Getting Sust about Fashion
Sust (sust.earth) is a digital platform designed to empower consumers to make more sustainable fashion choices, and motivate brands to make more sustainable items.
In this talk, Tim will introduce the Sust platform and describe how we address the challenges of creating a community of sustainably-minded shoppers who crowd-source the information they need, and act upon it.
Tim Kindberg is a Bristol-based writer and digital creative (matter2media.com), who worked as a senior researcher in academia and Silicon Valley before becoming an independent. He creates digital platforms that foster new and inclusive forms of creativity, and help us make sustainable choices.
Tim was also a speaker at our first ever Green Tech South West event – we’re excited to have him back to see how his work has progressed in the last few years.
He was kind to give us a quick interview ahead of his talk.
Can you tell us more about Sust and it’s aims?
Sust is a digital platform with twin goals: to empower fashion consumers (i.e. everybody!) to make more sustainable choices, and motivate brands to provide more sustainable options. “Sustainability” covers concerns from climate heating to species extinction; from plastic pollution to workers’ welfare. We’re not here to dictate which of those factors people should care about, but to help them — actually, to help them help themselves — with information and alternatives. Sust’s browser extension annotates individual products in c. 40 mostly high-street fashion websites. It provides sustainability-related information, including brand ratings from third parties, and second-hand and rental alternatives. Second, the website sust.earth is where consumers can crowd-source the information they need to solve their everyday fashion challenges, and enter into a dialogue with brands about the items they are selling.
How did you come up with the idea?
A few years ago, I reached a point where I decided to focus on work that would help us tackle the climate emergency. Who knows where ideas come from, but one day I had this notion of a browser extension that would help us make better choices when we shop online for groceries. Two rounds of consumer research later, funded by the University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute, and we’re working on fashion instead of groceries; but the basic idea of a browser extension survived, and it’s now one half of Sust.
How big is the problem of carbon emissions due to the fashion industry?
This is the subject of debate. In 2018, the UN cited 2-8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. McKinsey (2020) said 4%. A World Economic Forum report in 2021 had fashion at around 5%, tied with “fast moving consumer goods” as the third most carbon-emitting industry after construction (10%) and food (25%). Then there’s another 2021 report, from the World Resources Institute and the Apparel Impact Institute, putting it at 2%. All of those figures are based on data of questionable accuracy and involve accounting procedures that not everyone would agree upon. But I would say two things about this: first, the figure is substantial – along the lines of aviation, at least; second, fashion has many other problems apart from carbon emissions: resource (especially water) consumption, pollution and landfill, and working conditions. We have to consider the whole lifecycle of what we wear: from the origins of the materials through the supply chain to manufacture, distribution and — last but not least — washing, wear and disposal.
What are your hopes for Sust and how can we help?
My hopes are to see Sust used widely. It will become more and more valuable as more people contribute to it. It needs to become financially sustainable so that all of that becomes possible. I’d also like to extend Sust to other forms of goods — like my original idea of groceries — and services; but that’s some way off. As for helping, first, please give it a try. Use it and let me have feedback. You might want to come to one of our in-person events called Sust-ins (see the website), where people come together for a community conversation about everyday sustainable fashion challenges, and use Sust together so as to contribute to the rest of the world at the same time. If you’re reading this before 7 Oct, come to our Sust-in at SPARKS during Sustainable Fashion week! Second, I’m looking for a business partner. Check out my LinkedIn for a post about that. If this might interest you, or you know someone, get in touch.
Are there any other practical ways in which we can make more sustainable fashion choices?
Buy second-hand, rent, or consider repairing or upcycling a garment you already possess. Buy from a charity shop instead of online, or let Sust help you with online options. If you must buy new (underwear!), use Sust or any other guide to help you with more sustainable choices than what might be your default. Better still, go for a walk in the countryside or do some gardening instead of buying anything!
Thanks Tim for the chat!
Please do join us either online or in-person at the Engine Shed (6-8pm on Wednesday 11th October) – RSVP here