Leading NZ fashion designer Kate Sylvester is about to launch a new organic cotton range in her stores for this summer, as part of a strong philosophy to make her business as sustainable as possible.
Sylvester is already using organic cotton and merino wool in her clothing ranges, and she is also committed to ethically-produced materials, made in New Zealand as much as possible.
Next season, there will be an even bigger collection of organic merino garments.
Sylvester says she aims to offset the extra cost of organic cotton and merino wool by savings in areas like lower electricity use and waste output, due to a range of recycling and other eco-friendly measures.
She has implemented sustainability measures in all her offices and stores with the backing of her 20 staff, and as a result the company has cut its waste in half.
She adds, "Already we have started measuring and actively reducing our carbon emissions. Each year an independent third party calculates our corporate emissions so that we can confirm and demonstrate our progress on reducing our impact on climate change."
Sylvester has a very strong conscience regarding the environmental impact of much of the world's clothing manufacturing. For example, she notes the waterways in the Mexican city of Tehuac are constantly coloured blue by the discharge of dyes from denim laundries that put the finishing touches on American jeans destined for export.
In Uzbekistan, large-scale cotton growing has turned large areas in desert and virtually drained the Aral Sea dry. She notes cotton uses about 25 per cent if the world's agricultural insecticides and 10 per cent of its pesticides.
"As consumers start to realise the environmental impact of conventional cotton, they are demanding pesticide- and insecticide-free, non-genetically modified cotton." - Kate Sylvester
Sylvester says as consumers start to realise the environmental impact of conventional cotton, they are demanding pesticide- and insecticide-free, non-genetically modified cotton. Currently, organic cotton accounts for less than one percent of all cotton production, but the figure is rising every year.
Sylvester notes in the UK, organic cotton ranges are now available in chain stores such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco. And big brands such as Levi's and Nike have started introducing organic cotton into their main lines.
NZ has been slower to catch on to this trend. Sylvester says while there is a strong move towards organic baby clothing here, adults are not yet demanding the same environmentally-friendly standards in their clothes.
Sylvester says, "What we've discovered is we can't change our entire business overnight as the fashion industry as a whole has a number of sustainability issues. But here at Kate Sylvester we've begun by tackling the basics now, and will endeavour to maintain and build our sustainability, and hopefully inspire others to do the same."
Sylvester won the 'Emerging small and medium Business Award' at the recent Sustainable Business Network Awards. She is working towards getting the Green Tick for her company, an international eco-labelling system which certifies products as environmentally sustainable.
Sylvester and her partner, Wayne, say a big concern for them is the kind of future they are creating for their children. They have also promised to keep the pursuit of sustainability a permanent part of their business plan.
She says, "Fashion is our core business, but we are making sustainability our business too".