Last week I was describing my work to a supply chain expert who wants to up-skill in sustainability and ethics but doesn’t want to do years of training or study.

He asked me: What is the one thing I need to know in order to help brands and suppliers create more sustainable supply chains and fashion products?

My answer was simple: Lifecycle Thinking

He said: Even if I’m not a designer?

I said: YES!

For years, brands and designers have created fashion products and business models based on a linear system that does not account for the ‘true costs’ to ecosystems and people.

But if you want to create an authentic sustainability strategy for your brand or create fashion products that are truly sustainable, then you have to start with Lifecycle Thinking.

So how does it work? In lifecycle thinking, you consider impacts across criteria such as water use, toxicity and carbon emissions. You consider impacts from raw materials through the use stage and finally to end-of-life of the product or garment. Once you start seeing products and materials within this ‘system’, you start to understand the whole picture  and where you can make improvements. It also asks you to think about what happens at the end-of-life of the garment and whether you have designed in a solution for recycling or take-back. And finally, you start to understand that there are always trade-offs with creating fashion products  –  for example, a cotton t-shirt has relatively minimal carbon impacts in the growing and production stage whereas a polyester garment is intensive in this first stage but fares better in the washing and use phase.

And this will then force you to think about what materials you are choosing and why (for example, if your core values are animal rights issues/vegan, are you willing to include plastic-based materials as an alternative which bring their own set of impacts and issues?). This creates a deep empathy for everything and everyone in your supply chains. You also start to care more and be much more intentional in your design and development process. Ultimately you are being asked to think deeply about your values and what you are willing to ‘trade-off’ or not.

So Lifecycle Thinking is not just a design and product development principle – it’s a whole different mindset that forces you to be authentic and will be transformative for your business and for yourself!

If you want to learn more about Lifecycle Thinking and a Lifecycle Mindset – Ill be teaching it at the 1 Day Intensive Sustainable Fashion Masterclass in Byron Bay on Saturday 21st March.