Dear Ms Creagh and Committee Members,
I learned of your inquiry into unsustainable practices within the fashion industry and I am writing to offer my insights as a young, sustainable British brand.
I’m the founder of Charli Cohen – I launched the brand in 2014 on a foundation of sustainable practice.
Quality of fabric and of construction come first and foremost, to ensure longevity of the garment itself. I also specifically design pieces to endure through different trends and seasons, as well as using technical fabrics and construction techniques to give each piece great utility and multi-function. The cost-per-wear of each garment is extremely low, so despite a higher retail price, the value is ultimately much better for the customer. The concept of cost-per-wear is something that fast fashion consumers could benefit from a better understanding of, as it’s ultimately customer pressure that’s going to effect change within large retailers. Whilst retail price is still the biggest factor in most purchase decisions, fast fashion retailers will continue to compete for the lowest price rather than the best quality.
With ethical labour practices as an absolute given in our supply chain, we actively seek mills and factories who also incorporate sustainable processes. For example, the mills we work with in Italy produce their own renewable energy and utilise recycled plastics in many of their fabrics. We have noticed through our supply chain that sustainable practice tends to be grouped within geographic areas – so where there is pressure and competition to improve processes and be more energy / resource efficient, it happens.
The majority of our styles are core continuity pieces, so we can take as much time as needed to sell through all stock without it becoming dated. This would be an easy and efficient practice for many brands to adopt if stockists were under greater pressure to honour a no-discount policy on specific styles. Unfortunately, many smaller brands are forced to go along with their stockists’ standard discounting practice to avoid poor terms such as sale-or-return.
We produce in limited quantities in line with demand, to minimise waste. When we need to produce extra in order to achieve a viable price point for our customers, we upcycle surplus stock to create special, limited edition pieces.
If there is still unsold stock that isn’t part of our continuity range, we actively avoid encouraging waste and unconscious consumption through discounting. We instead work with charities, individuals and underprivileged communities to repurpose any surplus for its intended use – i.e. as a fully finished garment, rather than simply the fabric being recycled, as we value the time and resources that went into the development and construction of each piece to make it a high quality, functional product.
We are in the process of launching an in-house customisation service, which will allow existing customers to send us any of their previous purchases for upcycling. We are also currently producing an online video series to inspire our customers with upcycling ideas they can experiment with themselves.
It generally requires more resources – both time and money – to operate sustainably, so understandably it’s challenging to change everything at once within a company that hasn’t been set up that way from the outset. It will also push up end price for the consumer – even though actual cost per wear value will improve in line with quality.
However, there are so many different steps that can be taken and strategies that can be implemented, that I think there is little excuse for a business to not at least make a start with the most cost-effective changes and gradually build from there.