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Guide to Growth: How do I partner with larger brands on sustainability?

Could there be an opportunity for small businesses to partner with larger companies to help drive sustainability? A recurring problem with small businesses is that they cannot command the volume to leverage the expense of investing in a total sustainability strategy. 

Drapers Guide to Growth programme is produced in partnership with Clipper.

Collaboration between large and small brands is certainly possible, but one director of sourcing at a large UK retailer, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that at the moment it will require small brands to do a significant amount of the legwork, as there is currently no formal way of connecting.

While there are many different networks that have developed for brands to work together on sustainability, they are often controlled by global chains with the most clout.

“They have big voices, so you often need to comply with what they want to do. Plus, many smaller brands wouldn’t be on the radar of these networks to invite in the first place, so you may need to do the legwork to reach out to them.”

The best organisation to join, she says, is the United Nations Global Compact, because of its broad remit, and holistic approach to ethical and sustainable trading. Brands need to become signatories to join, which does involve a cost, but this is based on turnover, and so will be less for smaller businesses.

Once a brand has done that, it will have access to the UN’s UK working groups, which cover a variety of areas, from modern slavery to sustainable sourcing.

Another option is simply to reach out to larger brands whose policies appear admirable, to see if there might be an opportunity to collaborate. Not everyone will be receptive, but, the director says, “You don’t know who will be open and who won’t be. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Finally, the director points out that smaller brands often have an advantage over bigger names in that they are more adaptable and can control their own supply chains more easily. “In some cases they can innovate more quickly, they don’t have the legacy or scale. There’s more of an ability to test and learn.”

Clipper has recently launched a sustainability forum with the aim of connecting brands of all sizes. If you would like to join, email

Our new advice portal for retailers and brands, Guide to Growth, aims to solve the problems and challenges fashion businesses encounter as they grow. Email your questions to associate editor and we will get them answered. 

Plus, read our Growth in a Changing Economy report here to learn how fast-growth brands and retailers are overcoming barriers to growth. 

In partnership with Clipper

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