Sustainable Clothing Manufacturing: Best Practices for Eco-Friendly Fashion Brands

Increasing concerns about environmental degradation and climate change has led to consumers and brands adopting more sustainable clothing manufacturing practices in recent years but what are these and how do they apply to fashion?
10 minute read

Why Is Sustainable Clothing Manufacturing Important?

The significance of sustainable clothing production has become increasingly evident in the fashion world. 

People are becoming more conscious of ecological deterioration, global warming, and societal dilemmas, leading to demands from consumers, stakeholders, and lawmakers to implement sustainable approaches in fashion production. 

The fashion industry's quick fashion trends and excessive usage of disposable garments have caused detrimental repercussions on the environment and society. 

Labor exploitation, depletion of natural resources, pollution and waste have plagued the fashion industry for many years. 

Therefore, it is time for sustainable manufacturing practices to prioritise environmental responsibility. 

A shift toward sustainability is occurring within the fashion industry where brand reputation and long-term success are dependent on ethical and eco-friendly practices. 

However, what are the most efficient and effective best practices for eco-friendly fashion brands in today's market? 

Ethical Sourcing of Materials

The sourcing of materials is a crucial component of sustainable clothing manufacturing. 

Typically, recycled fabrics, organically grown cotton, and eco-friendly polyester derived from recycled plastic bottles are replacing synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon. 

In fact, the use of eco-friendly clothing materials is often the first step in building an eco-friendly fashion brand as the materials utilised play a significant role in the sustainability of the fashion industry. 

In regards to environmental sustainability, utilising organic fibres that are not exposed to harmful pesticides or genetically modified organisms decrease the damage caused by traditional farming methods. 

Alternatively, recycled fibres diminish the demand for fresh materials, uphold natural resources, and decrease the need for energy-intensive extraction and production procedures. 

Clothing manufacturers can play a part in preserving biodiversity, limiting water pollution, and reducing climate change by incorporating ethically sourced materials. 

Nevertheless, it all begins with what the brands seek from the clothing manufacturers they contract with. 

Promoting social justice and preventing exploitation is often achieved through fair labor practices that coincide with the use of ethically sourced materials. 

This encompasses fair working conditions and wages for factory employees who produce these garments. 

By demonstrating a dedication to ethical business practices and social responsibility through the selection of materials manufactured with ecological consciousness and social awareness, a brand can heighten its reputation and appeal to consumers with a similar mindset. 

The health and safety risks associated with traditional agricultural practices have caused concern. 

Pesticides used in cotton production pose hazards to workers, farmers, and consumers alike. 

However, organic fibres offer a safer alternative as they are grown without the use of harmful chemicals. 

As consumers are advocating for greater transparency and accountability in fashion sourcing practices, organic materials are becoming more popular. 

In order to satisfy their environmentally and socially conscious customers, it is imperative for apparel manufacturers to use ethical materials like recycled or organic fibres. 

This can create a dedicated following of consumers who prioritise sustainable and ethical practices, ultimately leading to a trustworthy brand and enduring success. 

Compliance with sustainability regulations and standards is also crucial, as various countries and regions have their own set of rules. 

Utilising ethically sourced materials not only guarantees adherence to these standards but also helps avoid legal and repetitional issues.

Examples of sustainable materials in fashion:

1. Organic cotton: You can use organic cotton as an example of one sustainable material. 

Using natural methods and avoiding synthetic pesticides, organic cotton is an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional cotton. 

Crop rotation, beneficial insects, and composting are all techniques used to maintain the soil fertility, decrease the use of harmful chemicals, and reduce water consumption during production. 

WWF reports that organic cotton only requires 243 litres of water for a T-shirt, unlike the 2,700 litres required for conventional cotton

2. Bamboo: Bamboo, a fast-growing and renewable plant, is an excellent choice for clothing manufacturing due to its low water and pesticide requirements. 

The resulting soft, breathable and hypoallergenic fibre is perfect for producing different types of clothing like T-shirts, tank tops and underwear. 

3. Hemp: On the other hand, hemp, known for its strength, breathability and antimicrobial properties, needs very little water or fertiliser to grow. 

This makes it a versatile option for apparel production, particularly for home wear and athleisure wear. 

4. Recycled Polyester: Manufacturing clothes with recycled polyester is a more sustainable option, requiring less energy and water than virgin polyester. 

It's made by repurposing post-consumer plastic bottles or other recycled materials, effectively reducing landfill waste. 

Recycled polyester has found a lot of favour among various kinds of clothing, from outerwear to sportswear. 

5. Lyocell: From durable trees sustained by responsible forestry, the finer known as Lyocell or Tencel emerges. 

This unique material undergoes a closed-loop process of solvent recirculation to ensure it adheres to eco-friendly standards unlike its conventional counterpart, rayon. 

The Tencel fiber has a delicate texture, exceptional breathability, and can biodegrade, granting it versatility in various garb. 

6. Piñatex: Piñatex, which is made from pineapple leaf fibre - a by-product of pineapple cultivation. 

This material is not only cruelty-free but also eco-friendly and biodegradable, requiring less energy and water to produce than traditional leather. 

It's commonly used in shoes and accessories. 

If you’re unsure on what fabrics to consider for starting your brand you can check out An Introduction To Fabric Selection for your Brand article.

Minimising Waste

To achieve sustainable garment manufacturing, minimising waste is crucial. 

It promotes a circular economy, saves resources, and meets consumer demand. 

Commissioning sustainable clothing manufacturers is one way to tackle the issue of waste reduction. 

In addition, implementing fair labor practices can boost operational efficiency by limiting labor exploitation, thus decreasing production costs. 

Ultimately, this leads to affordable collectibles that are less damaging to the environment. 

The process of minimising waste throughout clothing production requires a collaborative effort from all stakeholders, including designers and apparel suppliers. 

Several innovative techniques exist to reduce waste and promote sustainable practices. 

Key areas to consider include effective inventory management, recycling and reusing textiles, and training staff in waste reduction. 

Moreover, designing sustainable clothing involves considering options like durable, long-lasting fabrics and using a unisex sizing chart to reduce inventory needs for different styles. 

Ultimately, all parties must agree on the brand vision and purpose in order to achieve sustainable clothing production. 

Design techniques that eliminate fabric waste are diverse. 

Zero Waste Swatch Cutting is one such technique that aims to utilise the entire width and length of fabric, while minimising waste. 

This process uses swatches that are designed to leave virtually no scrap material at the end of the cutting process. 

The concept of up-cycling involves converting discarded or outdated materials into new and more valuable products or those of higher quality. 

Within the fashion sector, up-cycling translates into the transformation of pre or post-consumer waste, which includes worn clothing, remnants of fabric, or any other textile waste, into fresh clothing or accessories. 

Experts work on innovative techniques, like patching and putting together various textiles, to produce original and long-lasting designs that promote sustainability. 

In the fashion industry's closed-loop system, waste is minimised and resources are maximised in the product development and production processes. 

This can involve the use of recycled materials and adopting the practice of collecting and recycling used clothing. 

Through these measures, there is a reduction in the demand for new resources and an overall decrease in waste. 

Another innovative technology that holds promise for reducing fashion waste is 3D printing. 

By enabling precise and on-demand production, 3D printing eliminates the need for cutting in some cases, which can lead to a decrease in fabric waste. 

The utilisation of 3D printing grants the opportunity for customisation and trial models of hardware and trim parts, ultimately decreasing the possibility of waste reaching landfills. 

By utilising digital design and virtual prototyping technologies, designers can effectively create and test their garments in a virtual setting. 

As a result, resources for physical samples are cut down, lessening the waste tied to their production. Through the use of various tools like 3D modelling and virtual fit simulation, design, fit, and production procedures can be optimised, which leads to more efficient and sustainable garment development. 

Eco-Friendly Dyes and Finishes

In terms of dyes and finishes, conventional options have long been known to bear a heavy negative impact on the environment due to pollution, energy usage, chemical waste and emissions, resource depletion and waste generation. 

Furthermore, the process of extracting and processing materials for traditional textile dyes expedites climate change. 

Therefore, it's imperative that the fashion industry adopts eco-friendly practices to mitigate these effects. 

What exactly are the various methods employed to create sustainable clothing? 

Natural dyeing involves using biodegradable dyes sourced from plants or other natural sources which do not harm the environment. 

Low-impact dyes are synthetic but are less harmful than traditional dyes. Certified by third-party organisations, they use less energy and water, and contain fewer toxic chemicals. 

Additionally, sustainable clothing involves water-efficient processes and proper waste management techniques. 

Eliminating the need for water in the dyeing process, methods like jet dyeing and dry dyeing implement techniques like compressed air or supercritical carbon dioxide to colour fabrics. 

Eco-conscious finishing techniques employ sustainable methods such as enzymatic treatment, harnessing the power of enzymes to attain desired fabric properties, and forgo the use of harmful chemicals. 

Craftsmanship and mechanical finishing combine to add texture or pattern to fabric, cutting down on the need for chemicals and water in the dyeing process. 

This ultimately lessens the economic impact when applying finishes to clothing. In the pursuit of sustainable fashion, up-cycling and reuse are essential methods that involve repurposing discarded fabrics and clothing into new products. 

By adopting such circular economy principles, the industry can reduce waste generated during garment manufacturing and decrease the need for extracting new resources. 

Sustainable dyeing and finishing techniques also play a crucial role in minimising the environmental impact of the traditional processes that are used.

Energy Efficiency

Reducing energy consumption in clothing production is essential for ecological sustainability as well as resource conservation, cost, social responsibility and last but not least innovation.

It helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve resources and lower the cost of the manufacturing process.

Adopting energy-efficient practices in apparel manufacturing is critical to building a more sustainable and responsible fashion industry that benefits factory workers, brands and ultimately, the end consumer.

Examples of Energy Efficiency in Clothing Manufacturing

Additionally, reducing energy consumption during clothing production is key to promoting ecological sustainability, resource conservation, and innovation. 

Utilising solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, and heat recovery systems are just some of the methods for achieving this. 

Energy-efficient lighting is another sustainable energy solution that can significantly reduce energy consumption in garment manufacturing.

For example, LED lights are known for their energy efficiency, durability, and low maintenance compared to traditional lighting options.

By using these lights, apparel manufacturers can reduce energy consumption and operating costs.Heat recovery systems are also effective sustainable energy solutions in garment production.

These systems record and use waste heat from production processes such as drying or heating to provide additional heating or hot water to the system.By harnessing waste heat, apparel manufacturers can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and run leaner, more cost-effective operations.

Fair Labor Practices

Ensuring fair labor practices is also essential for sustainable apparel manufacturing, which promotes social justice, responsible business practices, and the longevity of the fashion industry. 

Without it, the validity of a supplier or brand using that apparel supplier is called into question. 

For this reason, numerous fair trade organisations conduct independent audits of clothing manufacturers around the world to ensure fair labor practices are followed. 

In the apparel industry, there are various organisations that prioritise certain aspects of fair work depending on their objectives and ranking criteria.

 Here are the five top fair trade organisations in summary. 

  1. Fair Trade Certification: Safe working conditions, fair wages, and community development are all ensured by Fair Trade Certification

  1. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

  1. Social Accountability International (SAI) SA8000

  1. Fair Wear Foundation (FWF)

  1. Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)

These organisations, which aim to promote ethical trade and fair labor practices, prohibit child and forced labor, and provide strict production, processing, and labelling standards. .

Ultimately, their goal is to keep workers safe and protect their rights. This is of utmost importance, so when starting a clothing brand, you should consider asking sustainable clothing manufacturers if their organisation holds any of these.

Packaging and Transportation

When it comes to packaging and shipping, the use of plastic bags, boxes, and other wrapping materials results in waste and pollution. 

Garment waste and pollution is a severe problem, with clothing items being discarded and contributing to environmental landfill. Even transportation of these clothes adds to the ecological impact, with fossil fuels being burned and greenhouse gas emissions rising. 

To mitigate these issues and promote sustainability, eco-friendly fashion brands must reduce their environmental footprint by considering the impact of packaging and shipping during their production process. 

A brand that aims for a sustainable future needs to use recycled or biodegradable materials to improve packaging and incorporate reusable or recyclable solutions to minimise waste. 

It's also crucial to optimise shipping techniques by choosing the most efficient shipping method and consolidating shipments. 

To ensure maximum packaging and shipping sustainability, an eco-conscious fashion brand should implement these practices into its supply chain. 

Collaborating with Supply Chain Partners

Driving transparency, risk management, innovation, collective impact and stakeholder engagement, collaboration with supply chain partners is essential to achieving sustainable apparel manufacturing. 

By coming together, supply chain partners can tackle environmental and social challenges, facilitate innovation in manufacturing, manage risk, achieve collective impact and increase stakeholder accountability to promote a more sustainable fashion industry. 

There have been successful collaborations between apparel manufacturers, fashion brands and partners in the forefront of sustainability. 

These collaborations have emphasised sustainable material packaging, CO2 neutral shipping, local procurement, minimal packaging and reusable packaging. 

A group of stakeholders from top brands, manufacturers and retailers make up The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), which is responsible for creating the Higg Index. 

This standardised set of tools analyses and evaluates the social and environmental impact of clothing and shoe products all the way from their inception to their disposal. 

Meanwhile, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is a worldwide collaboration that includes cotton farmers, fashion brands, and other invested parties. BCI's focus is sustainable cotton production, and they offer resources for farmers to learn about socially and environmentally responsible methods. 

In their efforts to improve their supply chains, many brands have pledged to source and use higher quality cotton. 

BCI has played a key role in partnering with these brands to assist in the advancement of cotton farming practices. 

One major success has been the improvement in the lives of farmers and the reduction of water and pesticide usage, both of which promote more biodiversity in cotton-growing regions. 

Taking action on climate change, the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action is a united effort between stakeholders in the fashion industry and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

With the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning towards a low-carbon economy, signatories to the Charter have committed to establishing targets for their efforts. 

This initiative promotes sustainability in the fashion industry, encouraging innovation in energy efficiency and sustainable materials. 

Ultimately, the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action raises the awareness and urgency of climate change in the fashion community. Collaborating with brands and chemical suppliers alike, the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) program aims to eradicate hazardous substances from the apparel and footwear supply chain. 

Progressing over time, this joint effort has produced gratifying developments towards chemical management and better working conditions for those in the textile and footwear industries. This is all thanks to the ZDHC Roadmap to Zero Programme. 

The Circular Fashion Partnership is an initiative that involves the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Global Fashion Agenda, and other organisations. 

Its objective is to expedite the shift to a circular fashion system. 

The partnership encourages co-operation between brands and apparel manufacturers in fostering a fashion economy that is circular. 

This is done through the sharing of knowledge and joint endeavours. The examples given demonstrate the potency of collaboration in promoting sustainability across the fashion industry. 


To achieve a reduction in the textile industry's environmental impact, it's important for brands, apparel manufacturers, and other stakeholders to collaborate and formulate a framework of systems and processes.‍ 

In brief, eco-conscious fashion brands must take numerous factors into account to effectively address sustainable clothing manufacturing. 

In the current landscape of clothing manufacturing, sustainability has taken centre stage. There are various areas that require utmost attention, such as utilising renewable materials and promoting efficient production tactics. 

Collaborating with supply chain partners, engaging in quality certifications, investing in innovation and monitoring the progress also fall under the sustainability umbrella. Incorporating these practices is crucial to minimise the environmental impact of your brand. 

It also fosters ethical and responsible sourcing, thereby ensuring a transparent and honest supply chain that doesn't exploit any parties involved in the production process. 

So, while sustainability may seem to be a buzzword, it carries far-reaching consequences and requires immediate action.

About the author
Anthony Mellor

Anthony Mellor is a fashion entrepreneur, writer and consultant. Anthony writes in-depth articles about topics related to fashion, business and supply chains.

Anthony successfully scaled and exited a D2C fashion brand at the young age of 20. Since then, he's gone onto start and successfully operate two multi-6-figure clothing manufacturing businesses and currently offers up one-to-one constancy to brand owners.

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