If you’ve ever shopped at Sbri, followed @sbri_studio or just happened upon our website in a magic twist of fate, chances are you’ve heard us chat about the ‘S’ word a fair bit, the ‘S’ word being sustainability. Being a sustainable leather brand was never a question for us, we knew that if we were going to be making fun leather accessories it had to be fun and fair for everyone, including our planet (cos we’ve only got one). You can read all about our sustainability practices here, including information about the natural materials we use and how we run our leather studio.
As well as offering our customers gorgeous, UK made personalised purses and accessories we try to encourage them to learn about what’s in their new garment, how it was made, where and by who - important questions we should all be asking every time we shop. We know that shopping sustainably in day-to-day life can be overwhelming and it’s almost impossible to do it perfectly, but we’d love for it to become more accessible. In this post we’re going to try and debunk 5 common assumptions and misconceptions about sustainable fashion so that you can hopefully start to think about it in a different way.
Who you gonna call? Myth busters.
Myth 1: It’s more expensive to shop sustainably
Yes it’s true, sustainable products are often more expensive when you look at it on a surface level. Our leather coin purses are £30, New Look currently have a similar sized purse on their website for £5.24 - but how long will that New Look purse last you before you have to replace it? How many outings will it have before it falls apart and ends up in landfill? Cost per wear (or per use, when it comes to purses and bags) is the real question to ask when you’re buying something new. How far are my pennies going to go?
Shopping sustainable fashion is an investment in quality - the items are made well and the materials are built to last and age with you (like our vegetable tanned leather, which only gets better with use). One of the (many) dangerous things about the rise of fast fashion is that it’s taught us to massively undervalue the skill of crafting products and the responsibility of sourcing materials. The truth is, on a purely mathematical level you shouldn’t be able to make and sell a purse for £5.24. If the customer is making a saving like that, someone else will be paying the price, and that’s usually the garment workers, the planet or (probably) both.
At the other end of the scale it’s easy to assume that high-end designer brands work in a more ethical way because they charge a much higher price but (spoiler alert) that’s usually not the case either, as designer brands will usually inflate prices for profit and perceived value without passing these profits onto the people making the products. At Sbri we operate a fair pricing policy, selling direct-to-consumer and minimising the markup added by designed brands to make luxurious leather goods more affordable. Lots of sustainable small businesses work with a similar business model so keep an eye out for this kind of information on their websites.
NB: Being able to shop sustainably is a privilege and we know it’s not affordable for everyone but if you can afford to do it, know that it’s not always as expensive as you might think.
Myth 2: Sustainable fashion is beige and boring
There’s a massive misconception that “sustainable fashion” means wearing clothes that look like potato sacks and come in three colours: beige, cream and dark beige. Well, it is our pleasure to inform you that this is a mahoosive cliche. Way back when this might have been the case but we’d like to think that Sbri is the opposite of boring, and we’re definitely not the only sustainable fashion brand that’s full of colour. No shade on beige btw, if beige is your thing then go rock it.
What’s important to remember is that when you’re trying to shop more sustainably, less is more (and by less we mean less items, not necessarily less colour). Less items in your wardrobe mean less items that will go neglected and eventually disposed of, so we’d always encourage you to invest in staple pieces you completely love and will use time and time again instead of hopping onto trends that don’t actually bring you joy. Your staple items aren’t always going to look like the next person’s, and yours definitely don’t have to be beige if you don’t want them to be.
Myth 3: Shopping sustainably is hard work
“But shopping sustainably is too much like hard work.” True, there’s a little extra effort involved in tracking down sustainable items and making sure they’re coming from a reliable place – because operating sustainably is far from the default for the majority of fashion retailers – but finding sustainable brands is nowhere near as hard as it once was. Thank you, Internet.
Online resources are your friend when you’re getting into sustainable shopping. Sustainability influencers on the ‘gram are a great place to start, helping you to discover sustainable small brands (like us!) that tend to be a lot more transparent than the big ol’ corporates. There are also some brilliant marketplaces like Sancho’s who curate the best sustainable brands in the UK and can help you find your next go-to favourite.
The website and app Good On You is a brilliant resource for checking out the sustainability credentials of a brand you’re interested in and to check if their values match yours. The Good On You directory of sustainable and ethical brands gives retailers a rating out of five to help customers make better choices when shopping (five being ‘great’, one being ‘we avoid’), and they also have a whole host of resources and brand recommendations to get you started on your sustainable shopping journey.
Myth 4: “Vegan” leather is better for the planet than real leather
It’s easy to assume that something with the label “vegan” is going to be good for the planet, as veganism is typically associated with sustainability and eco-friendly choices but, like most things in life, it just ain’t that straightforward. In the last few years lots of high street fashion outlets have essentially rebranded their faux-leather lines to make them appear more desirable and ethical. What used to be called “pleather” and was seen as an undesirable knock-off is now labelled “vegan leather” – usually with a sticker alongside it which says something like “kind” or “conscious”. Hmm, see what they did there?
The thing is, most so-called “vegan leathers'' are essentially made of synthetic plastics, usually PU or PVC. Vegan leather accessories might not be made from animal products (which we completely understand are not for everyone) but PU and PVC materials are polluting to produce with toxic chemical treatments, difficult to repurpose and much more likely to end up in landfill after a short time due to being lower in quality. And that doesn’t sound very sustainable, does it?
On the other hand, the vegetable tanned leather we use at Sbri is produced slowly and naturally using traditional techniques, it’s not treated with polluting chemicals and will last you for years before needing to be replaced. Not all real leather is made in environmentally friendly ways (you can read more about that here) and there are definitely some sustainability issues in the leather industry, but if you ask us, glorified plastics aren’t the conscious alternative they’re made out to be. Technically vegan? Yes. Sustainable? No no.
NB: We’re mainly talking about the faux-leathers used in the fast fashion industry here, which tend to be the artificial PU kind. There are some really interesting natural leather alternatives being developed at the moment which aren’t so reliant on plastics and we’d love to see them become more mainstream for folks who are averse to real leather.
Myth 5: You can’t trust brands who claim to be sustainable
Maybe this last one isn’t so much of a myth, because you really can’t (and shouldn’t) trust all brands who claim to be “sustainable”. Fast fashion corporations love to make us think that they care about the planet…so that we warm to them and buy more of their stuff. Enter Greenwashing.
Greenwashing is where brands use sustainability as a marketing tactic, giving the impression that they are an environmentally friendly company without proving it in their actions. It’s things like those “kind” and “conscious” collections we mentioned earlier, which only make up a tiny percentage of their product offering, or the recycling bins they place at the front of their shops to reel you in (to buy more stuff), all while adding more and more and more mass-produced, low quality items to their shelves and websites every single day.
The good thing is, now you know about Greenwashing you can be more aware of it whenever you shop. Ask yourself, is this organic/recycled/sustainable garment you’re being sold truly “conscious” or is just a very small piece of an otherwise gross-tasting pie? Yes, it’s great that this fashion house sent me my order in a paper bag instead of a plastic one, but did the person who made my garment get paid fairly and will this new dress stand the test of time?
Truly sustainable, reputable brands will show their working. Their clothes labels and website listings will tell you what their products are made from, who made them and where they were made. They will explain how sustainability feeds into everything they do, rather than just being a sales tactic. Again, Good On You is a great resource to check out a brand’s credentials.
So there we are, five sustainable fashion myths well and truly busted. What do you think, have we changed your perspective about sustainable shopping? Anything surprised you? The best way to learn more and debunk misconceptions is by talking about it so let’s chat. Follow us on Insta and sign up to our mailing list for more conversations about sustainability.