Taking Sustainability with Eco Clothing Brand Trace Collective

Trace Collective is a fashion brand making waves in sustainability. Their business model and brand ethos focuses on regeneration - using materials and practices that give back to the planet, and the people within their supply chain.

We spoke to the brand about fashion sustainability, transparency and accountability within the industry.  

1. As a brand with sustainability at your core, what are the easiest ways that other brands can make positive changes to their business models?

At the core of our business, we promote traceability and regeneration. We are a social business – we want to leave the earth in a better place than it was before.

If brands were more responsible with the fabrics they choose and actively improve their supply chain by adhering to circularity standards (i.e. using techniques that put materials back into the cycle of production), it would make a real difference.

Sustainability can only mean regeneration. We want to encourage brands to start showing their supply chain and putting sustainable and ethical practices in progress. We also believe in giving back to the communities; this is why we are involved with social businesses – giving an equal and fair wage to our workers.

There is no 'easy' way per se to change, but it starts with having the right mindset.

A lot of brands don't tell us these stories because they hide environmental degradation and human exploitation. But they can also be stories of ecological regeneration and human empowerment, and when we buy clothes, we become part of their supply chain and story. We hope that by opening up our supply chain to all, our customers will start wondering what's behind the price tags of the other clothes in their wardrobe and demanding change from brands.

Our advice to anybody who wants to start a fashion brand and create a positive impact - research! Research everything from the effects of the industry and what others are doing.  

Be honest about your practices. You have the privilege to start from scratch and to create a 'responsible, conscious business'. Research is the key - collaborate with other likeminded business. We firmly believe in the power of joining forces. Don't settle for less and be the change. Use fabrics and components that are helping nature, not damaging.

Make sure you have a plan for the after-life of your products.  
Be transparent about your supply chain. Make it your responsibility to check that your workers are in a safe environment and paid fairly.
And most importantly, enjoy the process, be passionate, believe in the purpose and don't give up.

2. What are the main struggles that you've faced whilst becoming a sustainable brand?

One of our initial struggles whilst we were becoming a sustainable brand was choosing materials and how this would affect the design process. Choosing fabrics we also had to make sure that they met our transparency and regenerative standards – this included thread, buttons, the interlining and fusing.

We also had to make sure that the final pieces were fully biodegradable – most brands don't create such products; this took extensive research to find suppliers who would create this for us. We ultimately had to us change and adapt our designs – removing some components as we couldn't get the quality and standard we wanted.  

Our supply chain – while adhering to circularity standards – could be seen as making things harder for us. We have set rigorous standards that guide all our company decisions, and this brings a unique set of challenges in every single area of the business.

Our fabrics – all pass a rigorous impact analysis to guarantee that we're minimising water and energy use and to ensure they're providing nature-based solutions to climate change.  

3. What have you seen change in regards to sustainability in fashion since starting your business?

Since starting trace, we continue to be inspired and impressed by other brands raising the bar and challenging the industry. ASKET and A.BCH, a bit less restrictive than us, but still are paving the way for transparency and striving for circularity.

However, fashion is still an incredibly unsustainable industry. We need to do a lot more work to figure out how to create a new global model for the industry that makes it morally acceptable to keep producing clothes.

A lot of brands claim to be sustainable and have sustainable practices in place, but we believe that the term is often overused, to us sustainable can only be regenerative.

There is still a massive disparity as the scale of clothes production and textile waste globally, on top of the Co2 emissions and water and energy consumption that the industry is responsible for producing.

Even if sustainable brands were to take over the whole industry, it still wouldn't solve the issues of the climate crisis. We need people to buy less and buy better. If brands want to be sustainable, they need to adhere to the highest sustainability standards.

This paradigm is challenging for us sustainable brands to navigate because, as businesses, we need to survive.

Overall it is a tough shift for consumers because it contradicts every bit of information that is being pumped into us by consumer culture.  

We need to look at how sustainable fashion is growing not in absolute terms, but market share. When we see style as an industry contracting and sustainable fashion as a segment of the industry growing in share, then we'll know that we're getting it right.

4. What are the key things consumers should look for when trying to buy more consciously?

As a consumer, we have a lot more power than we think. When wanting to buy a new piece of clothing – we need to be buying less and buying better. Being a conscious buyer, you need to assess whether you really need another pair of jeans or another T-Shirt, and also look at the brands you are buying from – do they have sustainable practices in place?

We need to ask brands two critical questions

  1. Who made my clothes and
  2. What's in my clothes

Does the brand pay their garment workers a fair and equal wage for their labour? Is the brand exploiting humans for cheap labour and clothing? Where are their factories based?

Looking at what's in our clothes – the fabrics and material they use – can also show us a lot about how the brand is helping the climate.

Does the brand have certifications and validations are their factories powered by neutral Co2 or renewable energy? How far has the garment travelled to arrive at its final destination? A good rule is to avoid any blend materials, polyesters, animal fabrics and non-organic cotton.

Is the brand adhering to circularity standards, are they using regenerative practices to create their clothing, what is their business model?

Look at what brands you're buying from – are they adhering to circularity standards? Do they give back to the environment?

5. You're extremely transparent with your supply chain and processes. How important is it that brands become more explicit with their impact?

We are well past the time of trying to reduce negative impacts, and we need to start thinking significant about how our economies will contribute to reversing climate change. That's why our driving mission as a brand is to produce positive social and environmental impacts. The word "positive" here means leaving things better than they were, as opposed to sustainability in its conventional meaning of creating less damage.

This mission cuts across all of our supply chains, from choosing fabrics that drive environmental regeneration and designing products for circularity. We've partner with a social workshop that provides training and access to jobs to women in the criminal justice system.

Brands need to start disclosing their supply chain and adhering to circularity standards – but better practices in place.

We need to use fashion as a regenerative tool – there is great power in sharing the stories behind the clothes that people are buying – it reconnects them – this can spark meaningful conversations about what effect we have on the earth.

6. What are your sustainability goals for the remainder of 2020?

Our main objective is to change the conversation about the impacts of the fashion industry: from sustainable to regenerative, from numbers to quality, and from products to stories.

We humans, our societies and economies, can only truly thrive and be fair to all if we respect planetary boundaries and act with empathy towards others. Today, we are very far from designing an economy where these principles are upheld.

But at Trace Collective, we believe that fashion can be a driving force in this transition for all the damage that it has and continues to do.

Fashion has been since the beginning of time, a tool of status and self-expression. As we mentioned, consumers have the power to make a change. We can vote with our waller and start to reshape the industry and our relationship with ourselves - we are more powerful than we think.

We want to do better by working more collaboratively with network organisations that are pushing the global conversation on sustainability, as well as with our supply chain partners to support their transitions to a green economy. We want to become a zero-emissions company, this is challenging for a young company, and we can't wait to have more capacity on board.

Check out Trace Collective's store here and don't forget to follow them on Instagram @trace.collective