As the global middle class continues to rise, clothing production has approximately doubled over the past 15 years, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and the environmental impact of this segment is growing quickly. If nothing changes by 2050, the fashion industry will comprise more than 25 percent of the global carbon budget under a 2-degree scenario, the Foundation revealed in a 2017 study.
Through its Circular Fibers initiative, the Foundation is calling on the fashion industry to use more sustainable, biodegradable and recycled fibers that cut the carbon footprint of textile production. It's also working with NGOs, governments, and brands like H&M and Nike to divert textile waste from landfills and further reduce impact.
Of course, given the massive scope of the modern fashion supply chain, the emissions associated with textile production and disposal are only the tip of the iceberg. Worth an estimated $2.5 trillion, the fashion industry employs over 300 million people worldwide—more than 60 percent of whom live in developing countries. This not only opens the door for labor abuses in far-flung factories with little brand, government or third-party oversight, but also increases transportation-related emissions and overall carbon footprint.
With these factors in mind, tackling the impact of the apparel industry at scale requires both sustainable textile innovation and a move toward more localized manufacturing. California-based fashion label Amour Vert is out to prove that both can be done—without sacrificing quality and style. The brand includes French-inspired fashions for men, women and children that are produced with the smallest environmental impact possible.
Located in San Francisco, Amour Vert works directly with textile mills to pioneer new fabrics that are durable and desirable, as well as sustainable. For example, this spring the company will debut new fabrics from its exclusive Tencel and Modal fiber blends, made from eucalyptus and beechwood trees. Both are created in a closed-loop process using sustainable yarns and are biodegradable, according to the company.
One of Amour Vert's key mill partners is located only a few hundred miles south in Los Angeles, allowing the company's designers and decision-makers to play a hands-on role in the fabric development process. "The localization of our LA-based mill partner allows our team to travel back and forth to and meet in person," Aaron Hoey, CEO of Amour Vert, told TriplePundit. "I believe in-person conversations are crucial and allow for creative minds to meld together to create, as well as offer us the ability to touch, feel, and see the softness and drape of the fabrics. We [also] want to manufacture in the Bay Area when possible due to this belief. "
Collaborating with local fabric mills is only the start for Amour Vert. The company works almost exclusively with small garment manufacturers in Northern California, and 97 percent of its clothing is made within a few miles of its San Francisco office—decreasing carbon emissions and supporting fair labor. "From the start, we have manufactured in the Bay Area when possible because local supply chains and distribution channels have the lowest possible environmental impact," Hoey explained. "Local production means less transportation of clothing, which ultimately means less of a carbon footprint."
As press reports continue to detail the prevalence of human rights abuses within apparel factories, working with local suppliers gives Amour Vert greater control over what happens during manufacturing. "Having our production site so close to our office also means we get to visit the factories regularly, allowing us to closely monitor safe work conditions for our workers," Hoey said.
Having a close relationship with its manufacturers, many of which have worked with the company since its founding in 2010, also allows Amour Vert to push for practices that better align with its sustainability ethos—including natural dyeing, water reduction initiatives and small-batch production that reduces waste.
This collaborative streak extends to partnerships with other local, sustainable brands—including a wildly popular collaboration with Los Angeles denim label AGOLDE. The Amour Vert x AGOLDE collab features LA-made denim made from 100 percent organic and recycled cotton in what Amour Vert calls "one of the only vertically integrated denim production facilities in the United States." Including three cuts and nine washes, the line proved to be a fast hit and was even featured in Forbes as "a collection of jeans that may well be the world's most eco-friendly."
The concept of sustainability as a profit-killer becomes more obsolete each day, as market research continues to show that consumers are seeking brands with a purpose beyond profit. Case in point: Clutch, a Washington D.C.-based research and consulting firm, recently surveyed American consumers to find out what motivates their purchasing decisions—and the results are surprising. More than 70 percent of consumers said they look for environmentally-friendly business practices when making a purchase, compared to only 44 percent who are primarily motivated by price.
Amour Vert has been sustainable from the start, positioning the company well to withstand the shifting consumer attitudes that have left many brands perplexed. "We have found that sustainability is not a hindrance, but rather, a challenge that can lead to a creative process for innovation in creating new fibers and fabrics," Hoey said.
"Customers increasingly want to know that their goods are being made ethically and that they understand the supply chain behind the clothes they’re wearing," he continued. "Amour Vert wants to provide our customers with as much transparency as possible when it comes to our local supply chain. If a client wants to know where their clothes are produced and how they’re being produced, we feel they deserve to know."
The company highlights its factory partners prominently on its website, calling on customers to learn more about who makes their clothes. Amour Vert factory partners include a 23-year textile industry veteran who opened his own shop in Oakland after his previous employer downsized and laid off his colleagues, and a San Francisco factory owner who trains her all-women team one-on-one.
"Sharing the stories of our workers allows our customers to hear firsthand where their clothes are coming from and allows us to highlight designer partners," Hoey said. "Furthermore, we are extremely proud of our all of our partners as they are some of the best factories you can work with from a quality standpoint, so why would we not highlight them?"
Amour Vert's focus on local supply, storytelling and sustainability have brought both prominence and profit—offering a lesson and a case study for other fashion brands. The company rakes in an estimated $14.5 million in revenues each year, according to Crunchbase, and counts celebrities like Blake Lively and Olivia Palermo as fans.
Image credit: Amour Vert
Editor's Note: This story was updated on March 14 to remove reference to members of Amour Vert's team who are no longer with the company.
Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, has written for TriplePundit since 2013. She is also Managing Editor of CR Magazine and the Editor of 3p’s Sponsored Series. Mazzoni’s recent work can be found in Conscious Company, AlterNet and VICE’s Motherboard. She is based in Philadelphia.