Fashion consumption is at an all-time high as brands churn out new collections at record speeds and at low cost, coupled with the effective targeting capabilities of social media putting products in front of consumers who are most likely to purchase. What is the result? Well according to the United Nations, the fashion industry is now the second most polluting in the world as clothes are quickly discarded, ending up in landfills or worse! Fast fashion has made fashion accessible to the masses, but in turn, created a throwaway culture that is detrimental, not only to the environment, but also to the fashion industry as a whole.
However, there has been a global trend of consumers valuing how sustainable a brand really is, before making the decision of whether they’d purchase. In fact in the U.S, 40% of consumers want brands to be transparent about how products are made according to a 2021 survey by GWI. To gain some insight, we sat down with US-based designer Sophia Lombardi who is the owner of the sustainable swimwear brand Amalfi Swiim to understand first-hand how a creator has thrived during the lockdown in creating a brand built on a zero-waste objective.
Tell Us About The Origin Of Amalfi Swiim?
I started this business almost a year and a half ago during quarantine – it was purely an accident. My Cousin and I were just bored one day and wanted to see if we could sew a bathing suit, despite having no experience. So, we went to the fabric store, watched a bunch of YouTube videos, then figured out how to hand sew a bathing suit with no machine! We were really surprised by the end product, so we sent a Snapchat to our friends showing off the suit and everyone wanted one, so we thought why not start a business!
The very next day we started an Instagram account for the brand and bought a sewing machine, taught ourselves how to sew and then went from there! After a month I took over the business independently and since I’ve been learning exactly how to build a business and design clothes.
About 4 months ago, I stumbled across my biggest inspiration, @andagainco, she creates zero-waste clothing from luxury and high fashion materials. I noticed she didn’t do any swimwear products, so I reached out to ask her if it was okay to use her technique – as part of being an ethical brand, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stealing anyone’s ideas. She kindly agreed and gave me some tips to get started.
From there, I ordered the supplies and created my first zero-waste bikini, which went viral! That was the beginning of my sustainability journey – it was a complete accident, I was never an environmentalist, but ever since I made that first bikini, I’ve conducted a lot of research which really opened my eyes to the importance of sustainability, especially within the fashion industry where fabric pollution is a huge issue that needs to be addressed!
One of your videos of the zero waste bikini recently went viral with over 4 Million views, why do you think that is?
I think it blew up because it’s a very unique thing to see. The zero-waste technique is a fascinating process to watch and based on the comments I see, people are amazed by not only the technique but the fact it utilises sustainable materials. My first video was also controversial, I got a lot of hate comments because the pattern was so unique, a lot of people wanted to give their opinions, ‘this would be so much better if it was all one colour of fabric scraps instead of all mismatched!’ – a lot of people had opinions that they wanted, people love to share their opinions online and since this isn’t your average bathing suit, people always have something to say.
Have any brands approached you since the video went viral?
Brands have reached out to me, wanting to donate their own fabric scraps so that I can repurpose them. A lot of smaller designers and viewers also reach out to me, asking for sewing advice and where they can get the materials.
How do you ensure the brands you work with/ purchase from are ethical and not greenwashing?
A good way to start is to always check their company website. Some green flags you should see on their website include:
a sustainability policy – so they actually include measures to be sustainable instead of using vague terms like ‘we’re eco-friendly’. You want to find out what makes them sustainable. Is it their products? A lot of common sustainable fabrics include recycled, natural or organic materials.
Another element is how ethical the brand is, you want to make sure they are providing details of who’s making the product and how. They need to provide evidence they are paying a living wage to their workers and that they prohibit child and forced labour. Brands you purchase from should be open about how they make their products. Another positive sign is if they have third-party certification to show that they are sustainable, this is something you’d normally see with bigger brands, rather than small businesses.
Lastly, you can evaluate their marketing and social media campaigns. You want to make sure that they are not only posting about their products but also sharing information to educate their audience on the negatives of fast fashion and the importance of slow fashion. Brands should be able to educate you on the environmental initiative they are involved in. You can also always read their product reviews to see if their clothing is of quality – do the clothes last, avoiding the need to re-purchase new or similar products in a few months.
Whats the biggest mistake brands make when trying to be sustainable?
I would say the big mistake brands make is not doing enough research. Brands enter the market with an existing idea of what is and isn’t sustainable, but in reality, the definition of sustainability is wider than what we often think. Secondly, having bad intentions. If the brand just goes into it as a marketing ploy, it’s very easy for people to see that it’s not genuine.
What makes a successful entry into the market?
Doing your research. Sourcing ALL of your products sustainably, including office supplies, fabrics and packaging. You want your packaging to be minimal and made from recycled materials.
Another thing is, we’re trying to combat overconsumption. Your brand shouldn’t be coming out with new releases every week/month – because that promotes overconsumption. Brands should focus on producing quality drops every once in a while that promote the slow fashion movement. The pieces need to be timeless so you don’t need a new one every year. You want to have stuff in your wardrobe for 10 years plus. Therefore, designers need to design clothing with this in mind.
Large brands should also keep in mind what they will do with their fabric scraps. All brands end up with scraps as not all material can be utilised, so the best thing to do is find companies like mine that can re-use the scraps so they don’t end up in landfills or the ocean.
How does fast fashion fuel overconsumption?
I think there’s a culture on social media that you cant re-wear certain outfits. This creates such a wasteful habit of consumption as people buy things, never wear them again and next thing you know its pollution.
Influencers play a big role in promoting this culture. It’s their job to constantly be doing fashion hauls, and they’re not always aware of what is sustainable and not. I think there’s a huge obsession with fashion hauls – people buying 100+ things for only 200 dollars, and the comments will be full of people asking for the link. On social media, people only see the cute design and cheap price tag, without them having to think about how this piece of clothing was made or why was it that cheap. What’s worse is this type of content gets views and continues the cycle! Also, it’s typically the fast-fashion brands behind the hauls – paying or gifting influencers to create content and promote to their audience.
I only recently delved deeper into the topic of sustainability, so I think that there is a lot of room for people to be educated and grow, and realise that what they’re doing isn’t the best for the environment. Not to bash on them, everyone has to make a living, but there’s always room to better your platform and what you’re promoting.
A lot of creators are experiencing major drops in their engagement on instagram at the moment, have you?
I’m actually experiencing the opposite at the moment. I think its because I’m really utilising Reels to promote my page, as I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s the best way to promote your page. That’s how I recently went viral, with over 4 million views on a recent reel I gained 5,000 followers overnight. So to anyone experiencing an engagement drop I would definitely recommend creating some content in the form of Reels.
Could Instagram do more to promote accounts like yours?
If Instagram could give sustainable brands a way to apply for some form of certification that labels the brand as a credible sustainable business – not verified like a celebrity but verified as a positive impact/sustainable account this would be great as the algorithm could push these accounts more.
When we see videos of huge hauls from fast fashion brands, Instagram could add a small warning at the bottom – similar to how they do it with covid-19 related posts – to say ‘supporting this activity leads to harming the environment with a link to more information.
What is clear is social media had provided sustainable brands such as Amalfi Swiim a platform to promote positive business models that aim to counteract the negative impacts of fast fashion and educate consumers on mindful purchasing. However, fast fashion brands and social media are still catalysts for driving a throwaway culture where clothing has a very short shelf life, due to the quality and rapid turnover of trend culture. Influencers for their part can often fall with brands that promote an unsustainable mindset when it comes to fashion consumption through hauls. However, social platforms and brands can offer a solution.
First brands can fully immerse themselves in the education of sustainable practices, whilst platforms can do more to promote eco-friendly brands. By providing sustainable creators/businesses with official verification and boosting their profile visibility, platforms can highlight positive consumption habits. Other solutions can include adding warning labels on clothing ‘haul’ videos that promote overconsumption – helping to highlight to younger or unaware viewers that purchasing in mass is detrimental to the environment.
In all, sustainability in relation to the fashion industry is not something that will be going away. Larger brands continue to feel the pressure from consumers to produce garments that are ethically made, this sometimes leads to greenwashing. However, as consumers become more educated and platforms do more to promote positive habits online, we can expact a huge shift in the years to come!