Style Meets Sustainability: Behind The Bags

Made From The Earth - A Note From Our Founder
Over the past few years, "sustainability" has become a popular topic in the fashion industry, and consumers now expect brands to pursue responsible manufacturing processes. Transparency is key, but I find that many fashion brands don't go far enough in explaining how they're focused on making the Earth a better place. I'm excited to share Poolside's path to sustainability, highlighting some unsexy areas of the business that I think can make a big difference.
Poolside's Path To Sustainability
I never intended to start a sustainable brand. When I launched Poolside in 2016, my only goal was to create a cute accessory. Since then, I have learned so much about global manufacturing, fashion business operations, working with artisans, manufacturing in emerging economies, and the delicate ecosystems that exist in the places where we produce our goods -- mainly Morocco and India. Like many other individuals, I was shocked to learn that the fashion industry has such a negative impact on the world. As I learned, I took a deeper look at our manufacturing and operations.
Sustainable. Handmade. Biodegradable. Compostable.
As I looked into our production and business operations, I realized that we already had a "sustainable" business. Our products are 100% handmade -- we do not create any pollution while manufacturing our bags. To put this in perspective, "the $2.5 trillion fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters and the second-biggest consumer of water." (Source: CNBC)
In addition, Poolside uses mostly natural materials, which are all biodegradable and compostable. Our straw bags can be cut up and added to a compost pile when you're done with them, decomposing in a matter of months. In fact, straw is viewed as a valuable addition to a compost pile, as it helps "heat" the mixture, resulting in finished compost in a shorter period of time.
So What?

While I was very proud of the fact that I had a "sustainable" business on my hands, I never wanted to market that aspect of what we do. So many brands were capitalizing on this story, and there had to be some deeper ways that we were contributing to the planet before I was comfortable communicating Poolside's efforts. I thought about this for a few years as I continued to build the business.

Zero Waste

 One aspect that brands don't often talk to consumers about is inventory management. Why? It's not sexy, and it's not something that consumers think about. I think this topic is extremely interesting and important for brands and retailers alike, in order to minimize waste. 

Most of the fabrics used to make garments are synthetics and polyesters, which are derived from oil and petroleum. Unlike wool, cotton, straw, or other natural materials, synthetic particles don't biodegrade. In addition, brands often order more inventory than they can sell through in a season, resulting in a lot of waste. While this is mostly driven by large, global fast fashion companies, it's something that all brands should be thinking about. At the end of each season, inventory has to be put on sale, liquidated via an off-price retailer, or discarded.

Brands don't have the option to hold on to their excess product, especially as they near year-end. This is because inventory is seen as an asset on your books, and this can be detrimental. Social media, as well as the retail buying calendar, encourage brands (large and small) to create new collections constantly. If a brand's e-commerce business is not optimized to sell through the product, or if a brand cannot sell through certain styles, then product could be destined for landfill. "Globally, 80% of discarded textiles are doomed for the landfill or incineration. Only 20% are actually reused or recycled." -- re/make

 

 Therefore, inventory management has become a very important aspect of our business. Every style we produce is created in limited quantities. We've built a "waitlist" feature on our website, because we would rather reorder and fulfill later than over order and sit on inventory, which could go to waste. 

Retailer Responsibility 

 Wholesale drives so much of the retail business. Therefore, while brands can do their part to pursue sustainability, many also have to abide by strict retailer guidelines which often enforce parameters that are not intrinsically responsible. For example, many retailers demand to receive their shipments in fresh boxes. This is something we will never do. We receive our shipments from our manufacturers in sturdy, recyclable cardboard boxes, which we clean and reuse.

 

Next Steps

I hope that I was able to shed some light on the different ways that you can think about sustainability when it comes to retail and fashion brands. Using natural and/or recycled fabrics is fantastic, but it's also important to question the other ways that brands are putting the Earth first -- across their operations.  

 

In celebration of Earth Day this week, I encourage you to think about living a more "conscious" lifestyle this year. No initiative is too small, and we're all in it together!

 

Thanks for reading!
Ashleigh Stone, Poolside Founder