If you are passionate about sports and exercise and you know the impact sporting equipment has on performance, starting an ethical sportswear brand may seem like a great idea.
However, the truth is, starting an ethical clothing brand is not as simple as it may seem. There is much more to it than just having a good business plan and a great product. To build an ethical sportswear brand, you’d have to have a deep understanding of the textile industry and a commitment to always doing the right thing, often at your own cost.
In this guide, you will learn what are the key elements of building an ethical sportswear brand. So let’s start with the challenges that you will face on that journey.
Ecological and ethical gutter of the textile industry
The textile industry is among the largest and most important industries globally, and yet it’s terribly polluting and socially irresponsible. Its three horsemen of the apocalypse are:
- The exploitation of workers
- Disregard for the environment during manufacturing
If you’re serious about starting an ethical sportswear brand, you must have the knowledge and the desire to clean up your corner of the textile industry. Otherwise, you’ll be found out and your entire concept would go down the drain, just like microplastics.
An ethical sportswear brand fights against microplastics
If you are a firm believer in synthetic fabrics as the lord and saviour of sportswear, you must proactively address the issue of microplastics. Use all your available channels to communicate the issues of synthetic fabric shedding its way into the environment.
An increasing number of scientific research show its adverse effect on marine life – hindered growth and development, genetic damage and more. You should talk about that.
Because all this information (that you should share) can seriously impact your reputation as an ethical sportswear brand, you should actively promote the solutions against microplastics. Microplastic filters sure are a way to go. You can cooperate with filter retailers. Simply offer discounts on their products to your customers that spend over a given amount in your store. We suggest PlanetCare for your European customers and Filtrol for your US and Canadian customers.
Still, the best decision is to stay off plastics. And with that in mind, here are its alternatives.
Alternatives to synthetic fabrics: merino wool and Tencel
Synthetic fabrics with all their microplastic shedding do have amazing moisture-wicking properties. Luckily for you, there are organic fabrics that can keep your customers dry the same way polyester does – merino wool and Tencel.
Merino wool is a natural fabric that is breathable and durable, with fantastic drying properties. Make sure to only source this fabric from manufacturers that are RWS-certified. This is a guarantee that the wool was made with no mulesing, a process very harmful for the sheep.
Tencel fabric has the same abilities but is made from cellulose sourced from sustainably-farmed eucalyptus forests. It also uses a closed-loop system for both the cellulose and chemicals that turn eucalyptus into the fabric.
That should be enough information on how to tackle microplastics. Below are four suggestions on how to make strides towards achieving the ethical goals of your up-and-coming activewear brand.
1. Keep your suppliers close to your target markets
This means that if you sell your clothes in Germany, ideally, your manufacturer should either be based in the country or as close as possible. This approach, known as nearshoring, helps to reduce the carbon footprint of your brand. The rule of thumb is, if a supplier can deliver goods by road or railroad in a few days, then your sourcing model is in fact nearshoring.
This is also something you should advertise, which means you should be comfortable with disclosing your supply chain.
2. An ethical sportswear brand is radically transparent
Be open and honest about the locations and names of the clothing factories you work with. Also, you should conduct regular audits to ensure that workers receive living wages and work in decent conditions.
Be proactive in addressing any issues that arise and work to continuously improve the working and living conditions of the workers that make your brand.
Include a clause in the contract you make with manufacturers that their workers must be paid a living wage in order to make your clothes. That way, you can really walk the talk.
3. Build community and support social causes
As an ethical sportswear brand, you should also be involved in the communities you have a presence, whether it’s your physical stores, headquarters, offices, or suppliers’ factories.
This can include sponsoring local sports teams, providing workout equipment in parks, and participating in charities that support sports for underprivileged children. You can go a step further and support promising young athletes who are unable to afford the equipment and training they need to pursue their dreams.
Those are all the things you should do. Now let’s focus on the things you must steer clear of – the exploitation of workers and the pollution of the environment.
4. Know and fight the injustices of the textile industry
The harsh reality is that the textile industry is plagued with pollution, exploitation, poverty, and neglect. Workers are often paid below minimum wage and are forced to work in hazardous environments without proper safety equipment. It saddens us to say that there’s an example of how far neglecting the workers’ safety can go.
The Rana Plaza tragedy
The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 took the lives of 1134 garment workers, injuring thousands more. It is heartbreaking to know it could’ve been prevented if only proper building and fire safety measures were in place.
What makes the whole matter worse is the fact that the factory had a social responsibility certificate. A certificate that was supposed to be a guarantee of pristine health and safety conditions in the workplace.
This event served as a wake-up call for the industry, and as a result, that brought about the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. However, some brands still refuse to sign the Accord, opting to prioritize profits over the safety and well-being of their workers.
If you intend to sell in south-eastern Asia and intend to work with factories from Bangladesh, you must be one of the brands that have signed the accord.
The ecological impact of the textile industry
As you might already know, the textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and it has a significant impact on the environment. You already know two reasons – microplastics and poverty. Sadly, there is more – water pollution due to chemical use, energy consumption, and waste generation.
Dyeing and finishing processes in the textile industry can release hazardous chemicals into nearby water sources. That affects both aquatic life and human health. A study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production found that the textile industry is responsible for almost a quarter of overall industrial water pollution.
As an ethical sportswear brand, you must insist on fabrics like Tencel, water-based dyes or dyes with harmless chemicals.
The production of textiles requires a lot of energy, from growing and harvesting the raw materials to spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing the final product. This results in serious CO2 emissions, contributing to climate change. Especially since the countries that are global garment manufacturing hubs mostly use fossil fuels to make electricity.
Insist on working only with manufacturers that use either wind or solar power to generate electricity for their factories.
We can thank fast fashion for the surge of textile waste in the last 30 years. People now wear their new garment up to seven times before they decide it’s time for it to join the others in the landfill.
Since your plan is to run an ethical sportswear brand, you must ensure your clothes can last for years. You should also advocate strongly for upcycling and recycling.
Have a discount scheme in place for customers that return the used clothes they bought at your stores.
Promote upcycling on your social media channels and websites.
So, what is an ethical sportswear brand?
An ethical sportswear brand is one that prioritizes the well-being of its workers, the environment, and the communities it serves. This means paying living wages and ensuring decent working and living conditions for the people making the brand. It also means using recycled and innovative fabrics and promoting transparency in its supply chain. Finally, it means advocating for clean energy, recycling and upcycling, as well as advocating against the use of harmful chemicals.
It takes a lot of guts to start an ethical sportswear brand. It means being ready to struggle as an entrepreneur at no cost to the environment and the people that are turning your idea into reality. We hope you still want to do it after reading about all the expensive processes, and logistical nightmares of overseeing an intricate supply chain.
If you’re still up for it, drop us a few lines and let’s see how we can help you achieve your goals.