Activating Purpose in the Fashion Industry

Fashion is undergoing a sustainability overhaul. The release of The True Cost documentary last year was our industry's Food Inc. and continues to be a big part of the growing awareness about the impact that fashion has on the environment, household and macroeconomics, and the health and safety of the 40 million people who help make our clothes.

Fashion is the third most polluting industry in the world, and the second largest consumer of water. Making fabric uses water, energy, chemicals, and other resources that most people don't think about, or ever see. That invisibility makes talking about the true costs of fashion difficult. For the average consumer, it feels abstract and definitely not a part of our day-to-day life. But we all wake up and put on clothes every day, so our decisions have an impact whether we realize it or not. We all have the opportunity to make change.

At Reformation, we accepted the challenge of thinking about all the costs in creating fashion--not just the price tag. RefScale is a tool we've created that tracks our environmental footprint by adding up the pounds of carbon dioxide emitted, gallons of water we use, and pounds of waste we generate. We then calculate how Reformation's products help reduce these impacts compared with most clothes bought in the US. The whole equation follows the lifecycle of our clothes--everything from growing textile fibers and making fabric, dyeing, moving materials, manufacturing, packaging, shipping, garment care, and even recycling clothes when you're done with them.

Despite "savings" compared to the status quo, we still make clothes and can't avoid having an environmental impact, so decided to invest in programs that actually replace what we've used and spent. As a company, we give back to the environment in the form of offsets. Basically, in exchange for the emissions and water used by our clothes, we help plant forests to naturally capture CO2 from the air, invest in clean water solutions, and purchase landfill gas offsets.

We share this information on every product page of our website, and have added a personalized dashboard to each customer's account page giving them the ability to track their RefScale, or their environmental savings, with every purchase. Our hope is that seeing these numbers will empower our consumers with information about the true costs of fashion and show them how small choices and incremental improvement can yield big results. Also, when it comes to Reformation's personal impact on the environment, RefScale gives us visibility into every single product we make. It clearly gives us data that shows where we need to improve and where we are doing a great job.

Keeping track of all of this requires considerable effort and takes time, so we decided to launch RefScale with water, CO2, and waste. We know this is not the whole picture. It's important to consider toxicity, fair labor, and other big impacts--and we'll keep working on ways to include that in our calculations.

We're excited to be at the forefront of sustainable fashion. We believe in transparency and share every bit of our process with our customers and educate them about the environmental impact of traditional fashion and our solutions. We've seen a number of companies, large and small, gravitating towards "sustainability" in their design, making similar commitments, and making changes in their supply chains. We're hopeful that more and more brands will follow suit, and make it easier to shop for clothes that don't just have a great price, but capture all costs.

Kathleen was part of a breakout session at SB'16 San Diego that shared the latest trends in sustainable fashion including how companies are helping consumers discard the idea of 'fast fashion' for more ethical supply chain practices, sustainable materials use and high-quality end products.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Sustainable Brands on the power of purpose in driving business success. The Huffington Post is a media partner for SB'16 San Diego, Sustainable Brands' flagship conference which was held in San Diego last week.