How to build sustainable fashion businesses
The panel at our MeetUp

In September, hundreds of founders descended to our online stage to hear from the panel on how to build sustainable fashion businesses and what lessons other industries can take on. 

There was a range of experience on show including supply chain experts Bendi and slow fashion brands Ark Defo and Petit Pli

Founders in the audience had the chance to hear the panel’s insights on the challenges involved in being more environmentally conscious startups, but how ultimately it’s worth the effort when faced with the climate emergency.

Here’re 5 things we learned from the panel:

1. Uncertainty is the only thing that’s certain

Starting up is always fraught with risk and uncertainty, and for founders building startups which are challenging the status quo and taking on huge challenges, it's is part of the process. Changing an industry from the inside takes drive, creativity and resilience, and to persevere when things don't go to plan. For our founders, this is an integral part of the new wave of entrepreneurship taking the fashion industry on.

Arabella Turek, COO of Petit Pli, told us how she keeps on track with sustainability goals, even if the route includes unexpected obstacles. 

“For the team, definitely being united by a vision and also for customers to join that journey and users to join that journey,” she says. “I think for myself personally, it’s always having a value for ideas first. I think of myself as someone who values ideas and I’ve learnt the importance of not letting them die. And I think if outside of a brand, outside of a company, if you value concepts and realising them, then you can move mountains.”


Ark Defo
Ark Defo

2. Founders are driving much needed change

Startups are well placed to be driving innovation in the fashion industry, and helping it move away from fast-paced consumerism to something more considered and better for the environment. 

“Startups are more agile and are more likely to be geared up to take on these challenges. Big businesses are too far gone. No one's really got the appetite or ability to change the system.”  says Andrew Bennett, founder of Arkdefo.

By their nature startups are nimble and can move quicker than old, large corporations, and can build brands which appeal to a more conscious consumer. 

“People have to give small businesses a chance.” Andrew continues, “The small business is at its core better. Everything is based on what it's going to do. To change something, to improve something, or to make people’s lives better.”

3. Sustainability is much bigger than we think 

Embedding sustainability into your business is more than just using plastic-free packagine and reducing waste. Whilst every little helps, the challenge is greater than we may think at first.

Mandeep Soor, co-founder of Bendi reflects on the scale of making sustainable changes.

“Sustainability is more than carbon footprinting. But this is now working directly with brands. We’re seeing a huge amount of effort already being put into trying to address a number of things in their supply chain and their sustainability overall. So, I think it’s a really great time to be working in this space.” she says.

4. Getting off our fast fashion addiction

For most consumers, it’s the psychology behind buying fast fashion that needs to be unpicked. The way we shop and wear clothes has been engrained in society for so long, aided by technology and logistical progress, and bit by bit, we need to change the way people think about clothes purchases, and the way they act. 

Mandeep told us it's about making people more aware of what's involved in producing the clothes they buy, and “connecting people to the products” and the “environmental impacts that are related with it”. 

Elizaveta Bennett, founder of Arkdefo, spoke about the “phenomenal” change she saw after running a summer sewing school for children, showing them how to make their own patchwork clothes. 

“Through teaching, through educating and through putting them through the experience of actually making it there is a tiny bit of a shift happening. And hopefully they’ll keep making and investing in the future into better quality” she says.

5. A challenging process creates a rewarding future

“Persistence, experimenting and persistence” is ultimately what led to the successful origami design of Petit Pli’s range says Arabella. With the same attitude towards changing the mindset of others, not just those within the fashion industry, we could really see a driving change for a sustainable future.

 “As you creep up the next difficult ridge, you realise that ‘okay I can do that, that's amazing’,” Mandeep explains. “We’ve been drawing our own map” but “not having a map isn't always a bad thing” she rounds off. 

Petit Pli
Petit Pli

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