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%.”

https://fashionunited.uk/uk-fashion-industry-statistics

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.

Take a look at these industry examples:

Example 1 (from Finisterre)

Example 2 (from Baukjen’s 2022 impact report here)

 

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.”

(Maya Angelou)

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!

 

Photo credit: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash 

 

Find out more and contact us here:

Jennifer Decker/

I enable businesses to reduce their business and product impacts from setting out a sustainability strategy to supporting the delivery of circular business models. Businesses I have supported include High Speed 1 Ltd, Cotton Incorporated, Argent, Heathrow Expansion, Northern Trust Bank, EDF New Nuclear Build, EY, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence.

I specialise on working within an organisation which has included my tenure as sustainability specialist at EDF New Nuclear Build and at WRAP developing their Textiles 2030 agreement and produced their 2030 circular textiles pathway working with the major retailers, reuse & recycling businesses and charities.

Prior to QSA, I was an associate director at Mace Group where I enabled built environment clients to deliver their carbon reduction programmes and sustainable construction strategies by setting measurable KPIs and targets; creating tools to monitor; embed performance standards in procurement and communication.

Previously, I led the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan at WRAP setting the 2020 targets, strategy and implementation for the UK clothing industry.

Kristina Bull /

I led our project with Laudes Foundation and ReLondon on the Circular Fashion Fast Forward project that saw us develop circular models with adidas; FW and Farfetch as well as lay the foundations for Ted Baker’s work in this area.

I am leading the development of a fibre specific recycling programme within Europe which will be launched in early 2022.

I am an apparel durability expert with track record of change implementation at Whistles, ASOS, COS and worked with WRAP and John Lewis to produce a durability and quality guide for brands.

I have advised low carbon, resource efficiency and sustainability strategy development at Heathrow and High Speed 1 Ltd, and continue to lead the support work for HS1 through to their participation at COP26 in November 2021.

Before QSA at WRAP I delivered the market engagement and recruitment drive for the WRAP Halving Waste to Landfill agreement in the built environment sector.

Gerrard Fisher /

I have a strong track record in sustainability with a wide range of clients. My original background is in process and chemical engineering so I’ve been in to process and resource efficiency since graduating a long time ago!

I’ve supported circular business model transformation in companies such as adidas, Argos, ASOS, B&Q (Kingfisher), FARFETCH, FW, Samsung, MuJo Fitness and more: I led a team that created WRAP’s original circular business model project called REBus.

I have extensive experience working with electrical and electronic products, and I worked with many major global brands on improving design for durabiltiy and repairabilitly. Examples of projects I led include:

  • Groundbreaking research into the nature of mercury hazards in flat-panel TVs (leading to industry voluntary labelling)
  • Creation of design guides for retail buyers so they could improve the durability (and reduce warranty costs) of their own-brand products.
  • Delivery of communication campaigns that increased e-waste recycling collections by over 40% in target areas.

Through my past work at WRAP and beyond, I’ve also advised a range of governmental and NGO organisations on resource efficiency, ecodesign and circular economy including Defra, BEIS, Zero Waste Scotland, ReLondon and Oxfordshire County Council. I provide technical advisory and independent expert advice to UKRI, the European Commission, the US Government’s Department of Energy.

I get a kick out of helping businesses understand and meet their customers’ needs better - whether that’s through better business models, better product design or better communication and transparency.

This has also led me to take an interest in privacy and data management - which can be a big barrier to people reusing and recycling some of their old electrical stuff. As a result, I set up a business called Astrid to provide cost-effective privacy advice to small businesses so they can better protect their customer information.

Mark Hodgson /

I specialise in the innovation and proposition development of new customer orientated, commercially driven circular and sharing business models to market. I have a particular experience of working on circular models with sectors that are impacted by the change in lifestyles, consumption, digital mobility, electric infrastructure and NetZero, have on place. Examples range from retail; IKEA, adidas, B&Q, ASOS, FarFetch, developers and OEM’s; Landsec & Samsung, mobility; Riversimple, HS1 & Co Cars and authorities; Oxford County Council and Exeter Velocities/Exeter City Council. Across all of these, I have helped deliver the propositions, services, operations and infrastructure to enable deployment.

As a founder and ex-director of a multi-modal shared e-mobility provider of EV cars, e-bikes and e-cargo bikes, I have first-hand experience of the impact and change these business models can have on people and place, through working with clients, local authorities and housing developers.

I understand what processes and techniques to apply, how to encourage growth and change mindsets, and how to build a customer-focused, commercially viable business model that delivers circular and environmental benefits. My background is business development, technology and markets having worked for international companies to local SMEs. I've worked in a wide range of projects from global business propositions, sales as a service, sharing and circular business models, ‘low carbon’ LEP economic strategies, climate change adaptation, renewable energy, clean tech sector development and public sector partnerships to technical research, international development and project delivery management.

Being a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and geographer at heart I've worked on sustainable development projects and film productions in locations in Africa, Asia and Europe.