18 Tough Questions Every Sustainable Fashion Designer Needs to Answer

by , 10/29/10   filed under: Featured, Features

sweatshops, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

Photo by Alice Patterson


When Made-By and Estethica teamed up to create a new questionnaire for designers wishing to exhibit at London Fashion Week, both the European nonprofit and the popular sustainable-fashion platform set out to do more than screen applicants. “The idea was to create a holistic picture by looking at what issues can be addressed at all stages of a product’s lifecycle and also show how many issues and stages are related,” Allanna McAspurn, Made-By’s U.K. general manager, tells Ecouterre. “We also wanted to inspire brands to tell their stories.”

The result is a series of 18 questions that can not only be used to weed out truly green labels from their less-than-verdant counterparts, but also serve as guidelines for any designer or brand that wants to improve the sustainability of its business. In the end, it boils down to knowing the right questions to ask.

“The first step is to fully understand your supply chain,” McAspurn says. “It can be useful to use third-party auditors, but the best method is often to create good and long-lasting relationships with your suppliers where they trust you enough to be honest about the actual situation and are willing to work with you on any improvements.”

That doesn’t mean tackling everything at once, McAspurn stresses. Small steps can snowball in impact, and in fact, it may be more effective for a designer to start with one specific area instead of strong-arming the process and getting overwhelmed. She adds: “Remember that there are companies out there that can support and advise on what changes can be made, such as Made-By—you aren’t alone.”


1.  How can you use intelligent design to reduce the social and environmental impact of a product’s lifecycle?

2.  Do you consider the environmental effects of the colors and prints you choose for your collection?

3.  Can you create a longer-lasting and better-functioning product, thereby reducing the need to replace it?


4. How much water does it take to produce your fabrics?

5. Are you aware of the sustainable alternatives to the raw materials you are currently using?

6. When selecting your fabric range, do you think about the end-of-life stage, such as the implications of disposal?


7. How well do you know your supply chain?

8. What are the social costs of your production process?

9. Have you ever considered using recycled pre-consumer/post-consumer waste in your collection?


10. Are you able to reduce the amount of solid and hazardous waste in your packaging?

11. Have you considered a local supply chain to decrease mileage in the production process?

12. Could you reduce the weight and volume of a product by using fewer or lighter materials to optimize transportation? 


13. How durable are your products; is it possible to increase their longevity?

14. How can you encourage the customer to form an emotional attachment to your product, thereby discouraging disposal?

15. How does your product need to be cleaned and what impact will this have on 
the environment? 


16. Can the product have a second life?

17. Could you offer an upgrading and/or a repair service to your customer?

18. Can you reduce the waste impact of disposing your product by making it recyclable 
or biodegradable?

+ Made-By

+ Estethica

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7 Responses to “18 Tough Questions Every Sustainable Fashion Designer Needs to Answer”

  1. jessirae (@futurestandard) says:

    Thanks ecouterre, Made-By and Esthetica for this list. It brings us closer to an ethical industry standard!


  2. pamela.ravasio (@pamelaravasio) says:

    Thanks for this list.
    Here some additions:
    1b or 4b. How can you use intelligent design and modern technologies to reduce the raw material / material waste your design generates?

    16b. … and third, fourth […] life

    19. Are you confident that your product is worth its price to your customers? (I know, this might sound strange, but unless it sells, point 1 to 18 are not getting us anywhere …)

  3. ciel1 (@Ciel1) says:

    Hi Great stuff Allana,

    thanks we teamed up with the UN in January 2010 and launched this questionnaire to aid and enable policy makers and designers to begin the process and collate opinions across disciplines as to how we can create a more effective fashion & design industry; if you are interested please do make your mark and add your thoughts here:

    Sarah – Ciel ; ) x

  4. […] else’s point, by the way.There are lots of great ideas about what sustainable fashion needs to be defining and some inspired critical thinking – like this – about how to maneuver the luxury goods […]

  5. Jan says:

    I use about 95% recycled materials in my products. That is the answer to #9 so how would that adjust the questions for my company?
    thank you

  6. refinity says:

    The reply’s on this topic are from a while ago, but I still like to add some points:

    Design 1: not only reduce the impact, but try to make a positive impact,
    Raw materials 4: not only think about water but also about energy, we always have to be efficient with water and energy next to being effective.
    Materials: are there any toxic used in the production stage that can still be in the materials which can harm when having skin contact?
    Overall: Do you add value to the diversity of the world?

    And I totally agree with point 19 of @pamelaravasio

    If you want more tips and tools on eco-effective designing take a look at my blog: http://www.refinity.eu/blog

  7. ymajija says:

    This is so interesting and informative for developing students

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