Fashion Doesn't Always Have to Cost the Earth To Protect the Earth

by Josh Jeffries, Senior Development Coach at Acre Frameworks
May 17, 2021 12:25 PM ET
Blog

If you are anything like me, you aim to be mindful when shopping for clothes. Buying ethical and sustainable garments is the obvious way forward to lower the environmental impact – but it often comes with a hefty price tag.

The fashion industry is a major polluter (just behind aviation which is the worst culprit) and we are buying 60 per cent more clothing than we did 15 years ago. 

Fashion produces 10 per cent of all carbon emissions and uses a staggering 2,700 litres of water to produce just one cotton shirt (the equivalent of 24 baths). Not only that, the average consumer in the USA and UK wastes more than 30kg of textiles every year.

As a ‘plain white tee’ guy, I have been suckered into buying more than my fair share of cheap t-shirts from major high street / fast fashion retailers, particularly when living in London as a poor student. However, even 10 years ago, I can’t remember paying any less than £10 - £20 a t-shirt.

To my shame, I used to burn through cheap tees that would immediately shrink in the wash and be replaced six months to a year later. I wanted to shop ethically but simply couldn’t afford to. Ethical fashion has always been so overpriced – even extortionate at times.

Yes, I suppose I could have sacrificed a few simple pleasures, like coffee, beer and everything else in order to shop ethically but even if I had been virtuous enough back then, I wasn’t comfortable paying the price these companies were demanding.

You can imagine my delight when I came across Yes Friends, a Bristol-based start-up with an ambitious goal to make ethical fashion affordable. Finally, there is more than a glimmer of hope on the sustainable garment horizon.​

Yes Friends has started its mission by selling environmentally friendly t-shirts for a mere £7.99 (that’s not a misprint by the way). These slavery-free t-shirts are made from Fairtrade and organic cotton in a factory powered by wind and solar energy (reducing CO2 emissions by 90 per cent).

Garment workers are paid good wages (thanks to the Fair Share Scheme that Yes Friends is part of) and the company sold 3,000 t-shirts within 13 days of launching. This is now enough for Yes Friends to submit its very first order with its supplier.

How is this achieved? Yes Friends operates on the ethos of using a large-scale, smaller margins business model to make ethical clothing accessible to everyone, proof that it is possible to produce sustainable clothing without it costing the earth.

Now the firm has bigger plans to go beyond selling 3,000 t-shirts and is aiming to launch more collections pronto. It believes the faster it can launch ethical collections, the faster it can help transform the fashion industry if other companies take their lead and follow suit. 

Co-founder Sam Mabley set up Yes Friends after opening an ethical clothing store in Bristol in 2017. He has been buying ethical clothes for the past eight years as was concerned about low wages and poor working conditions that workers in the fashion industry often have to endure. 

He told me: “Our mission is to transform the fashion industry by making ethical clothing affordable. We hope to be another catalyst towards the industry shift towards ethical and sustainable clothing, challenging the big brands and providing genuine competition to some of the big high street brands. 

“We also believe that change is going to come through all sectors, companies, governments, NGOs, charities and consumers, so we want to be actively involved in different sectors to help transform the fashion industry”.

The Yes Friends pioneering business model has been cited as a shining example of how the fashion industry can improve its standards, in a letter from a cross-party group of 100 MPs and peers.

The joint letter, written by Stephen Timms, Labour MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, has been sent to CEOs of fast fashion giants including H&M, ASOS and Boohoo to demand a living wage for workers in their supply chain. It recommends that the clothing brands adopt the Yes Friends’ model of smaller profit margins in order to guarantee a fair wage.

Sam Mabley added: “We’re so honoured to be in this letter and so pleased that there is such strong government support for living wages in global supply chains.

“The consumer response to Yes Friends has also been amazing. We think it really shows that the demand is there from consumers to see change in the industry and we want to continue to provide sustainable and ethical clothing to be a genuine alternative to the current UK high street. We’re already planning our next collections!”

In summary, the whole Yes Friends business model is perfect for me. Ethically sourced, paying living wages to their workers in a factory powered by renewable energy and making ethical fashion affordable. The small team is building a sustainable profit margin for their business (why not? No one begrudges a company’s right to make profit!) but not at the expense of people or the planet.

If only Yes Friends was born 10 years ago, I could have saved myself a fortune and a cleaner conscience! Now though I can confirm, I’ve been there (the Yes Friends’ website), done that (made my purchase) and got the t-shirt (well almost, it is currently on order).

To order a t-shirt (available for men and women, in a choice of black or white) visit www.yesfriends.co.uk.

If you have any ethical fashion notes to share with me, do get in touch: josh.jeffries@acre.com

Josh Jeffries is a Senior Development Coach at Acre Frameworks, heading up the delivery of the Acre Frameworks’ assessment and development service and leading global projects.