Perhaps the most glaring flaw of fast fashion is that it doesn't account for the full life cycle of its products. Whether you buy your clothes in a store or online, your exposure to its life cycle is quite narrow. It's easy to forget that your clothes had to be manufactured from raw materials, distributed to you, and then sold to you. Once you buy it, you use it and eventually stop using it.
Life cycle analysis is a methodology used to assess the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a product at each stage of its life cycle. It's a tool used to support sustainable decision-making in all sorts of industries.
MATE the Label looks at the full life cycles of its garments, from harnessing the raw material to manufacturing a salable product to the point of sale, to its use, to its end of life. The brand places a particular emphasis on the chemical impact of its products, which it sees as often receiving short shrift compared to metrics like carbon footprint and water use.
"Knowing that the fibers you choose, the manufacturing processes, the dye processes, and the impact (of making apparel) on people and planet from a chemical lens throughout its entire lifespan can (all) be emphasized throughout that life cycle thinking as well."
As part of its emphasis on chemicals, MATE sources as little synthetic fibers as possible. It only uses a select few base fibers, including organic cotton, flax, linen, and TENCEL Lyocell. These are all cellulose base fibers that tend to degrade both more quickly and more completely than synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester. Additionally, MATE does not use more than 8% spandex (which is synthetic) in any of its stretch garments to stringently limit the use of synthetics in its creation process.
"MATE the Label looks at the full life cycles of its garments, from harnessing the raw material to manufacturing a salable product to the point of sale, to its use, to its end of life."
Ideally, MATE could further reduce or fully eliminate synthetics from its product lines. As such, the brand is actively looking for a more biologically friendly alternative to synthetics that meet the attributes customers expect from stretch garments while aligning with MATE's sustainability goals. The brand hopes that continued innovation could soon allow synthetic-free production at an industrial scale.
To extend the life cycle of many MATE products, the brand recently launched a circularity program that allows customers to return used merchandise they longer want for whatever reason and receive a portion of their purchase back. MATE then takes that used merchandise and turns it into a brand new product, keeping the underlying raw material in circulation.
This mirrors the larger concept of a circular economy, which is centered on keeping goods and services in circulation throughout the economy for as long as possible to eliminate waste. It's a far cry from fast fashion, but the circular economy is an essential aspect of the sustainable future we must pursue as a civilization, and the fashion industry will be a key piece of that global transition.
Cobian envisions a future fashion landscape in which customers can compare apparel options on their sustainability metrics just as they compare food options based on their nutritional values.
"I think people are starting to become more familiar with carbon values and carbon savings. I'm not quite sure if it's something that the customer seeks out, but my hope for the industry is that customers become more familiar and aware of the scale of carbon. We're all familiar with calories, and that's not something we're inherently born with. We don't come out and understand that 2,000 calories is probably too much for a granola bar, but 500 calories may be appropriate for a home meal. And I hope that we start to develop that kind of community knowledge in terms of carbon."