DIP 011: Sustainable for whom?

PLUS: Girlboss in beta, Floyd is making a very good bookshelf, déjà vu with Otherland

👋 Hi. I’m sitting outside sipping a Haus and tonic, eating Castelvetrano olives, and feeling grateful for the rise of a stateside aperitivo culture. There’s more to the shift than Americans simply taking a cue from Europe, and it probably warrants a deeper dive. More to come. In the meantime, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

The Chips 👀

The Dip 👑

I’ve been hesitant to explore the ways that brands market sustainability, mostly because there’s so much to unpack, and because “sustainability” is so multifaceted. But it keeps coming up in different ways, and there will always be more to address, so here’s a first pass…

From Transparency To Sustainability

As operational transparency and cost breakdowns have become standard across digitally native brands, sustainability has become the new rallying cry.

There have been conflicting reports on whether consumers are actually favoring products marketed as “green” or “eco-friendly” — here’s a no, and here’s a yes.

But before diving into whether sustainability sways purchasing decisions, I think we need to take a step back. What does sustainability even mean? Are we talking about reduced carbon emissions? Not using plastic? Offering factory workers sustainable wages? Creating a product that’s built to last? The reality is that these all ladder up to a product being “sustainable,” but the term is so broad that it’s become prone to greenwashing.

Who’s Doing What

On the production side, Reformation and Everlane have both taken a strong stance and are being transparent about their sustainability efforts. Reformation has mapped out a long-term plan and publishes wildly robust, quarterly updates that are circulated among email subscribers. It acknowledges wins and failures, making clear that it still has a ways to go before achieving its goals.

Last fall Everlane launched an initiative to eliminate virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2021 alongside its ReNew collection. Recent trademark filings suggest that it’s applying the ReNew model to other textiles (see: ReWool, ReCashmere, ReAlpaca, RePoly, and ReNylon). The brand recognizes that its Tread sneaker is a work in progress, both with regard to materials used and emissions generated to produce it. It’s purchasing carbon credits to offset emissions until (if ever) it’s able to manufacture a true zero-impact shoe.

Marketplaces that seek to make sustainable products easier to find are also cropping up — there’s “The Responsible Store” on Verishop and Net-a-Porter’s Net Sustain. The challenge here is that there’s no information about what makes each brand, or each product “sustainable.” Net-a-Porter outlines broad criteria that brands must meet in order to be listed on the new platform, but Verishop’s curation strikes me as little more than virtue signaling…

Doing The Most, But Not Enough

Slow fashion presents an antidote to many of the pain points surrounding large-scale production. Brands like Olderbrother, First Rite, and Feit fit the bill, producing items that are built to last, crafted in smaller batches, and made from higher-quality, natural materials (which, admittedly, come at a significantly higher price point). The bar is high within the slow fashion community. Yet because of that, consumers may hold brands to an even higher standard.

Elizabeth Suzann is a Nashville-based line producing beautifully tailored, hand-sewn, made-to-order clothing. (I own the Clyde pants and cannot recommend them enough.) The brand was recently criticized for posting a job with a $14/hour starting salary. The argument posited that a brand shouldn’t call itself sustainable without providing its employees a sustainable wage.

The company’s founder responded to the criticism via Instagram Story, clarifying that the $14/hour wage was nearly double the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour), and outlining the many ways that the brand invests in its employees, as well as the company’s financial model — something she’s been transparent with in the past.

Elizabeth Suzann sources and dyes its textiles locally, it sews products by hand and only does so once an order for that product has come in, and it doesn’t package its products in plastic. It does everything thoughtfully and with intention, yet it still can’t win.

Seeing Elizabeth’s response to the criticism made it painfully clear that brands — especially those making real strides toward sustainability — can’t please everyone. Instead, both as brands and as consumers, we need to choose what we care about most and act on that. And while it may not be enough for everyone, it’s good enough for now.

Still Hungry?

Real Dip 📚

Cilantro (or any other herb) chutney.

Start with two-ish cups of an herb (cilantro, or parsley, or basil, or a mix of any of the above). Chop it all up and put it in a blender with one roughly chopped serrano pepper, juice from three limes, and a large pinch of salt. Blend, splashing in water as needed to get things moving, until the chutney is smooth and pourable.

Try it with grilled corn or burgers, drizzle it atop nachos, or use it to zhuzh up store-bought hummus.

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily 🖍