How MATT & NAT and Allbirds are Leading the Way in Sustainable Fashion

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By Tricia McKinnon

While not at a tipping point yet, more companies in the fashion industry are focusing on sustainability. There is some debate as to what sustainability means, but in essence it is about creating, manufacturing and selling merchandise that is less harmful to the environment. After the oil industry, the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter.  You may not realize this but the t-shirt you are wearing, may have used, on average, between 400 – 600 gallons of water (i.e. 7-10 bathtubs full of water) in the manufacturing process.  Household staples like denim and leather are among the most toxic materials to produce because of the toxins contained in the dyes used on those materials.  In general, companies focused on sustainability are trying to impact a number of areas including: water consumption, pollution, poor factory working conditions, textile waste and clothing waste (which ends up in landfills as consumers cycle through the latest fashion trends).  

Not only is focusing on sustainability good for the environment it is also good for business. Millennials, in particular, have an affinity towards social causes.  According to an eMarketer report, sustainability is an attribute that 87% of millennial internet users surveyed are likely to pay more for.  Whether for altruistic or business reasons, there are a number of companies that are focusing on sustainable fashion with great results.  

MATT & NAT which stands for MAT(T)erial and NATure is a Canadian company that sells fashionable accessories with a minimalist design. While at a distance MATT & NAT’s signature bags look like they are made from animal products they are actually made using vegan leather.  All of the linings of the bags it produces are made from 100% recycled bottles with approximately 21 bottles used in every bag it produces.  According to MATT & NAT: “It’s important for us not to use leather. Simply put, we don’t like hurting animals and we care about the welfare of the planet”. MATT & NAT is also continually sourcing materials such as cork and rubber to make its products more sustainable in addition to cruelty-free.  

California based shoe company Allbirds started out with a wool sneaker in 2016. They became a Silicon Valley staple then Allbirds went on to sell one million pairs within two years.  Its shoes are made of natural and environmentally friendly materials including eucalyptus tree fibre and merino wool.  Its shoes are also comfortable with Time magazine calling them: "the world's most comfortable shoe."  Last year Allbirds launched a flip flop called SweetFoam with soles that are made from sugar cane.  Tim Brown, Allbird’s Co-Founder has said: “our thought is, if we can put a man on the moon, you should be able to make a T-shirt and a pair of sneakers that are carbon negative or carbon neutral”.  

Everlane is a clothing brand head quartered in California that mostly sells high quality basics (cashmere sweaters, cotton t-shirts and jeans) but at lower prices than retailers such as J.Crew or Banana Republic who sell similar items.   Everlane plans to eliminate all virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2021.  On Everlane’s website it says: “there are 8 billion tons of plastic on the planet. And once it’s made—it never goes away. So today, we’re making a commitment: No new plastic in our entire supply chain by 2021.”  The first step towards achieving that goal is Everlane’s launch of a new line called ReNew, a collection of puffer jackets and fleece that is made from three million recycled plastic bottles. For items within the collection Everlane shows how many plastic bottles were “renwed” in order to make a particular jacket or top. For example Everlane’s ReNew Long Puffer was made from 60 renewed plastic bottles. Everlane’s goal is to recycle 100 million plastic bottles within five years. 

In the past most sustainable fashion was reserved for luxury shoppers.  But all of these brands are paving the way for the mass market to participate in helping to improve the environment. 

Tricia McKinnonTrends, Canada