Small fashion businesses – now is the time to harness your power
SMEs may be small by nature but let’s not underestimate their power when it comes to climate action. We’ve been busy looking at the wider impacts of the fashion sector, especially the pivotal – yet often forgotten – role small fashion businesses play in reducing carbon impact.
“The UK fashion and textile industry is dominated by SMEs. Most of the businesses are micro businesses (with up to 9 people) in retail, wholesale and manufacturing: respectively 90%, 85%, and 80%.”
Source: UKFT’s Compendium of Industry Statistics and Analysis 2020, September 2021.
As part of our work on extended fashion producer responsibility (see our recent post!), we’re driven to make sure that small businesses are not just an “add on” but instead seen as powerful, advanced leaders in the low carbon transition that the whole industry must deliver.
Tiny businesses can drive MAJOR change through their purposeful, positive actions. And we’re passionate about empowering them to do so. And quickly.
It has been clear for a while that the global climate target of 1.5C is going to be challenging to meet – effectively needing us all to HALVE carbon impacts by 2030.
Help is close at hand
Running a small business is all about spinning plates, hoping you don’t drop too many and keeping the cash flowing – we get it.
You know you should be thinking about reducing your carbon impact…
You want to make a positive change…
But, you can’t see when or how you can do it. Time and capacity are your most scarce commodities. What if you just don’t have the time to wade into detailed carbon analysis and product footprinting? Or, even know where to start for that matter?
The good news is that small businesses can look to their ‘big siblings’ of the industry – those who’ve done the initial time-consuming groundwork. By using data collected by similar businesses in the sector, you can easily make a start on reducing the impact of your own.
How? By looking at where the majority of your carbon emissions are likely to be based upon the detailed analysis that others have presented. Because, these are similar for many businesses in the sector.
Learning from others is a superpower
The two brands Finisterre and Baukjen have spent a lot of time, effort and money looking at their supply chains and operations. Their sustainability efforts are a cut above – their impact/footprint reports are detailed and thorough.
Interestingly, both brands have come up with similar answers:
1. It’s material sourcing and manufacturing that makes up the biggest part of their carbon impacts.
2. Transport’s the next biggest piece (but it’s small compared with the production of ‘stuff’)
This is important and powerful information because as small and micro businesses can take this as a rule of thumb that:
Your product impact is where you can drive the most benefit.
Meaning a company starting actions on the following three points is probably tackling its biggest climate challenges:
- How can you make a garment last longer or get it to be used more intensively?
- What changes in your material choice and design can help reduce the impact?
- Can you source from manufacturers that are powered by renewable energy?
Could SMEs be doing their own detailed assessments over time? Yes. But it’s not essential to complete detailed assessments before taking action. And, time is something we don’t have much of anymore.
Businesses must be conscious not to put blockers in the way that can stop critical progress on reducing climate impacts. It’s never been more important to learn from others and create action.
The risk of extrapolation
Of course, it won’t always be right. There will always be finite differences for example – businesses with very low sales levels of low-impact items might have different proportions – but in most cases we believe this is a good guide. Remember – perfect is the enemy of good.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Get talking: harness the power of community to amplify impact
We think it’s critical to engage in your local business community to help drive and magnify change (but we’re a B Corp, so we would say that!) As an SME it can often feel like you’re a small fish swimming in a huge ocean and not fully appreciating the difference your actions can make.
It’s important to talk with other local fashion businesses in your area. To forge relationships and support networks – never underestimate people power. You can share information on what you’ve done to quantify and reduce impacts, ask questions to find out ways you can support one another with your climate actions and pick up tips & ideas from each other.
It’s time for action
Despite the challenges faced by small businesses, particularly in terms of time and capacity, the opportunity to reduce carbon impact is within reach. As the global climate target poses a formidable challenge, SMEs must seize the opportunity to not only mitigate their own carbon impacts but also contribute to the broader industry’s low-carbon transition. Focus on:
- Learning from industry leaders like Finisterre and Baukjen, who have invested time and effort in detailed sustainability reports (and publishing them)
- Material sourcing and manufacturing
- Embracing a collective approach within the local business community to further amplify the impact
And remember, the mantra of “do the best you can until you know better, then do better” echoes the importance of continuous improvement, emphasising that progress, not perfection, is the key to addressing climate challenges.
You can do it!
You might not need our help to get started on your low-carbon transition – this blog may have already sparked your initial thinking and actions. But if you do want to talk about improving your carbon impacts, we’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line using the button below!