Our work is not done
Our vision to create a better fashion industry that is traceable, circular and more inclusive continues.
In 2021, we wanted to touch on all aspects of our vision, and to keep at our goal of building a better fashion brand that creates change, inspires others and redefines the industry. From the way we have chosen to create our designs to the way we collaborate with our makers, each decision we make is deliberate, considerate and helps us to influence positive change in the fashion industry.
With everything that has been going on in the world, we spent 2020 re-evaluating and reflecting on what our core purpose is as a brand. In 2021, we outlined what is truly important to us and how we can continue with our work in the years to come.
We believe that change starts from within, and in 2021, we committed to setting a clear course out before us. This course will continuously evolve with knowledge and expand with innovation, but our Sustainability Goals serve as a map and compass that guides our decision-making, setting better standards to measure ourselves against.
In order to share details of our work this year and hold ourselves accountable to our stakeholders (that’s you), we have decided to report on our progress for the 2021. This serves as an update on where we’re at and our learnings in the previous year.
As a solopreneur working remotely with a small team, setting goals and being transparent about our results was necessary to take on, and required determination, discipline, hard work and collaboration. But we have tackled the challenges of 2021 head on, and achieved most of the goals that we have set for ourselves. As a brand that is constantly demanding more from ourselves and striving to take a step forward in the right direction, we hope you'll take some time to read through this report and join us on this journey.
A critical part of our brand ethos is to lower our impact on the environment, which is why we want to better understand and manage our impact on the environment; at all stages of the garment-making process.
We reject the notion of fashion being fast and disposable. Our design process is considerate and deliberate, and it takes months from the time we sketch our designs till they reach your doorstep.Our intention is to design long-lasting products that are made for everyday wear, and we look to you, our wearer, for inspiration and feedback. We design with the entire lifecycle in mind, and continuously look to improve our design process so we can eventually close the loop.
For us, better design is where innovation, problem-solving and sustainability come together.
It means designing clothes you will reach for every single day, and keep for a really long time. It means understanding what you want before putting pen to paper. It also means sourcing the most versatile and comfortable fabrics. And because better design means making good decisions every step of the way, we’re constantly working on perfecting our design process.
Where we’re at
We believe in quality over quantity. Fast fashion brands churn out collections for as many as 52 micro-seasons for constant newness. Our calendar looks very different.
We are tenacious and determined to make our garments better than they were, allowing our designs to evolve until they best fit your needs. Our goal for next year is to stay just as lean.
Our plans for 2022 and beyond include:
- Running surveys, focus groups and having more real life testing
- More intentional drops
- Maintain small production batches
Making less, more
To prevent any wastage from excess inventory, each of our styles are launched in small capsules instead of huge collections seasonally. As of 2020, we have chosen to launch more of our capsules on a pre-order basis. This is our way of encouraging more thoughtful and conscious shopping habits, as we strive to change the current consumption patterns propelled by fast fashion brands.
Where we’re at
Based on this feedback, we have refined our pre-order process even further.
In 2021, we implemented a new chain of communication with our makers so we can update you on the status of your pre-order.
In the coming year, we would like to enhance our in-person shopping experience to make pre-ordered items available at our showroom and stockists so you can try them on before pre-ordering them.
One of the challenges that we face with the pre-order model is production and shipping timelines. Most of the time, the timelines that we have outlined are based on an estimate, but this has become increasingly challenging in the recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect it has on shipping timelines. This is something we hope to circumvent through our series of communication with you, letting you know which stage of production your garments are at, so you are completely aware of our pre-order process.
When Esse was founded in 2017, one of our first commitments was the use of natural fibers. While we may have limited ourselves to this category of textiles, their qualities: softness, strength, and lower environmental footprint surpass that of synthetic fabrics and help us create long-lasting, high quality garments that can be worn for many years.
Because much of the environmental impact of fashion happens at the raw materials stage, fibre selection is important to us: it affects the way you’ll care for the garment and how your garment goes back to the earth eventually.
Where we’re at
Our goal in 2022 is to transition to using 50% OEKO-TEX Linen yarns and 100% certified Lenzing Tencel yarns.
The fashion and apparel industry standard is such that all garments are shipped
from vendors to brands in plastic packaging for protection against the elements during transit.
Transitioning away from plastic packaging has long been an industry-wide challenge: shipping garments unprotected can result in damages and even further waste.
For now, we have been working with our makers to reuse plastic packaging. So far, our makers in Bao Loc utilise existing plastic packaging that they have to ship our products in.
For packaging that goes to our customers, we have always favored low impact packaging, and have opted not to use excessive branded materials in packages. Our mailers are all made from recycled paper making them 100% recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable. We encourage all our packaging to be reused and repurposed and have embarked on a trial with Package Pals to make our packaging more circular. So far, the take-up rate for this initiative has been slow, and we are trying to find ways to encourage customers to send their mailer envelopes back to us to be reused.
Our larger goal is to reduce our use of virgin plastic. In 2022, we will be resending all the plastic packaging we have collected back to our makers for reuse - keeping them in a loop for as long as possible.
Made in a better way
Ensuring that all our garments are produced under safe, fair, legal and humane working conditions is a cornerstone of Esse. We partner with our makers and work closely with them to mitigate any harm created during the manufacturing process.
Our ethical practices within our supply chain are a core part of our mission of supporting women-identifying individuals through safe working conditions, living wages, equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace, representation in ownership and leadership, and more.
We continue our commitment to collaborate with makers who are socially compliant. As we continue to expand categories, we are looking to add additional woman-owned factory partners in 2022 and work with makers to understand and reduce our environmental impact together.
As we negotiate directly with our makers within our supply chain on production prices, we have an opportunity to ensure that they are earning a discretionary income above the living wage.
Most of our makers are small businesses or home-based tailors who work with a collective of seamstresses within their region. This makes it challenging for us to conduct third party audits to determine whether our makers meet globally recognised ethical standards.
We understand that these tailors are essentially running their own small business, and do not want to be subjected to our values and beliefs on how their business should be conducted or how they should operate. This is why we have relied on internal audits, by personally visiting the workshop facilities and makers’ homes to develop a better understanding of how they work and operate. Many of our makers are like family to us, and we build on this close relationship to help them to grow with us.
Our 2021 Sustainability Goals
Responsibly sourced trims
This year, we wanted to push the envelope and hold ourselves to an even higher standard when selecting materials for our designs. Sustainable fabrics are just the tip of the iceberg, considering that our garments are made up of many other components like garment tags, buttons and zips.
In order for a garment to be fully sustainable, we had to focus on every component, even the trims that make up our garments. This means sourcing trims that will meet our criteria of comfort, quality, and environmental and social welfare.
Given that each garment is made up of at least four different components: fabric, garment tags, fastenings and thread, we set a goal to transition 50% of our trims to biodegradable and/ or recycled materials and to be sourced from traceable, ethical and certified sources.
Availability, cost, and quality remain the biggest bottlenecks when it comes to responsible sourcing, and for a small brand, we rely on the industry’s collective shift towards sustainability across functions and processes, in order to create opportunities for more biodegradable and recycled materials to be widely available.
What we’ve achieved
While we have managed to find a recycled polyester option for our zips, we were not able to transition to this option as we were unable to meet the minimum order quantities. However, we have tried to design our garments to rely on button fastenings and only 6 of our styles that are currently in circulation use zips as fastenings.
Other trims that we still struggle with are in smaller categories where sustainable options are still not widely available; in which we would have to create entirely new supply chains.
In the coming year, we will continue to source for more sustainable options for our trims, and will need to rely on a more discerning design process to minimise the use of less sustainable notions e.g. zips, elastic bands and interfacing.
We will be actively reviewing all our trims and sourcing processes so we can continue to provide future updates on our goal in this area.
Diversity and inclusiveness
We recognise that it is our responsibility to use our platform to educate, inform, and provide resources for direct action and engagement in challenging deeply embedded social concepts and constructs in order to stay true to our vision of redefining the fashion industry.
In 2021, we committed ourselves to making strides in our practices of inclusivity, diversity, and representation. This meant challenging preconceived notions of beauty, womanhood, and representation on our platform.
What we’ve achieved
Our raison d’etre is to connect and foster relationships with the people who wear our clothes. This is why we consider inclusive representation integral to our commitment to supporting women in our community in all stages of their lives.
In 2021, we pursued the development of a more diverse, inclusive, and representative community in our content and creative output. We worked towards casting for diversity in our campaigns and content, including a wider range of voices from BIPOC women in our journal.
Our work is a continuous one, and in 2022, we will continue to include more voices in our content to reflect, respect, and represent the abundance of beauty, diversity, and humanity in our shared world.
We are also looking to expand our size range with a new 7-size run, and we will continuously improve and expand our size offering throughout the year.
Traceability down to our fabric mills
Understanding our supply chain is fundamental for building a collaborative relationship across our supply chain.
Traceability is the ability of a brand to trace the production of its products throughout the supply chain. When a brand has purview of its supply chain, it can work with each partner to ensure that those working within the supply chain are respected and all are following environmental compliance practices. This is crucial to managing environmental and social impact, and why we’re committed to documenting our entire supply chain.
What we’ve achieved
This year our goal was to be able to trace our supply chain down to the mill level. The mills are where the fabric is made; where yarn is woven or knit into fabric.
This year was spent working closely with the fabric suppliers that we have been partnering with over the years and new fabric suppliers that we have brought onboard to understand more about the fabric mills.
The supply chain is a complex web of subcontractors, agents and wholesalers and approximately 16% of the fabric suppliers whom we work with are wholesalers or agents who wholesale fabrics from different fabric mills.
As a small business with limited resources and reach, we have found it challenging to trace our entire global supply chains. The thing that we can control is the vetting process, and this year we have put in place a process where all new suppliers have to provide all relevant documentation relating to the details of their fabric mills, material composition and certifications before our working relationship with them progresses any further.
100% of the new fabric suppliers that we have brought on in 2021 were fabric manufacturers and they were required to share details of their production process as well as all the relevant documentation and certification, which includes, but is not limited to the addresses of their factories, material composition, processing steps and names of subcontractors (if any) in the processing steps. The information on the certifications are usually audited by an independent third-party organisation and ensures that our suppliers meet our minimum expectations in environmental and social performance.
Traceability remains a significant challenge across the industry. As a small brand we are constantly challenged by the bigger organisations when we try to obtain more information due to our small order quantities.
In the coming year, we will be working closely with our suppliers to understand the other tiers of our supply chain further, so we can eventually reach our goal of full product traceability.
Our mission to transform the fashion industry to one that is more circular means 'sustaining' is no longer enough. Besides designing out waste and pollution, we want to start keeping our products and materials in use for a longer period of time. With that in mind, we launched a repair programme for all of Esse's garments so we can move towards our goal of circularity.
By encouraging our customers to rewear, repair and repurpose their garments, we can extend the life cycle of these resources. In addition, we want to continue to engage and educate our customers and community, through providing resources and tools to make it convenient for them to extend the life of their clothes.
What we’ve achieved
Our Repair Programme was launched in July 2021 for all of Esse’s customers. The Repair Programme covers any Esse item that needs repair and is offered complimentary to most garments, with more complicated mending and repairs subject to a repair fee.
We have also decided to expand the scope of our repair programme by offering free DIY repair tutorials and resources that empower our community to extend the life cycle of their garment.
The future looks bright
2021 saw many people, businesses and communities come out of immense challenges, and enter a new normal. The post-pandemic sense of normalcy worldwide has exposed some of the myths and fallacies of conventions used to explain the world and exacerbated the need for global change.
According to a World Economic Forum report, there are several areas that policy makers need to consider in order to allow for a true reset. Some of them include reframing development priorities, shifting to infrastructure that can help to fight this current pandemic and reduce the risk of the next crisis; like clean water, better nutrition, improved sanitation and broader public health infrastructure.
Our retreat indoors has also helped with environmental repair, from wildlife returning to public spaces to improved air quality. In many countries, environmental damage has been cast as a necessary consequence of growth – a sort of collateral damage for a greater good.
However, the environmental repair and regeneration of wildlife seen throughout the lockdown is proof that nature is more resilient and that the decline is not irreversible. Thus, we can and should invest in large-scale restoration, repair and conservation. If the pandemic is any indication, we might start to see the natural benefits of this sooner than we think.
Based on these changes, we are feeling hopeful that policy makers and large multinational corporations are no longer viewing sustainability as a nice-to-have.
As a brand, we are looking forward to the future, because we believe that our actions today can have a positive impact for building a better, more equitable and sustainable future. Entering this new normal has helped us to rethink our goals and remain agile. We are excited that we are on our way to achieving our goals, and in 2022, we will continue to move the needle forward with a brand and business model redesign, helping you to make more sustainable decisions, while making your everyday wardrobe more complete.
What we have learnt is that achieving true sustainability is not a series of checkboxes that we can check off, but instead a work in progress. There is no silver bullet, but a combination of a lot of small innovations and radical changes. We are grateful to have you, a supportive community of creatives, collaborators and customers to back us and help us meet our goals. It was our pleasure to share our 2021 Progress Report with you, and we look forward to providing continual updates on our progress.