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What Makes A Sustainable Haberdasher ?

Making your own clothes has seen a huge resurgence during the pandemic as many people have looked to crafts to keep them busy and aid their mental health. Among those of us who were already making, there’s been a lot of talk about becoming more sustainable in choosing the materials we use, but what about the tools we all take for granted? How do we know how sustainable they are? And how do you go about finding a sustainable haberdasher to purchase from in the first place?

Well, if you’re reading this, you’ve already landed on the site of a sustainable haberdasher. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect – I have made choices for this business which I sometimes think back on and wonder if it was the best one – but I’m working hard to provide you with choices which don’t cost the Earth, literally and figuratively. But I’m not the only haberdasher out there striving to be as sustainable as possible and there’s a few things you can check for when searching for your sewing supplies.

Look for sustainability policies

A good indicator is that the business has regularly updated sustainability policies. Mine is my social responsibility page, and I’ve called it that because that’s what I believe it really is – my responsibility to society as a business owner. Sustainability reports are something else to look for, as this is generally something the company produces every so often (perhaps once a year or once per quarter). Both of these generally indicate the business is trying to be open and transparent with customers and so you can be more confident that they’re actually trying to be more sustainable.

It is worth saying that sustainability policies on their own aren’t enough of an indicator though.

How do they package products and shipments?

Here's some plastic bottles being used as a wall in Singapore in an attempt to use the material for something useful

Just having plastic packaging which is “recyclable” isn’t good enough really – not only do recycling policies vary between local authorities, there’s reasonable evidence to suggest that your plastic doesn’t even get recycled. The UK has very little infrastructure to actually recycle plastic, so until recently the vast majority of it was simply shipped off to other (often poorer) countries for them to deal with – except they didn’t have the infrastructure either, and as they’ve realised they’re drowning under the amount of plastic we’ve been sending them, they’ve started to refuse it. Therefore, most of the plastic “recycled” in the UK ends up being incinerated to provide “green” energy to the grid – but this isn’t any better either, as the incineration of plastics releases lots of toxic chemicals into the local environment.

Plastic free packaging is one of the best indicators of a business actively trying to be more sustainable. It’s an indication to you, their potential customer, that they are trying to be more environmentally conscious. An even better indication is the choice to use recycled materials in their packaging – for example, I try and use 100% recycled cardboard and paper wherever possible and I have clear goals to make all of my packaging come from 100% recycled materials.

Are there any activities they undertake which benefit the environment?

Does your haberdasher plant a tree for every order placed? Perhaps they donate a portion of proceeds to environmental charities? What about carbon offsetting the delivery of your order? These are great initiatives, though it’s worth finding out how they go about doing these things.

Sustainable haberdashers may have initatives such as planting trees for each order
Sustainable haberdashers may have initatives such as planting trees for each order

It sounds like a great idea to plant trees for every order placed, but in some circumstances it’s just not possible. I’d love to be able to run some kind of scheme like this, but I just can’t afford to, at least I can’t right now. Depending on the organisation planting the trees on the business’ behalf, it could cost anywhere between £10 and £20 per tree – because growing and planting the trees involves people power and that’s not cheap (let alone any of the other costs involved). Does the business even know or state where the trees are being planted? It’s great to support the forestry efforts of other countries, but we live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world with an abysmally low percentage of forestry, so it would be great to support reforestation here in the UK. Especially given we’ve missed almost every nature recovery target set in the past ten years.

Carbon offsetting can sound like greenwashing, and in some cases it may be, but there’s also some fantastic projects out there being supported by the purchase of carbon credits, so it shouldn’t be dismissed. I try and utlise the services of carbon neutral businesses wherever possible because these projects do have demonstrable benefits to both people and the environment. My website hosting provider is certified carbon neutral, as is my internet provider and my electricity is 100% renewable. It’s not a big change for a business to make, or an individual for that matter, but every small effort really does count.

How do they source their products?

Sourcing products to sell can be a really tricky one as a sustainable haberdasher. There’s no right or wrong answer here; you could be buying hand produced materials made by artisans and directly supporting their families, but if they’re produced half way around the world there’s going to be carbon emissions involved. It might be the right decision to make for the business at the time, but something the business owner wouldn’t do even a few months later. And that can be the problem when trying to source truly sustainable products – it’s a fine line to tread and can often feel like you’re walking a tightrope when you’re making a decision.

I’ve recently made the decision, for example, to source the wood for my products as locally as possible. I’ve found a supplier just a few miles away from me who source their wood from a 50 mile radius – and with forestry laws here in the UK, every tree cut down must be replaced with another. This means transitioning from having products made for me to making them myself, so there’s a learning curve ahead of me to get that right. But it was the right decision at the time to outsource the production of my products and it’s the right decision now to bring that further under my control.

Ultimately, any truly sustainable haberdasher will be shouting about their sustainability credentials throughout their website, and these will be backed up by evidence and actionable goals.