How to Become an Ethical Fashion Entrepreneur

As the sustainable fashion market continues to grow and expand, the idea of starting your own ethically conscious business is enticing to many. But is being an entrepreneur for you, and if so, what are the best ways to go about actually bringing your business to life?

By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist, and vegan fashion expert. 

Any business journey starts with an idea, and the idea often derives from a gap in the market. When I launched the world's first digital vegan fashion magazine Vilda, I had spent years flipping past the beauty and fashion pages in mainstream magazines, unable to find any products that were made without animal skins or free from animal testing. I figured there had to be other people like me, who loved fashion and wanted to dress without cruelty, but couldn't find the information and inspiration that was presented to traditional consumers. So think about what prompted your business idea – is it that something is missing from the market, and how do you think you can help solve that issue?

When you lay out your ethical business idea, be clear on what “ethical” means to you. Ethics can have different meanings to different people, and there are many different areas to ethical and sustainable fashion: fair wages, minimising environmental impact and choosing vegan materials are just a few, alongside using deadstock materials to minimise waste. How will you address these areas, and what steps will you have in place to make sure these practices and processes are followed?

To get started, put together a business plan. This is one of the most crucial parts of your journey. The business plan is where you actually lay out a blueprint, a map for how your business will succeed. Even if you're not looking for investment right now, a business plan will help both potential collaboration partners and yourself see your path clearly.

From the get-go, be ready to overcome obstacles. Starting any kind of business is a big journey to embark on, but an ethical fashion business has another layer of challenge to it: by definition, you are trying to launch a sustainable idea in an industry that is one of the least sustainable in the world. Many processes in the industry will seem like they are set up against you. Someone who knows this is Marion Hanania, founder of Good Guys Don't Wear Leather. “I was confronted with societal challenges from the start,” she told Immaculate Vegan. “Good Guys was the first brand of its kind, and most people I encountered at fashion fairs laughed at me for not using leather. I remember some higher-up at Louis Vuitton literally laughing in my face.” While not many people still laugh about vegan fashion – it is a force to be reckoned with these days – Marion's experience shows that the fashion industry, largely, isn't (yet) built for ethical brands. But this is exactly why it's so important for sustainable brands to change that.

Be prepared to work for it: Immaculate Vegan founder Annick Ireland says, “Make no mistake, creating and growing a company is super-hard work – the adage goes that you give up the 9-5 to work 24/7, and it's true.” Annick also believes that ethical fashion entrepreneurs face additional challenges. “Ethical fashion is no different in that sense, plus as entrepreneur in an industry that's still relatively niche (although that won't always be the case) you'll probably spend a lot of time defining and explaining it, and defending what you do and why you do it.” This is similar to what Marion experienced, but like Marion, Annick also sees an upside: “That's also what makes it so exciting – you'll be a pioneer of something that is genuinely going to change the world for the better. And you can help create the rules!”

When it comes to choosing your team, Marion says: “Even though we live in a completely transformed society than the one I started in, would be to work with the right partners, the people who understand your vision, share your values, and love your project.” She also stresses the importance of delegating: “I would say that my biggest 'flaw' is my fear of delegating. I held on to everything for years, and now I am opening up more."

Annick's top tips for starting an ethical fashion business:

If you can, don't go it alone - find amazing people to do it with. Having a co-founder and a brilliant team with shared goals and values, even if that's just a few hours of time from a few people a month, provides essential skills, support and companionship. They will keep you going.

Incorporate self care into your schedule. Choose whatever works for you - for me it's wild swimming and going for walks while listening to non work-related podcasts. Be ruthless about carving out that time.

Don't take anything personally. There will be many things to get upset about – a team member quitting their job, not hitting a sales target, investors rejecting your pitch – and everyone experiences this. Accept that it's just life, take the learnings as un-emotionally as you can, dust yourself off and move on.

By Sascha Camilli

About Sascha

Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Cover image by Jenny Ueberberg via Unsplash. Second photo by Yana Yatsuk. Third photo by Alessia Chinazzo.

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