Affordable sustainable clothing brand Heikō explains why eco clothing matters
Aim interviewed Rob Henry, the Director of Heikō Clothing, to find out whether ethics are compromised when you set out to shake up the system and create an affordable, sustainable clothing brand in a world where profit tends to come before people and the planet.
What does affordable, sustainable clothing mean to Heikō?
To us, affordable, sustainable clothing means fashion that takes into account the environment, workers and consumers at every stage of the production process without charging a huge markup, providing more people access to sustainable clothing.
We don’t believe that sustainable clothing means perfection in terms of being fully ‘sustainable’ – we are acutely aware that it is not 100% eco-friendly fashion as we produce a new product, requiring resources and energy to produce. The most sustainable clothing option is to buy secondhand.
Although, we believe that it is not realistic to assume that everyone will source all of their clothes secondhand. That’s why there need to be affordable options for new clothes which are not seriously damaging the environment.
What makes Heikō’s clothing sustainable?
Heikō have thought about how we can have a minimal impact on the environment in all stages of production, and our business model is very eco-friendly in terms of minimal waste. With print to order, we do not waste any stock. If a t-shirt is imperfect and unsellable, we donate it to a homeless shelter.
Our t-shirts, totes and jumpers are all made from either organic cotton and/or recycled materials. Organic cotton is far better for the environment than standard cotton because it uses significantly less water to produce (as much as 90% less). There’s no use of pesticides when growing cotton. The inks we use are environmentally friendly. Our packaging is fully recyclable/biodegradable, and we donate a portion of our products to high-impact environmental or animal welfare charities. We also try to use our social media platform to educate our followers on the benefits of choosing more sustainable fashion alternatives and are fully transparent when asked questions about our production process.
We also strive to be eco-friendly by taking into account the workers who produce our garments. At present, our T-shirts are made in Bangladesh. As we are unable to visit the factories ourselves to check the labour conditions, we wanted the greatest assurance that workers are not being exploited and fairly paid. This is why all of our T-shirts are sourced from Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) certified company that has achieved ‘Leader’ status, the highest possible ranking FWF offers, for consistently showing best ethical practices. Therefore, demonstrating that it is committed to driving positive change in the textile industry. FWF are an independent, non-profit organisation that collaborates with a number of brands to ensure workers’ rights are protected, and labour conditions are improved. FWF also ensures that workers are given the means to acquire new skills and receive proper education and training. The foundation conducts a strict yearly brand performance check and extensive audit to report and evaluate the activities of member companies.
Why should sustainable clothing be more affordable?
It’s vitally important that sustainable clothing is more affordable to make it increasingly accessible and to encourage consumers to choose it over unethical and environmentally damaging fast-fashion brands. One of the main reasons we launched Heiko is that we felt there are very few affordable, sustainable clothing brands. Although it is undeniably more expensive to produce eco-friendly garments, many brands exploit consumers and use the fact that their products are organic to make extortionate profits by charging higher prices than required. Consequently, many consumers are priced out of the market and cannot make more conscious buying decisions, even if they want to.
On the other hand, fast fashion companies offer prices that are often even lower than buying secondhand. Eco-friendly fashion can never compete with the impossibly low prices of fast fashion, which don’t consider environmental impacts or fair wages but encourage consumers to choose more sustainable alternatives. The cost of sustainable clothing needs to be more competitive and accessible.
Will affordable price points compromise on fair wages, quality and eco-credentials?
A lower price does not mean there has been a compromise made in terms of fair wages, quality and sustainability. As previously mentioned, we only work with FWF or Fairtrade suppliers who are committed to paying workers fairly and ensuring their rights are protected. We will never compromise and work with a company that does not value this highly and is not independently regulated. Similarly, we only sell premium, high-quality products which are built to last and made from environmentally friendly materials. We would never compromise in this regard either.
The only area in which you could view that a compromise has been made, is that our garments are made in Bangladesh, and we have less transparency over the complete supply chain. However, by only working with reputable suppliers who are highly accredited and independently regulated, we minimise the risk of unethical practices occurring in the workplace. In terms of the environmental impact of the products being made in Bangladesh, cotton is not grown in Europe. Therefore, even if the garments were sewn in the UK, the raw cotton materials would still need to be shipped over, and the environmental cost of transportation would be the same.
Heikō can sell at affordable prices because we are happy to accept lower profit margins to oferr affordable, sustainable clothing. We also do all of the printing ourselves, which means we can produce our items at a lower cost. We have our own professional direct-to-garment printing machinery, so we do not have to outsource the printing process, which can be very costly for many other brands.
What are the clothing materials made of, and what will happen to them at the end of their life cycle?
Our t-shirts, tote bags and jumpers are made from certified organic cotton and recycled polyester. To attain the status ‘Certified Organic’ from the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), the production of cotton must abide by strict regulations, including:
- No pesticides are allowed to be used in the production of the cotton. Pesticides are banned because they can damage ecosystems, poison waterways and endanger workers.
- All operators must have an environmental policy, including target goals and procedures to minimise waste.
- Social criteria based on the requirements of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), including safe working conditions, no discrimination and absolutely no child labour.
We hope that the fact that our products are made from high-quality materials will mean they are durable and our customers will be able to wear them for a long time. However, any items that have reached the end of their life cycle (and cannot be donated) can be recycled via clothing banks. Clothing and textile banks can be found at many supermarkets and local car parks.
Are your clothes plastic free?
Our t-shirts and tote bags are plastic-free as they are made from 100% certified organic cotton. Our jumpers are made from 85% certified organic cotton and 15% recycled polyester, so they are not plastic free but the only plastic fibres in them are from recycled products. Similarly, the mailing bags we use are made from recycled plastic and are biodegradable.
What issues/messages do your t-shirts challenge?
The messages portrayed in our t-shirt designs seek to raise awareness of key issues impacting the environment and the world in general, such as climate change and plastic pollution. Although a serious subject matter, we want to spread the message on these issues in a thought-provoking but light-hearted manner, and this is what we have tried to achieve with our t-shirt designs. We ultimately hope that our eye-catching designs will spark conversations and keep these critical issues at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Do you have any favourite affordable, sustainable clothing brands? Comment the brand’s name below.
If you love sustainable clothing and are looking for more ways to be conscious with your fashion check out my blog on ethical shoes here!
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