Ethical, Eco-friendly, Sustainable – what does it all really mean?

Posted by Leanne O'Shea on

These terms have (rightfully) become part of the fibre of modern living but they can be misunderstood. It’s so great that we’re part of a generation where companies are aware of the world around them and want to be socially and environmentally responsible, but it has to be more than just a box ticking exercise. We’re often asked what we mean when we use these terms, what we mean EXACTLY, so in the interests of being transparent, here are the definitions and how they apply to us…

We’d also like to add that we’re no experts; we’re as new to manufacturing as the brand itself, but we have learnt and educated ourselves and we actively work to ensure we’re making the right decisions for the brand, for our customers, and for the planet.

Read on for all the info.

Fashion Conscience

Ethical fashion is a BIG term and a bit of a catch-all for what is basically all the *good* stuff that makes the wheels turn when running a business. This is everything that can be considered good for society AND good for the planet, so from fair working conditions and wages to care for the environment, it’s really the backbone of a modern brand. It’s also something for which it’s hard to gain complete transparency. The supply chain of any fashion business is complicated and becomes even more so when working with global manufacturers. We work hard to ask the right questions and invest in the right people. We think we’re doing a good job – we only use Organic and Oeko-Tex certified cotton and we work with factories we know and trust - but we strive to do an even better job with every new path taken.

If something is eco-friendly, it means it isn’t harmful to the environment and has been manufactured to ensure this. Choosing to purchase or use an eco-friendly product means you’re gaining from these natural benefits too. For example, Organic cotton is free from harmful substances. It has been grown to be safe for the environment, and in turn, it is safe for you. It’s really as simple as that.

Sustainable fashion

Gah, sustainable fashion is a tricky one. A bit like ethical fashion, it’s a melting pot of terms that relate to both social and environmental issues. One discernible distinction though is how sustainable fashion relates to the length of a product’s life. Is it discarded after one use and thrown to landfill? Or is it passed down through multiple owners? Vintage clothing has proved itself sustainable (though depending on what it is and when it was made, it may not have been produced ethically, fairly or with a green footprint so it’s not ticking any of those boxes – see, we said it’s a tricky one!). Repairing and upcycling clothing is another sustainable approach – sew that hole, and breathe new life into your wardrobe. Rent clothes. Swap clothes. Donate to charity shops. These are all great things to do. There is an argument that any new clothing production can’t *really* be sustainable because it’s part of consumerism which by its very nature, isn’t sustainable … BUT, let’s be honest, the desire for new clothing, for ourselves and our children, is intrinsic to the fabric of our lives and rightly or wrongly, it’s not going anywhere.

Pass it down

We’re a brand, and we make new clothes  - it feels like a bit of a confession when talking about sustainability - but we can’t escape it, so what do we do about it? For us, it’s about awareness and responsibility. It’s true that we create new collections several times a year. They’re great quality. They’re expertly made, they don’t fall apart after a couple of washes and we know they’re passed down to siblings and friends so their lifespan is a good one. They also have a decent resale value (so we see on ebay 😉) and that’s great too. We like to think of our collection as having a long life – which can be tricky with fast-growing kids and immovable stains! We also have our Core collection which is at the heart of the brand. The iconic Just Call Me Fox print and the Cub slogan among others, have been in the collection for years and we continue to grow and develop this part of our story. This is because we want people to buy into Tobias & the Bear and know that the design will be relevant for a long time to come. We’re not about trends. We never have been. Tobias & the Bear is a brand that’s design-led but not trend-driven. The prints and pieces are based on things that kids love and they’re delivered in a way that those same kids AND their parents will both like. That’s another way we strive to be sustainable.

So, can we do better than we are? Yes, we absolutely can. At the moment we’re looking at more eco-friendly packaging. The main culprit in our business are the classic plastic polybags that every item is packaged in during production at the factories. These are an unfortunate necessity as they’re needed to keep garments clean and dry during transportation as well as when they’re stored in warehouses and shop stock rooms. When we first started the brand, we chose not to use plastic polybags because of the waste but we understandably received complaints with damaged stock arriving into retailers and customers. We quickly but reluctantly moved to the industry standard of polybags but are now looking at eco-friendly alternatives. Our favourite so far are compostable. Watch this space.


Main image: Quince & Co



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