a good idea to think you can do this by yourself (believe me, from experience, I’ve tried).

This is why I partnered with Elena Antoniou to start Mighty Good Undies — I’m the hacker/hustler and she is the Hipster/hustler — and we’ve drawn in a whole lot of other creative and technical people to help us develop our brand and our products and will continue to do so.

Follow your heart, but take your head with you.  Follow your dream idea of changing the world through eco-fashion, but don’t forget about the practical day to day things that are going to make you work in the longer run — for example, how you are going to pay your rent? And above all, don’t forget that you are starting a business and it has to make money for you to survive. Make sure you have in place the knowledge and systems to run the business side of things — again asking for help and working with others has been instrumental in making Mighty Good to the world.

 Thanks to Hannah for sharing her insights. If you want to support this eco-fashion label, I highly recommend you jump on to their crowd funding campaign. 

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Photo By: All photos are by: A Mighty Good Undies