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How to Minimise your Impact as a Fashion Brand Through Sustainable Packaging

5 min

All photography provided by noissue

by Elly Strang in Production

The fashion industry has come under scrutiny for its practices when it comes to the environment– and for good reason. Ten per cent of global greenhouse emissions come from the fashion industry, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.

But the good news is that change is happening on both ends of the product exchange. Shoppers are starting to take note of this heavy toll being taken on the environment, while fashion brands are realizing that they have a responsibility to reassess their processes and make changes where they can.

If you’re a brand beginning your sustainability journey, it can be a daunting experience, so if you’re going to start somewhere, we’d recommend starting with your packaging.

As a key customer touchpoint, packaging is one of the areas where people interact with your brand the most, so it can have a big impact when you switch out a non-sustainable option for something greener.

noissue is a SupplyCompass Additions Partner—we work with leading partners in the fashion industry, in addition to our core platform offering, in order to provide a holistic supply chain solution for fashion brands and manufacturers.

Consider the most common packaging that fashion ecommerce orders are shipped out in: a polyethylene (poly) plastic mailer. This material technically can be recycled, but it tends not to be because the lightweight nature of the bags means that they can wreak havoc in recycling facilities and get tangled in sorting machinery.

Instead, these bags are more likely to wind up in the trash and can take hundreds of years to biodegrade in a landfill. Poly is also a petroleum-based material, which means it leaches out harmful chemical residues during this breaking down process. 

A study from Traackr found that from 2018 to 2019, there was a 100% increase in hashtag mentions such as “#wastefulpackaging” and keyword phrases like “too much packaging”.

Clearly, shoppers are craving a change, so now is the time for brands to step up and take the lead on environmental responsibility when it comes to packaging. 

But the good news is that change is happening on both ends of the product exchange. Shoppers are starting to take note of this heavy toll being taken on the environment, while fashion brands are realizing that they have a responsibility to reassess their processes and make changes where they can.

Not sure where to start? First, let’s break down what each of the sustainable materials used in packaging are and what they mean.

Compostable

Compostable packaging is made from a range of renewable plant-based materials and bio-polymers. 

Using the principles of the circular economy, these plant-based materials help the packaging break down in a natural way in a compost and return to the earth without harm being done to the environment.

To be certified home compostable, the packaging must break down within 180 days in home compost and 90 days to break down in commercial compost. When compared to the hundreds of years it takes poly (plastic) mailers to break down, you can see the benefits. 

Compostable packaging products can benefit a home compost due to their carbon-nitrogen ratio. They also tend to have chemical compounds removed which means they don’t leave harmful residues behind when breaking down, unlike a poly mailer.

Recycled

Recycled packaging is made from previously used plastic products such as single-use plastic bags, bottles and other common plastic items. These items are processed at a recycling facility before being given a new lease on life as packaging. 

Putting this plastic back into circulation as a form of packaging doubles its lifespan while also reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators.  

It also has the added benefit of conserving natural resourcing and preventing the pollution caused by collecting new raw materials for packaging.  

Reusable

Reusable packaging is packaging that’s designed to be used more than one time and has a built-in secondary (or third or fourth) use. While a lot of packaging tends to be single use, reusable packaging can be used over and over again for a variety of purposes once it accomplishes its primary goal.

Because of this, it’s usually designed to promote easy re-use, cleaning and durability so it can be reused with ease. The benefits of reusable packaging are that it has a longer lifespan than plastic packaging and recycled packaging, so it prevents single-use plastics from being used.

Which is the best option for me?

It’s difficult to compare which is the most sustainable option out of compostable, recycled and reusable materials because each has its benefits and drawbacks. For example, if a compostable product doesn’t end up in a compost heap then it loses most of its sustainable value, and likewise if a reusable packaging product is immediately thrown out.

This is why the decision lies with the brand to decide which option you think will best work for your customers, as well as what option you can best educate them on. 

If you needed a little more inspiration, here’s some examples of the types of sustainable packaging fashion brands are using.

 

    noissue compostable mailer bag, in partnership with Poshmark

    Compostable eco-mailers

    Mailer bags are one of the most high volume packaging materials used in the fashion industry. By choosing an eco-friendly mailer, fashion brands can make a big impact through each and every order that’s sent out. 

    Compostable eco-mailers are a great alternative to poly mailers as they empower the customer to take action and act in a sustainable way, while also showing a business wants to reduce its impact on the environment. They also are a point of difference in an ecommerce market that’s crowded with non-sustainable mailers.

    Fashion reseller platform Poshmark wanted packaging that reflected their sustainable values, so they teamed up with us at noissue to decrease the amount of plastic used in shipping their secondhand goods via customized compostable mailers.
    Customized with Poshmark’s branding, the big and bold message on the exterior of the bag about being a compostable mailer ensures the education piece is there for the customer and the type packaging it is cannot be missed.

     

    noissue tape used by Wild Blossom

    Pre-used boxes or cartons

    If you’re a brand that needs a more heavy duty form of packaging, using pre-used boxes or cartons your brand has received is an efficient way to increase their lifespan by reusing these materials over and over again.

    An example of this is German fashion brand Lanius lets customers select an already-used carton as a shipping option to reduce the ecological footprint of their ecommerce order.

    Materials that have been used within your supply chain are also a great option to reuse and be kept in play.

    Los Angeles based fashion and lifestyle brand Whimsy & Row reuses and recycles all of the packaging their vendors send to them to customers, extending its lifespan beyond a single use.

    If you want to bring a splash of branding to the box, there’s the option of livening up the exterior of boxes with custom stickers or tape like Wild Blossom did (pictured).

     

    noissue FSC-Certified custom tissue paper

    FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper products

    Custom tissue paper is a beautiful and functional material that can be used to wrap parcels, line boxes or mailers and present a product beautifully while also safely cushioning it. 

    Eco-friendly tissue paper is a great alternative to cellophane and plastic gift wrap. Options like noissue’s tissue paper are eco-friendly due to being made from 30 percent recycled materials and the remainder from new wood pulp that’s FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified. 

    This means the wood pulp has been harvested in a socially and environmentally responsible way, from the forest all the way to the supply chain. It’s also free of acid, lignin and sulfur, which means it won’t leave behind any chemicals when decomposing.

    Another option is to use FSC-certified tape or stickers to seal or decorate packaging like Aruall Huillier’s tape, which is made from completely recycled materials and is water activated, which means it will break down in compost without leaving any chemical traces behind. 

     

    noissue custom tape

    Organic cloth or cotton bags

    Organic cloth or cotton bags are a great packaging option for fashion brands because they’re made of a high quality material, so they’re more likely to be held onto and reused by customers.

    This increases the lifecycle of the packaging while having the added bonus of being a marketing tool as it can be branded and customized with your logo or company name. 

    An example of this is SupplyCompass helped House of Sunny to launch organic cotton dust bags for their vegan leather accessories collection.

    Select the option that works best for you

    Sustainable packaging for fashion brands is achievable in many different ways, so don’t feel overwhelmed – take inspiration from other businesses and pick the option that works best for you and your customers. 

    From smaller touches like FSC compostable tape or tissue paper through to bigger overhauls like compostable mailers, any step is a step in the right direction that your customers will take notice of.  

    Remember you can also start small by switching out one layer and build up to a fully sustainable packaging offering over time. Make a start on your sustainability journey, and you’ll feel all the better for it.

    This guest blog is written by our partner, noissue, a New Zealand-headquartered sustainable packaging company that’s changing the status quo when it comes to e-commerce packaging.
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    Elly Strang
    Guest Contributor
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    Elly Strang is digital editor at noissue, which provides custom, sustainable packaging at low minimum order quantities. She’s passionate about e-commerce, the art of branding, and ways businesses can reduce their impact on the world.

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