Sustainable fashion is the new norm

Sustainable fashion is a scientific and data-driven movement that seeks to ensure that our clothing is produced, sold and worn as sustainably as possible. The movement also aims to address the social problems that affect workers in the industry, such as low wages and poor working conditions.

I find it satisfying that this call comes from the customers themselves. People are aware of the problems of the fashion industry. They want to improve the situation and demand that companies join in.

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Source: Nielsen

Retail chains understand that they have to respond to customer requests. However, brand manufacturers must understand that simply tapping marketing slogans is not enough to satisfy an eco-conscious target group.

In 2019, for example, the British fashion retail chain Boohoo announced that they would stop using wool to be more environmentally friendly. This decision was revised a few hours later after they were heavily criticised by their customers, partly because wool is a relatively sustainable fabric.

Apart from the bumpy start, Boohoo has since proven that they care about making meaningful changes. Last year, the retail chain released its first collection made entirely from recycled material. Today they are more transparent about their social responsibility initiatives.

Pretending to customers that you are sustainable, so-called greenwashing, does not work. You have to become sustainable to really make a difference, not just follow (or pretend to follow) consumer trends.

To understand why it is necessary to work together towards sustainable fashion, it is important to know the main problems of the fashion industry.

The current state of the fashion industry.

The global turnover of the fashion industry is expected to increase from 481.2 billion dollars in 2018 to 712.9 billion dollars in 2022.

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Source: Statista

The main problem is the pollution caused by the production and sale of clothing. To better understand the extent of this problem, let’s take a look at the life cycle of an ever-popular article in the fashion industry: The white cotton T-shirt.

Clothing made of cotton is comfortable, durable and breathable. Cotton is also relatively cheap to plant and harvest, so it is not surprising that cotton is the most widely grown cereal in the world, apart from food.

However, cotton has a downside: farmers use pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers which, when mixed with water, penetrate into the soil, affecting the country’s biodiversity and reducing fresh drinking water.

Growing cotton for a T-shirt requires 3.323 litres of water. This is enough for one person to drink for 3.5 years. By comparison, the same amount of polyester requires only 18 litres of water.

Finally, the T-shirts arrive at your favourite shop, you buy one and wear it. But what happens to the other shirts on the stand? T-shirts that are not sold often end up in landfills and are incinerated, causing even more exhaust fumes and pollution.

The fashion industry and its customers are aware of these problems and the commitment to change things for the better is at a sustained high. Everyone is looking for solutions that will turn the industry around so that every cotton T-shirt ends up in our wardrobes in a sustainable way.

MAHOL’s experience as a print-on-demand service

Print-on-demand services are probably only one step towards a more sustainable fashion industry. Let’s take a look at how MAHOL’s product catalog and inventory, printing techniques and equipment, and the way we manage our production facilities helps our customers create sustainable brands.

Our Inventories

The biggest advantage for print and Made On Demand providers over other large fashion retailers is that it produces less waste.

Traditional clothing chains create items for sale and are mass produced to save costs. In contrast, at MAHOL we do not print an item until a customer places an order for it, and we only produce items that already have a destination.

This allows us to avoid overproduction, where unsold goods have to be disposed of or incinerated, as other retail giants already do. In an industry that produces 92 million tonnes of waste annually, such a business strategy is groundbreaking.

Print-on-demand waste is mainly generated by items that are damaged during the printing process. MAHOL’s cut for damaged goods is within the industry average.

MAHOL donates returned items to local manufacturers’ charities and gives damaged clothing to animal shelters, which can use it for their own purposes.

The products we print on and how we obtain them are also decisive. Therefore our purchasing department is always looking for new products to add to our range. One of our goals for 2020 is to expand MAHOL’s range of organic and environmentally friendly products.

It takes some time to find and include first-class products. We obtain sample articles from various suppliers and check which are the best. After our team has found a suitable supplier, the article is added to the range. For this purpose product pictures are taken, a product page is created, follow-up tests, etc.

To include sustainable products requires finding sustainable suppliers. One of our long-term suppliers is Bella + Canvas, a clothing manufacturer that integrates its respect for the environment into the brand. Bella + Canvas uses solar energy, limits the use of water and recycles waste by-products to ensure that the products are allowed to use organic labels.

In addition, we only buy the products that are needed to complete an order. Filling stocks only when needed goes hand in hand with our belief that items are only printed when an order is placed.

MAHOL only stocks the most popular item variations and orders all others only when an order is received.

We constantly use our data to improve our range by removing unpopular products and items that are often damaged during the printing process. In this way we do not accumulate unused products that need to be disposed of and we prevent industrial waste.

Our equipment

We try to make the printing process as environmentally friendly as possible. Our producers have invested $27 million in state-of-the-art printing equipment and will continue to invest in the latest technology from companies that have sustainable fashion in mind.

Our producers are proud partners of Kornit, a specialist in printing directly on textiles. Thanks to their commitment and efforts in sustainability, Kornit printers produce almost no waste water and use less energy, reducing the CO2 footprint.

Direct-To-Garment prints are more sustainable than traditional printing methods such as screen printing. Screen printing not only uses a lot of water and non-biodegradable plastisol ink, but also tends to overproduce. By comparison, Direct-To-Garment printing is more environmentally friendly because items are only printed (and produced) when they already have a buyer.

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We use water-based and chemical-free ink for printing. We ensure that any remaining ink is disposed of in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid environmental damage.

Our business premises

Our manufacturing facilities in North America and Europe are close to our customers, which means we can ship our products faster and shorten shipping distances, resulting in less air and water pollution.

We recycle paper, cardboard, plastic and batteries, and use energy-efficient LED lighting in our offices and manufacturing facilities. We are always looking for new ways to save energy. For example, last year our European manufacturing facility moved to a Class A building, built using the latest technologies to prevent energy waste.

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In addition, we are making our internal processes more energy-efficient at all production sites. By restricting the use of plastic for individually printed Direct-To-Garment items, we have already saved 1,400 kg of plastic. We look forward to achieving new goals this year. One of these is to reduce the amount of cut-outs for cut & saw items.

Although there are other issues that need to be addressed, print-on-demand is gradually changing into a more sustainable alternative with less waste compared to traditional mass production and sales. This is good news for both brands and customers.