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Mindful movements: Ruby’s general manager Emily Miller-Sharma on why sustainability should be shared, not something you pin your brand’s IP to

The fashion industry has long been subject to some of the harshest criticisms when it comes to sustainability, but New Zealand based label Ruby is emerging as a leader in this space. From its Toolbox for Change providing information about its supply chain to consumers on its website, to recently designing a dress exclusively for hire rather than purchase through rental store Designer Wardrobe. Now, it’s taking part in New Zealand’s first circular economy lab called XLabs. General manager Emily Miller-Sharma shares why she’ll happily share her methods and progress openly with her industry peers.

Clothing brand Ruby is one of the brands in New Zealand’s fashion sphere making moves to become more sustainable, but don’t get it twisted: this isn’t a strategy against its competitors.

General manager Emily Miller-Sharma says Ruby openly states the ways it’s working to become more sustainable, because this is an issue that needs to be addressed collaboratively by the whole industry.

“Sustainability is not a brand’s IP that you’re hiding from each other,” Miller-Sharma says. “I look at what everyone’s doing and if I see someone doing something cool, I ring them up and say ‘Hey, how do you do that?’ We’re sharing the knowledge so as an industry, we have the capacity to make great change.

“The really crucial thing is sustainability is not something that you pin your brand on. That’s an outdated, weird, and not useful model. Sustainability needs to be at the core of all business and your IP is your design. The pinks that we choose and the greens we choose to put it with, the silhouettes we’re working with, and the weird little prints we like to use – that is our IP. Sustainability – that’s a collective goal.”

Emily Miller-Sharma

Ruby is taking others on that journey with them through Mindful Fashion, an initiative it and the Kate Sylvester team recently co-founded. It is an open-invitation collective that aims to strengthen the local fashion and textile industry by promoting sustainable and responsible business practices for designers, fabric suppliers, CMT factories and retailers. It will also use the clout of several of the country’s biggest fashion designers to affect real change in the ways factories are run.

It recently collaborated with clothing rental service Designer Wardrobe to design a dress that is available exclusively for rent through its store, and not for purchase. This is part of Ruby’s moves towards a more circular economy approach to its business.

For those not in the know, a circular economy designs out waste and pollution, keeps products and materials in use and regenerates like nature’s systems do. This is in contrast to the existing economic model of taking natural resources, making products, using them and then disposing of them.

“We know that circularity is crucial when it comes to concerns about sustainable production and consumption,” Miller-Sharma says.

“Rental is an obvious and excellent circular solution, so we are exploring this and have started small with designing pieces for rental only through Designer Wardrobe. We’ve found that yes, it does work, and people do want it.”

The dress designed by Ruby exclusively for Designer Wardrobe.

As well as this, Ruby is one of several New Zealand companies taking part in New Zealand’s first circular economy lab, Xlabs. Run by Circularity in partnership with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), the companies will attend five one-day workshops run over five weeks and look to solve a real-life business problem using circular methods.

Again, one of the key focuses is collaboration between businesses and even industries, seeing as the companies involved are from a wide spread of sectors, including Fletcher Building, EV Maritime (electric ferries), Haka Tourism Group and Bobux (children’s footwear).

“When it comes to circular design, that’s more complicated and we’re way into the unknown,” Miller-Sharma says. “How do we as a small company in a small country explore genuine circular design?

“By working with companies outside of our industry, we’re working with people whose brains work differently to ours and have different day-to-day experiences. I think we will progress in a much more holistic way, rather than just looking for clothing industry solutions.”

Overall, Miller-Sharma says this is no fad – the consumer literacy around sustainability has increased, and continues to grow.  

“That’s more interesting to me because we’re able to have more advanced conversations with consumers about what sustainability is. Five years ago, it was more narrowly focused into smaller topics of sustainability.

“They were very concerned about workers’ rights which is still something they’re concerned about, but now they understand that there is more nuanced layers like water consumption, how we deal with our waste and what freight methods we use. Sustainable is many different things that need to be addressed all at once.”

The Toolbox For Change on its website shows its customers the actions it is taking towards a more sustainable supply chain in terms of fabrics, responsible purchasing, factories, staff training and more.

It also outlines what the clothing brand’s goals are from now until 2025. Its most audacious goal? To be carbon neutral by the end of 2025 by measuring and offsetting 100 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions that are produced in the making of its clothing and at its retail stoes, head office and support operations.

Miller-Sharma says other brands shouldn’t be scared to explore how they can become more sustainable.

“What is the most helpful way to respond to something that needs to be addressed urgently, like climate change? It’s always going to be collectively, because that’s how we have more power.”

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