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What Defines Sustainable Streetwear Brands

November 23, 2021

In the 21st century, brands are defined by far more than the quality and style of the clothing they produce. On an international level, the fashion industry has a massive impact on all spheres of life. Everyone needs clothes, and numerous people from design to retail rely on the industry in order to make a living. The fashion industry also has a massive impact environmentally and socially. 

Sustainability is the keyword here. When streetwear brands present and act ethically, they can be a force for good. Unsustainable practices seek to prioritize profit over workers and even the planet itself in a system that cannot last. Here at Daniel Patrick, we pride ourselves on sustainability and believe all companies should feature it as standard practice.

Here we will explain what sustainability is and how it defines the brands who swear by it. 

The Triad of Sustainability 

There are numerous ways to describe how sustainability works, but it can be boiled down to three core tenants. They are:

  • Product: This includes the base materials that garments are made from, including natural and synthetic fabrics. Each fabric has its own pros and cons relating to production, but there are ways to reduce environmental impact.
  • Environmental Impact: Environmental impact has to do with how the sourcing and production of fabrics affect the environment. This includes the immediate result of harvesting materials as well as whatever comes from the manufacture of clothing.
  • Human Impact: Treating workers fairly is essential when it comes to the ethicality of a company. The way employees are treated impacts both their economic reality and personal health.

Next, we’ll be exploring the depth of these sustainability factors and how they relate to the world of streetwear. 

Product

The first concern of consumers and designers alike regarding clothing is the fabric it is made from. This affects the feel and appearance of garments in particular. Each article comes with its own caveats for production.

Cotton is usually cruelty-free but utilizes a great deal of water in production, especially when it comes to denim fabric. Wool can be sustainably sourced, but some producers engage in harmful practices to sheep when shearing them. Synthetics are durable and easier to produce but may have an extended environmental impact if not recycled. 

There’s no immediate, easy solution to these issues. Every garment made will have some form of impact, but there are ways streetwear brands seek to reduce product impact. One of the key ways they operate is to change the conversation about how people relate to clothing.

With fast fashion, the process goes like this: You buy a new garment, it deteriorates within a year or two at best, and you buy another. This way, the fast fashion industry creates a greater deal of churn, greater profits, and greater consumption. A lot of streetwear brands in response have begun involving themselves in the slow fashion movement.

Slow fashion is often locally based. It highlights the longevity of clothing in favor of producing something to be worn and thrown out after a short time. This reduces the use of individual products while lowering the carbon footprint of consumers and designers alike. 

Environmental Impact 

When it comes to environmental impact, there is some overlap between product and human impact. The fabrics individual garments are made of impact the environment, as do the conditions in which they are made. 

The creation of new fabric is environmentally costly, and waste is everywhere in the fashion industry. For that reason, many brands seek to recycle materials or ensure a level of quality that enhances lifespan. Organic materials like cotton and wool are more easily recycled compared to others.

Synthetics are beloved, but they are a double-edged sword: They can be moisture-wicking, smooth, and provide benefits that organic fabrics cannot match. On the other hand, the chemical creation processes can cause damage if done improperly. When synthetics wind up in landfills or oceans, they do not easily break down.

There are two main ways streetwear brands deal with the synthetic fabric issue, each equally viable. The first is to improve quality so that a smaller quantity of fabric will see extended use. The second is to use partially recycled fabrics, as Daniel Patrick does in the DP Adidas Basketball Shorts. While it might take a bit more work, it’s the ethical choice to prevent waste.

It’s also essential to make sure that manufacturing conditions are ethical. Production is more than sewing together garments: Garment dyeing and the creation of specific fabric blends, wherever it occurs, creates some waste. Be certain that the brands you choose are cognizant of the impact the fashion industry has.

A quick search is often enough to identify how a brand deals with the environmental aspects of fashion. Local production and a line that includes recycled elements are positive signs that a streetwear brand is sustainable. 

Human Impact 

In 1911, what was then one of the worst accidents in the garment industry occurred. This event was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. When a fire broke out on the floor, workers were blocked from exiting the building because of a locked door. The managers locked an exit door to prevent workers from leaving earlier than they were supposed to. 

In the end, 146 workers, primarily young female workers, perished. The fire led to criminal charges and a nationwide fervor over workers' rights, which should have ended the issue. 

Despite this, many garment companies still source labor in an unethical way. One needs to look no further than the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse to see the issue. The factory collapse occurred in Bangladesh, where many fast fashion companies source labor to reduce costs. One thousand one hundred people died in the incident, with thousands more injured. 

A sustainable business seeks to grow while benefiting its employees rather than growing by their exploitation. This incident has caused consumers and designers alike to pay greater attention to how their brands interact with the world. The world of streetwear, in particular, has taken to reducing the human impact of goods.  

Streetwear originated as a type of fashion to be worn and defined by individuals. For that reason, many streetwear brands pride themselves on their ethicality when it comes to employment and production practices. Be on the lookout for brands that either source or produce most of their goods locally. Local production not only suggests a community-oriented focus but also shows the designer may have more direct oversight into creation.

Sustainability Summarized 

Sustainability isn’t about doing just one action well; It’s about taking a multipronged approach to how a company interacts with the world. There’s also a fourth element to all of this, without which sustainable practices become difficult to implement: Economic viability. 

Brands operate as businesses and artists, making it essential to outdo competitors and generate sufficient profits. Ethical sourcing, fair worker treatment, and attention to environmental impact are all moral obligations for a company. The reason fast fashion brands can sell their goods cheaply is by neglecting these as well as quality.

When a brand takes steps that increase costs, it's natural that prices will go up. For that reason, it’s unsurprising to see ethical brands that cost more relative to their competitors. For a business to be sustainable, it has to have an ethical model. It also has to have the ability to maintain that model while paying equitably at all levels.

Sustainable fashion must comprise:

  • Ethical: Workers are paid equitably, and manufacturing processes ensure safety at all levels.
  • Production: Products are manufactured in a way that reduces their environmental impact. This includes recycled fabrics and gear that’s built to last.
  • Economy: Goods are priced in a way that makes it possible for the company to continue as they wish. Higher operating costs and lower product output, among other factors, contribute to the price. 

Sustainability is a far more complex notion than its simple name may suggest. There are many ways a business can be sustainable beyond altering their usual processes.

Sustainability: Action and Process 

The two main ways in which groups can pursue environmental actions are action and process. Process refers to refinements in the way a brand operates, from concept to creation. We’ve just gone over the many ways in which process can contribute to positive change.

Action refers instead to ways brands act outside their normal day-to-day to affect change. Donating a portion of proceeds from a particular offering to a charitable cause can help offset the impact of goods. Planting a certain number of trees or aiding plastic recycling efforts can also help when it comes to environmental impact. Choosing to engage outside a brand's immediate impact and change from within showcases true dedication to environmentalism. 

Sustainable Streetwear Brands 

When you look at sustainability in streetwear, there’s plenty of synergy between the two. Streetwear is characterized by unique offerings that last long and help an individual express themselves individually. The signature elements of streetwear also lend themselves to sustainable fashion: Low batch sizes keep churn and impact low, while high quality in each garment allows your closet staples to last longer.

Streetwear brands are often individual-led, and for that reason, it’s usually easy to find their “story.” A brand's story includes the individual history of its leaders, as well as personal interests that may inform their designs. This makes it easy to identify the values and, in some cases, production standards of companies.

Community orientation is a cornerstone of sustainable streetwear. These artists look to be inspired by and support the communities around them. For this reason, the earliest major streetwear brands are synonymous with the cities that made them legends. 

Transparency is also a hallmark of ethical brands. Sustainable streetwear brands have nothing to hide and are often open about their process. For them, craftsmanship in their apparel every step of the way is a point of pride. Wherever manufacturing is sourced for these companies, it’s either local or at a foreign location known for fair practices.

When streetwear goes sustainable, the key takeaway is there: Every single individual, from the designer to the consumer, and every person between them benefits. To close this piece, 

we’ll be examining ourselves as an example of how a streetwear brand operates under sustainable principles.

Your Sustainable Streetwear Brand: Daniel Patrick 

Let’s begin with a bit of humility: While we are proud of our personal efforts in sustainability, it’s impossible ever to be perfect. There is always room for growth when it comes to reducing the negative impact one has on the environment. We still believe that we have made the fashion world lean slightly towards good with our designs.

Daniel Patrick’s gear trends towards the sporty side of activewear, with sweats, tracksuits, tees, and other athletic apparel all represented. This has led us towards our collaboration with Adidas

In any given wardrobe, certain staple garments can be used on a daily or weekly basis. For this reason, they must be versatile and just as well-made. This principle has helped inspire our Basics collection, which upgrades all manner of closet essentials to fuse style and function.  

We source most of our production in LA, with a  selection of footwear made in Portugal for its natural materials. Our line also includes some recycled materials in a bid to combat industry waste. 

The three words which define sustainable streetwear are as follows: Quality, ethicality, and style. With these three words as a guiding light, the whole of the fashion industry is ready to move forward.

 

Sources:

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire | HISTORY 

How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet | New York Times

Frequent Questions about Sustainable Marketplace and Green Products | US EPA

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