Top 8 actions to make your fashion business more sustainable

By Judy Cooper


Fashion is intrinsically linked to our sense of identity and has always had more of an emotional appeal to shoppers than mere function and purpose. So, it has always been relatively easy to sell more clothes to a single person than they need. But the processes forged to create enormous and profitable fashion businesses have also become some of the most damaging in the world.

The scale of the change required can feel overwhelming to many, even those who have long been concerned about the impact on the planet. But this means it can end up in the too-hard basket, ignoring the catastrophic impact of carrying on with business-as-usual. The consequences are no longer just environmental and ethical impacts but also financial – most investors and banks are now realising that businesses which do not adapt to climate change are carrying enormous amounts of future risk.  

If fashion businesses are to survive, leaders and managers must use all the resources at their disposal to find a way through the rocky terrain of transitioning to becoming ethical and sustainable as well as profitable businesses. Here are REAL’s top eight actions that all leaders of fashion businesses could adopt today:

1. design & sourcing strategy

Ask your design team to come up with a long-term design and sourcing strategy using sustainable materials that are harder wearing and avoid plastics. A good start could be watching The True Cost documentary as many design and buying teams have told us they have found this helpful.

2. resources for teams

Provide the resources to help ensure the strategy is robust such as those available through Common Objective, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Future Fabrics Expo.

3. framework for improving workers' rights

Become a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative which helps organisational learning on workers’ rights.

4. inspection & due diligence

Review your current due diligence policies on supply chains. Does it include on the ground visits, inspections and interviews with workers in a protected space? If this is outsourced, what evidence do you have that these have taken place?

5. carbon reduction strategy

Have you got a carbon reduction strategy in place? If you have, what progress have you made on it? How could this be accelerated? Is that progress ‘real’ or ‘theoretical’. For example, buying renewable energy certificates is ‘theoretical’ progress, but building your own solar power for warehouses and factories is ‘real’.

6.stakeholder communication

How are you communicating this commitment to all your stakeholder groups? Look at bringing your team up to speed. It could even be helpful to ask for a talk by the Business Declares group  on the climate and ecological emergency to help with the education piece.


How could you quickly begin to create a circular economy so less clothes are sent to landfill and more are recycled? It could be as simple as a recycle box in shops or it could be as creative as asking designers for ideas on incorporating elements of unsold stock into new designs. Plan to build and develop on this each year.

8. leadership course

Finally, consider signing up for a REAL Sustainability course which is designed to help senior leaders in fashion lead their teams through the transition to a more sustainable business model.

Change management in any organisation is difficult and stressful and leaders must be resilient and determined. But you’re not alone – don’t be afraid to ask for help.