Fashion for Good is making an industry-wide call for collaboration to transform the apparel industry at a gathering of innovators, fashion and sustainability thought leaders in Amsterdam.
As a holistic and inclusive open-source initiative, Fashion for Good invites the global fashion industry to reimagine how fashion is designed, made, worn and reused.
Fashion for Good aims to promote the five “Goods” of a new, transformed fashion industry: Good Materials, Good Economy, Good Energy, Good Water, and Good Lives. In pursuit of this goal, Fashion for Good enables the fashion industry to embrace innovation, change its business models and adopt a totally new mindset.
“The Five Goods represent an aspirational framework we can all use to work towards a world in which we do not take, make, dispose, but rather take, make, remake,” said William McDonough of McDonough Innovation. “Fashion for Good is about transforming the industry from serving one generation to serving many generations.”
Leslie Johnston of C&A Foundation said: “Open and inclusive, Fashion for Good will share all knowledge and lessons learned from its activities. In doing so, we want to inspire all stakeholders in the fashion industry to work toward a future in which everyone – farmers, workers, customers, and communities – can flourish.”
Fashion for Good is changing the apparel industry through innovation and new business models. Its innovation platform scouts for, nurtures and funds early-stage ideas and it scales proven technologies and business models for wider adoption by the industry. Its Apparel Acceleration Fund aims to catalyse access to finance and its open-source Good Fashion Guide shares knowledge to help the apparel industry transform. As a convenor for change, Fashion for Good enables conversation and collaboration, bringing together co-locators at its first hub in Amsterdam, as well as visitors to the Fashion for Good Experience to learn more about Good Fashion.
With an initial grant from founding partner C&A Foundation, Fashion for Good inspires brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders all working towards a Good Fashion industry and invites industry to join and collaborate.
Fashion for Good has six complementary programmes:
Early-stage Innovation Accelerator: Fashion for Good works with Plug and Play, a leading Silicon Valley accelerator, to give promising start-up innovators the funding and expertise they need to grow.
Late-stage Innovation Programme: Fashion for Good finds innovations that have proof of concept and helps them scale by offering bespoke support and access to expertise, customers and capital.
Apparel Acceleration Fund: IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, is scoping a fund that aims to catalyse access to finance where this is required to shift at scale to more sustainable production methods.
Good Fashion Guide: This open-source guide proves that Good Fashion is feasible today and shows brands how to embrace it. The online guide provides practical tips, a self-diagnostic tool and a step-by-step guide to production, based on lessons learned while creating the world’s first Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM GOLD cotton t-shirt produced in Asia, at scale, at a value retailer price point.
launchpad exhibition of the Fashion for Good Experience:Fashion for Good has opened three floors to the public in its historic building in a first step to build a community around the ambition to make all fashion Good. With vibrant displays, thought-provoking messaging, and a call to action, the launchpad will inform and inspire its visitors to be part of this larger movement of Only Good Fashion. In 2018, the launchpad exhibition will evolve into a permanent Experience Centre.
Circular Apparel Community: Fashion for Good has rented an historic building in the heart of Amsterdam (our first hub) in order to bring likeminded organisations and partners together, including the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) and Made-By. This community will embrace collaboration to create change and build a vibrant eco-system of entrepreneurs and innovators in the name of circular fashion.
About Fashion for Good
Fashion for Good is the global initiative that is here to make all fashion good.
Fashion for Good sparks and scales innovation by offering practical action in the form of support and funding, shares best practice and lessons learned in open-source roadmaps, and fosters sector-wide collaboration for the entire apparel industry to change.
Fashion for Good invites brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organisations, innovators and funders to jointly transform the industry.
Guests are invited to learn more about the industry at a newly opened Launchpad exhibition in Amsterdam. Fashion for Good was created with an initial grant from founding partner C&A Foundation, and other partners have joined to help build the foundation of Fashion for Good: C&A, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative, Impact Hub Amsterdam, Kering, McDonough Innovation, Plug and Play, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC).
Global fashion retailer C&A’s charitable arm, C&A Foundation has launched a global initiative aimed at helping brands, retailers and manufacturers find more innovative and sustainable ways of producing fashion.
‘Fashion for Good’ is a joint-industry initiative involving Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDH, and Sustainable Trade Initiative. The initiative offers practical action in the form of support, funding and roadmaps, and by fostering a sector-wide collaboration rather than competition and aims to enable innovation and widespread adoption of “good fashion practice”.
With an innovation hub in Amsterdam, a start-up accelerator in Silicon Valley, California, and a global network of ‘change makers’, Fashion for Good re-imagines how fashion is designed, made, worn and reused so that people, companies and the planet can all thrive. By mobilizing around a collective innovation and investment agenda, we will spark and scale technologies and business models that have the potential to change the sector profoundly. And by openly sharing what we learn, we will guide the fashion industry toward a future in which brands, suppliers, communities and our planet can all thrive. Fashion for Good will launch its first hub in Amsterdam on March 30.
It may be mentioned here that the new initiative is part of C&A Foundation’s wider efforts to drive the transition to circular fashion by nurturing and scaling solutions that can change the way clothes are made, used, and reused.
Looking back, Megan McGill suspects she was always cut out for a career in the sustainable fashion industry — but she took a circuitous route.
She remembers tagging along as a young girl to the chain of shops her single mother managed around Mobile, Alabama, when no babysitter could be found. She would sit in the back rooms and finish her homework, or help out bagging clothes at the counter. For a while clothing stores were almost a second home, before the family moved to Switzerland in 1999, when McGill was 13 and her mother remarried.
In 2014, and after working for four years in information technology and compliance in Zürich, McGill was approaching 30 and feeling stuck. Her goal had been to work to improve the environment. She had, after all, earned a distinction in her masters in environmental technology, with a focus on pollution management, at Imperial College London.
But her work visa in London expired and she ended up at a consultancy in Zürich advising companies in the financial sector on US tax regulations. But rather than despair, she formed a plan.
First, she joined GreenBuzz, a network that connects professionals working in sustainability. She met the founder of Social Fabric, a community-based group that promotes sustainable clothing while working with refugees in Switzerland.
McGill joined the group, but becoming active in the field meant learning new skills, such as sewing. For her 30th birthday, she invited friends to Social Fabric to make upcycled pillow cases. It was a BYOM party — bring your own material.
Next, she enrolled on the University of St Gallen’s MBA programme. Why, with her qualification from Imperial College, would someone seeking to work in sustainable fashion enrol on an MBA? McGill says she wanted to brush up her skills and get a job.
If you are trying to change something, you need to understand how it operates
Graduates of the university, HSG, as it is known for short, value it for its high placement rate: 86 per cent of its MBA students find jobs within three months of graduation.
“They have a summer internship and you can use that to get through the door of a company you want to work with,” McGill says. In her case, she had her eye on the C&A Foundation in Zug, near Zürich. Founded in 2011 by the European fashion chain , the foundation provides grants to organisations that are seeking to improve working conditions and make the textile industry more environmentally friendly.
Foundations, McGill says, can be flexible in terms of the risks they take in research. A corporate foundation such as C&A allows McGill to stay close to a company in the sector while still testing new models and ways of doing business.
The St Gallen MBA allowed her to spend three months studying the feasibility of a “circular economy”, where materials are kept in the economy for as long as possible or returned to nature — a topic she had first delved into at Imperial College.
“I decided to go to HSG because I realised some skills were missing, particularly around finance and strategy, which I think are fundamental skills every person should have.” Also, she adds, “I was trying to be strategic.”
McGill is a determined woman, dressed in tailored wool trousers belted at the waist, topped with a red sweater. Everything she wears is made from natural fibres, although a casual observer might not realise this. She does not fit the stereotype of an environmental activist.
This was important to McGill: her goal was to work on sustainability and improve the environment but to do so within the business community. That is why the MBA was so important. “If you are trying to change something, you need to understand how it operates,” she says.
Everyone wants to do good, but not everyone has the right strategy
One lesson McGill took from the MBA was that improving the environmental footprint of a company must be done on the basis of sound business practice. It is hard to do good, she says, if a project is not viable. “I now understand business cases and financial models, so now when we are looking at potential projects, we have to ask, can these scale? You need to understand the numbers behind them,” she says. “Strategy is core to what I do now.”
She pauses and adds: “Everyone wants to do good, but not everyone has the right strategy. They exaggerate the impact they think the project will have. Our job is to help them refine their idea so that it will achieve what they want it to achieve.”
McGill’s work is at the cutting edge of environmental technology in the fashion business. Her MBA thesis assessed the scalability of chemical recycling — an innovation with the potential to transform the apparel sector. The goal is to keep materials in the economy perpetually, or safely returned to nature, so clothes are not thrown away or donated after they have gone out of fashion. The process is also intended to eliminate many of the environmentally unsafe chemicals used to make clothes.
The idea is that fabrics can be broken down using a safe chemical solution into yarn which can be reused, either in clothing or other textiles such as upholstery. This begins to create the circular system.
“Our vision is that fashion can be a force for good for apparel workers and consumers”
There are still difficulties, such as how to use only environmentally safe chemistry in production — a problem the foundation is working on so that the sector can become truly sustainable. “Our vision is that fashion can be a force for good for apparel workers and consumers,” McGill says.
The C&A Foundation was so impressed with the assessment McGill made during her internship that it hired her to begin a new programme focused on circular systems. “I do believe success is a mixture of timing and hard work. The timing was right: C&A was starting to look at my topic,” she says.
Perhaps surprisingly for someone interested in sustainable fashion, McGill admits unabashedly that she has not read any of the bestsellers by Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.
She does, however, believe there is a role for activist non-governmental organisations. “They basically bring risks and issues to light. They are good at consumer engagement, but theirs is not the only solution.”
One of the first things McGill did when she joined the C&A Foundation was to secure a small grant for Social Fabric from Cofra, C&A’s holding company. Cofra allows employees to apply for money to work on projects they are involved in. So now McGill sits on Social Fabric’s board.
“I really believe business can change,” she says. “I believe they are the way we as a society will be able to change. So working with business for me is incredibly important.”
Once again this year, the government of Uzbekistan forcibly mobilized its citizens — including health care workers, teachers and students — to the cotton fields to prepare for and carry out the 2015 harvest of the country’s “white gold.” As in the past, forced labor practices were well documented by human rights groups, including the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF).
New to the harvest this year were monitoring teams deployed by the International Labor Organization(ILO). Despite finding numerous “indicators” of forced labor related to the widespread recruitment of adults, the ILO nevertheless concluded that it did not find “conclusive information that beneficiaries of World Bank projects used child or forced labor during the cotton harvest.” The World Bank now provides $500 million in loans to Uzbekistan’s education and agricultural sectors.
Positively, the use of child labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields has waned (though it still exists as a byproduct of state pressure to fulfill quotas). Unfortunately, the Uzbek government used the 2015 harvest to “double-down” on its use of coercion in the mobilization of adults and increased its persecution of those seeking to document and expose the government’s forced labor practices. Worse still, according to the Cotton Campaign and other observers, the forced labor practices of Uzbekistan are now being employed by the government in neighboring Turkmenistan as well.
Voluntary or forced labor?
As in prior years, the harvest plan was developed at the very top levels of the Uzbek government. The prime minister determined the quotas and distributed them to regional “hokims” responsible for imposing the quotas on farmers and other institutions. Wages paid to those involved in the harvest were nominal and substantially lower than market.
As reported by UGF in its March 2016 report: “Almost universally, respondents told us they could not refuse to pick cotton.” As one person put it to UGF, “No one wants to go of their own will to harvest cotton for miserly wages.” For many, the UGF concluded, the very notion was unthinkable.
Yet, the Uzbek government insists that participation in the harvest is voluntary, and the ILO concluded in its November 2015 report that “[l]arge numbers of citizens seem to be willing recruits and see the harvest as an opportunity.”
Reading the UGF’s most recent report, it is almost inconceivable to imagine how the ILO could reach such a conclusion. Rather than merely “encouraging” people to take advantage of the economic “opportunity” of the harvest, the state once again drew from a well-worn playbook of fear and intimidation tactics designed to give citizens no other choice but to leave their homes and jobs to labor in the cotton fields.
For instance, last year police and prosecutors regularly patrolled the fields, inspected farms and monitored workers. Regular “cotton meetings” were organized with local officials and farmers to discuss the harvest’s progress. One farmer reported to UGF that he spent every night of the harvest at “cotton headquarters,” and at one such meeting the hokim was recorded shouting, “If even one person does not go out, it will be bad for you! I’ll shut down your organizations!”
Operation Cleaver, an official directive from the Uzbek government, tasked officials with repossessing land and the personal property of farmers who were either in debt to government-run banks or had failed to fulfill their cotton quotas. Teachers received orders from government officials compelling them to send their students to the fields, and many students rightly feared expulsion if they refused to participate. One “urgent message” sent to a private company stated that “[a]ll organizations … must participate in the cotton harvest.” Others were threatened with dismissal from their jobs.
As the UGF points out, forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector must be viewed against the backdrop of the systemic repression and widespread human rights violations that occur there on a regular basis.
Human Rights Watch describesUzbekistan’s human rights record as “atrocious,” and in 2015, Freedom House ranked Uzbekistan the fourth least free country in the world and the most repressive regime in the highly authoritarian region of Eurasia. The Uzbek government regularly engages in torture of prisoners and detainees; severely limits speech, religion, assembly and association; routinely harasses and conducts surveillance on human rights defenders; and lacks an impartial justice system or any semblance of the rule of law. In other words, in Uzbekistan, people are justifiably terrified of disobeying the state.
Particularly in this context, police and prosecutor presence in the cotton fields reinforces a not-so-subtle message that participation in the cotton harvest is mandatory and that resisters could face severe punishment from the state. In 2015, this climate of fear was supplemented by an onslaught of propaganda about the importance of cotton, linking the resource to the the Uzbek identity. As such, there was a pervasive sense in Uzbekistan that those who do not participate are somehow unpatriotic.
Pulling the wool over our eyes
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Uzbek government went out of its way to make participation in the 2015 harvest appear voluntary. According to both the UGF and Cotton Campaign — a coalition of human rights organizations, trade unions, socially responsible investors and business associations — this effort was greatly intensified in 2015 as compared to prior years.
For example, UGF obtained copies of false statements from students at six different educational institutions stating that they were picking cotton voluntarily. One student even referred to cotton picking as his “internship.” Though the ILO reported that “schools and hospitals functioned normally” during the harvest, UGF found the opposite. None of the doctors, teachers or other professionals interviewed said they would rather pick cotton than do their own jobs.
The 2015 harvest was also marred by a campaign of state-organized persecution of activists documenting labor and human rights issues in the cotton sector. One such activist, Dmitry Tikhonov, was one of UGF’s own monitors, and his tale — documented by UGF, the Guardian, and in Tihkonov’s own words (here andhere) — is a harrowing one.
Prior to the harvest, in August 2015, Tihkonov learned that some of his friends had been questioned by the police about his work and personal life. The next month, when mobilization for the harvest was at its peak, Tihkonov was surrounded in public and harassed by a group of local officials. A day later he was picked up by police, forced to draft a statement explaining why he is “against cotton,” yelled at and beaten. A few days later, he was detained again after a questionable traffic stop.
In late October, when Tihkonov was out of town, there was a major fire at his home. The fire destroyed his work, two computers, a laptop, a printer/scanner, video and sound equipment, all contacts, papers and files, $1,500 in cash savings, clothing, and his legal library. He also discovered that his hard drives were missing.
Other activists were also subjected to harassment by the state. For instance, in my conversation last month with the coordinator of the Cotton Campaign,Matt Fischer-Daly, he mentioned the arrests and body cavity searches of a number of female monitors, as well as the arrest and two-month detention of a monitor who was released only on the condition that he do no more human rights work.
I asked Fischer-Daly how the crackdown impacts the work of Cotton Campaign and others dedicated to exposing the crimes of the Uzbek government (UGF is one of Cotton Campaign’s primary partners). Unsurprisingly, he reported that the systematic persecution made Cotton Campaign’s work far more difficult, as much of 2015 was spent responding to acute safety risks facing the campaign’s partners on the ground in Uzbekistan. The group also had to change its procedures and can no longer conduct trainings in Uzbekistan. Yet, despite all this, the Cotton Campaign’s monitors have said they will not stop working to expose forced labor in the Uzbek cotton fields.
The failures of the World Bank and the ILO
In 2014, Uzbekistan signed a Decent Work Country Program with the ILO, in which it committed to work with the ILO and to apply international labor standards. The Bank also agreed to condition Uzbekistan’s loans (now amounting to $500 million) on the absence of forced or child labor in project areas. As a result of these agreements, Uzbekistan also committed to establish a “feedback mechanism” that allows witnesses or victims to report abuses during the harvest and an awareness-raising campaign aimed to educate Uzbekistan’s citizens about the illegality of forced and child labor.
Pursuant to the World Bank’s request, the ILO created monitoring teams, which watched over Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest from Sept. 14 to Oct. 31, 2015. Each team was made up of just one ILO staffer and five members of the Uzbek government. At the end of its work, the ILO concluded that“[m]onitoring has not provided conclusive information that beneficiaries of World Bank projects used child or forced labor during the cotton harvest.”
Yet, the ILO still found “indicators” of forced labor related to the widespread organized recruitment of adults to pick cotton and noted that “[r]obust further steps are required to remove the risk of forced labor.” In particular, the ILO highlighted several concerns “with respect to candidness of interviewees,” and UGF rightly pointed out that serious questions exist concerning the independence, and resulting effectiveness, of the ILO monitoring teams, due in part to their makeup.
The ILO acknowledged that monitors encountered significant difficulties obtaining accurate information and noted that authorities “obstruct, detain and threaten people who are gathering information on labor standards during the harvest,” which does not “provide a conducive environment in which to assess and investigate labor practices.”
In the face of these admitted shortcomings, however, there is no indication that the ILO considered changing its strategy, nor does the ILO explain why it failed to do so. Moreover, by beginning its monitoring process in mid-September, the ILO missed the “massive labor deployments to the fields” that occurs in the beginning of the month, the UGF notes.
As for the “feedback mechanism,” the ILO admitted that usage rates were low, and nobody interviewed by the UGF even considered using it. The reason for the poor level of participation seems to be that people feared reprisals for using the mechanism. In fact, several who called the hotline or tried to complain to the ILO suffered harassment from officials.
As the Cotton Campaign’s Fischer-Daly sees it, the World Bank should incentivize reform by requiring demonstrable progress from the Uzbek government on ending forced labor as a condition for loan disbursements. By disbursing funds first, the Uzbek government has less incentive to change practices and is likely to only take procedural measures.
Yet, when I asked Fischer-Daly whether apparel companies were succeeding in keeping Uzbek cotton out of their products, he noted the limitations of RSN’s Cotton Pledge. As with many products, the difficulty with cotton boils down to traceability, and many brands simply do not know the true origin of their cotton. The most successful companies are those that have direct relationships with their raw material suppliers, but very few do.
In order to truly change this practice, Fischer-Daly said, brands must fundamentally change the way they source.
Last year, Cotton Campaign and others,including CNN, began documenting a system of forced labor in Turkmen cotton fields that is strikingly similar to the practice in Uzbekistan. Following the president’s order to “pick all cotton to the last boll,” tens of thousands of Turkmen citizens are mobilized by local government officials to report to the cotton fields. According toAlternative Turkmen News, the Turkmen government treats “refusal to contribute to the cotton harvest as insubordination, incitement to sabotage, lack of patriotism and even contempt of the homeland.” Consequences include “public censure, docked pay and termination of employment.”
As in Uzbekistan, the state maintains a monopoly on the purchase and sale of cotton and sets a below-market procurement price. Turkmenistan is the world’s eighth largest exporter of cotton (Uzbekistan is fifth), and the Cotton Campaign has been able to tie Turkmen cotton to Turkey, a major manufacturing hub for brands operating throughout Europe. Fischer-Daly told me the first Turkish company that Cotton Campaign identified as processing and producing garments using cotton from Turkmenistan reported that it sold to about a dozen brands.
Some brands, such as H&M, have nowcommitted to excluding Turkmen cotton from their products (as H&M did with Uzbek cotton in 2013). Yet, as in Uzbekistan, without real consequences there is little reason to believe either the Uzbek or the Turkmen governments will move away from their forced labor systems.
C&A Foundation publishes its annual report, ‘Making Fashion a Force for Good: The challenges and opportunities facing the apparel industry’.
The report is aimed at spurring dialogue and action within the apparel industry. Through testimonials from industry experts, C&A Foundation highlights the challenges fashion is facing, and the opportunities the industry must seize to bring about change.
“Despite greater consumer awareness and powerful reasons to change, we still have not found an equitable, just and ecologically sustainable way to clothe the world,” said Leslie Johnston, Executive Director of C&A Foundation. “Fashion can be a force for good, but all of us – retailers, brands, suppliers, NGOs, governments, farmers and consumers – must work together towards long-term solutions to reach the ultimate goal of a fair and sustainable industry.”
In ‘Making Fashion a Force for Good,’ C&A Foundation discusses some of the complexities of three major challenges facing the apparel industry:
Improving the lives and livelihoods of smallholder cotton farmers
Eradicating forced labour in the supply chain
Enabling just and dignified working conditions
With this report, C&A Foundation calls on all actors in the apparel supply chain to come together to break the existing paradigms by embracing transparency, accountability and collaboration.
The report also highlights important initiatives and partnerships of 2014 and features the foundation’s key fact and figures.
Click here to go to ‘Making Fashion a Force for Good’.
**This report first appeared on the C&A Foundation website here.