Sustainable Fashion Misconceptions Debunked: A Five-Part Series (Part 3 of 5)
Intro to the Series
Intro taken from the first installment of the series.
My co-founder Itzett and I run a self-funded, ethically sourced compostable luxury menswear brand based out of New York City. We’d met on the steps of the New York Public Library during COVID, with both of us seeking shelter from the rain. Five months later, we launched Gomorrah.
The two of us are currently pioneering next-generation sustainability in the green apparel space by solving for post-consumer textile waste: something that’s widely talked about, yet whose discussion never really stretches beyond the problem itself. And so in response, we set out to manufacture clothing that can disintegrate into non-toxic, natural elements and become food for microbes and bugs, thereby creating an endless cycle with nature. Though aside from being a mission-driven company, there’s a whole lot more to our model that, in 2022, would unfortunately still get labeled as being progressive, like bringing the social equity aspect of sustainability into our pricing decisions or earmarking a percentage of all revenue to maintain and/or restore Earth’s natural resources.
But the most unique thing, I think, is that we focus on men because men are disproportionately disinterested in protecting the environment when compared to their female counterparts. American pop culture has provided us with a very narrow idea of what it means to be a man, having conditioned us to think that we can’t be caring or nurturing (among other things), and so making lifestyle changes out of concern for our planet is in direct opposition with the outright terrible people we’ve been indoctrinated to be: dominant, aggressive, isolating, intolerant, and emotionally confused. To really dumb it down – because it honestly doesn’t deserve any more justice than that – America has been teaching its boys to eat meat, play sports, only sleep with women (and to be forceful about it), and ignore anything even reminiscent of a feeling in favor of shoving it down.
And it’s for these reasons that being a steward of our planet doesn’t exactly fit within the male paradigm. Meanwhile, I’m a 35-year-old straight dude who was raised by the sensibilities of two generations of men having passed through Jones & Laughlin Steel, and yet somehow I ended up in New York fashion, bootstrapping a company that places people and planet before every decision made. And I’m not some anomaly. I’m just as broken as my peers. But there’s a point at which all of us need to pick up our heads and realize that the world is changing because it’s our responsibility to change along with it.
In this series, I’m going to present the most surfaced misconceptions I’ve seen over the past year: views that invariably crop up in everything from advertising campaigns to influencer reels. Each of these ideas deserves a second look because none of them are ever unpacked. They come to us in blurbs with the sole purpose of inciting an action – either to follow or buy – and so these words mistakenly become truths because the experts, i.e. the CEOs and founders of brands, aren’t doing much of anything to educate the customer.
Misconception #3: A brand achieving Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification for both its company and its products speaks volumes about that brand’s commitments to sustainability.
GOTS is quickly becoming a household name with eco-conscious consumers, but the standard is far from perfect. While GOTS does good work, a brand choosing not to seek certification through GOTS says more about the cost-benefit ratio than it does about that particular brand’s commitments to people and planet. The challenge is that D2C e-commerce has birthed an entire industry around the need for third-party certification bodies to substantiate a company’s claims. As a result, companies still building brand equity will feel pressured to subscribe to these standards, as they know online shoppers look for certification badges on homepages to help guide their decisions to support new brands. Though oftentimes, buying into these standards is nothing more than a money pit for a brand – and even a distraction that supports certification processes that don’t work as intended. Below is a quick look at what to know when it comes to the sustainable apparel industry’s gold standard: GOTS.
- A brand can be GOTS certified, and yet not sell a single GOTS-certified product. So the badge featured on a company’s homepage more or less allows that company to either inadvertently or purposefully greenwash, as a consumer is led to believe that all of its products are GOTS certified, whereas that may not be the case. Know that a brand’s certification is an audit of its in-house operations, not the labor it subcontracts to manufacture its materials and products. And so it’s somewhat pointless for a small team of founders to waste their precious start-up capital to buy into a standard that says absolutely nothing about the clothing they produce. The process is pretty difficult to navigate, and GOTS doesn’t offer much help; however, they will point brands to GOTS-approved consultants, whose work will unfortunately cost them thousands of dollars, all for a certification that truly adds no value outside the potential to draw in more customers and convert sales. And even if the founders had managed to make it out of an apartment and into an office, after having onboarded a small team, a company is far more likely to seek B Corp certification being that it’s a lot more relevant to the everyday business operations of the brand.
- If a label does use GOTS-certified materials, GOTS precludes them from advertising this, and so the workaround is to state that the products they make are certified organic. That said, a brand who isn’t certified can sell GOTS-certified clothes, but the mill and the factory as well as the facility from where the brand warehouses and ships would each had to have been certified. Additionally, the mill would have to provide a transaction certificate for the fabric provided, and the brand would have to submit a label release form to the factory in order to be able to make any GOTS claims. Then the brand would have to have its label maker create GOTS labels to be sewn into its garments, which amounts to nothing but free advertising for GOTS at the expense of the brand, not to mention unnecessary waste. Regardless, factories and fulfillment centers are very unlikely to seek GOTS certification on their own, and so the brand would have to negotiate the possibility and, if amenable, subsequently absorb all the expenses involved. That comes with a price tag upwards of $20K, and in the end, each can fail and be reluctant to make the changes required for their operations to pass.
- GOTS-certified garments can still contain materials that have deleterious effects on both our environment and human health, as GOTS-certified garments can include (and are very likely to include) plastics, adhesives, and various other non-biodegradable materials.
Takeaway: GOTS gets in the way of its own mission at the brand-level by preventing any mention of the standard unless the brand has a GOTS-certified product, which is difficult to have unless a brand runs its own vertical or is willing to do one of two things: 1) pay for the uncertified entities within its supply chain to become certified or 2) increase its carbon footprint for the sake of only doing business with GOTS-certified entities in order to then manufacture GOTS-certified products. Moreover, buying into the standard may not only be not financially viable for a small shop, but it also may be in malalignment with the values and beliefs of the brand provided that a company itself can be GOTS-certified and yet not sell a single GOTS-certified product. The standard’s value, from a brand’s point of view, is that it enables buyers to identify and ethically source certified organic materials. However, that value is only realized when customers know that the sourced materials are, in fact, certified by the standard, but yet that cannot be relayed to the customer unless the brand’s entire supply chain is subjected to and subsequently passes a GOTS audit. Lastly, a brand can manufacture garments that are actually cleaner than their GOTS-certified counterparts.Gomorrah is currently planning a Kickstarter campaign for June/July 2022. Subscribe to our newsletter for early access (50% off).