We Don’t Know Enough About The Impact Our Clothing Has On People And Planet, Fashion Revolution Warns
Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index reveals that the top 100 global fashion brands still have a long way to go towards transparency
Many of the biggest global brands that make our clothes still don’t disclose enough information about their impact on the lives of workers in their supply chain and on the environment, new research reveals.
The way fashion is made, sourced and consumed continues to cause suffering and pollution. Fashion Revolution believes that this urgently needs to change and that the first step is greater transparency.
Transparent disclosure makes it easier for brands, suppliers and workers, trade unions and NGOs to understand what went wrong when human rights and environmental abuses occur, who is responsible and how to fix it.
The Fashion Transparency Index 2017, released today, reviews and ranks how much information 100 of the biggest global fashion companies publish about their social and environmental policies, practices and impacts.
The research found that even the highest scoring brands on the list still have a long way to go towards being transparent. The average score brands achieved was 49 out of 250, less than 20% of the total possible points, and none of the companies on the list scored above 50%.
Adidas and Reebok achieved the highest score of 121.5 out of 250 (49% of the total possible points), followed by Marks & Spencer with 120 points and H&M with 119.5 points. However, only 8 brands scored higher than 40%, while a further 9 brands scored 4% or less out of 250 possible points, of which Dior, Heilan Home and s.Oliver scored 0 because they disclose nothing at all.
Out of the premium and luxury brands reviewed, 9 scored between 21-30% of the total possible points, which was higher than the average. The other 10 scored 15% or less.
The good news is that 31 brands are publishing supplier lists (tier 1) including ASOS, Benetton, C&A, Esprit, Gap, Marks & Spencer, Uniqlo, and VF Corporation brands since April 2016. This is an increase from last year when Fashion Revolution surveyed 40 big fashion companies and only five were publishing supplier lists. This year 14 brands are publishing their processing facilities where their clothes are dyed, laundered, printed or treated. However, no brand is publishing its raw material suppliers. Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy scored highest on traceability (44%) because their supplier list includes detailed information such as types of products or services and approximate number of workers in each supplier facility.
Meanwhile few brands disclose efforts on living wages, collective bargaining, and reducing consumption of resources (on average 9% of the information required in these categories was disclosed), sending a strong signal to brands to urgently look at their own business models and purchasing practices.
There is a long way to go in order for the industry to pay a living wage, as only 34 brands have made public commitments to paying living wages to workers in the supply chain, and only four brands — H&M, Marks & Spencer, New Look and Puma — are reporting on progress towards achieving this aim. This shows that much more needs to be done and faster by brands to ensure that workers, from farm to retail, are paid fairly.
Fashion Revolution Co-founder Carry Somers said: “People have the right to know that their money is not supporting exploitation, human rights abuses and environmental destruction. There is no way to hold companies and governments to account if we can’t see what is truly happening behind the scenes. This is why transparency is so essential.”
“Through publishing this research, we hope brands will be pushed in a more positive direction towards a fundamental shift in the way the system works, beginning with being more transparent.”
Dr. Mark Anner, Director, Centre for Global Workers’ Rights Penn State University said: “The time has come for brands and retailers to make their entire supply chains transparent. The time has also come to establish sourcing practices that are conducive to the human development and empowerment of the workers who work so hard every day to make the clothes we wear.”
Brands were awarded points based on their level of transparency across 5 categories, including: policy & commitments, governance, traceability, supplier assessment and remediation and spotlight issues which looks at living wages, collective bargaining and business model innovation. Brands were selected to represent a cross section of market segments including high street, luxury, sportswear, accessories, footwear and denim sectors.
The data revealed that:
- Policy & Commitments – overall score = 49%
The highest concentration of brands scored in the 71-80% range with 11 brands scoring between 81-90% and 16 brands scoring 20% or less. By and large, brands are disclosing the most about their policies and commitments on social and environmental issues.
- Governance – overall score = 34%
The largest number of brands (37) score 10% or less. 13 brands fall in the 41-50% range. Marks & Spencer is the only brand to score 100% meaning that they’re disclosing who in the team is responsible for social and environmental issues, along with their contact details, board level accountability, and how other staff and suppliers are incentivised to improve performance.
- Traceability – overall score = 7%
Overall brands are disclosing few details about their suppliers. 31 brands are publishing supplier lists (tier 1). 14 brands are publishing their processing facilities. No brand is publishing its raw material suppliers. 23 brands disclose having updated their supplier list at least in the past 12 months, while Target says it uploads its supplier list quarterly and ASOS promises to do so every two months.
- Know, Show & Fix – overall score = 16%
The highest concentration of brands (36) fall in the 11-20% range whilst another 31 score less than 10%. Adidas and Reebok score highest at 39%, with 7 other brands joining them in the 31-40% range. Brands often disclose their supplier assessment processes and procedures. However brands share little information about the results of their supplier assessments, and brands don’t publish much about the results of the efforts made to fix problems in factories.
- Spotlight Issues – overall score = 9%
Overall, brands are disclosing little about their efforts to pay living wages or to support collective bargaining and unionisation. Few brands are disclosing their efforts to address overconsumption of resources. Marks & Spencer, New Look and H&M scored in the 41-50% range, and no brand scored above 50%. The majority of brands scored less than 10%.
The report provides recommendations for how consumers, brands and retailers, governments and policy makers, NGOs, unions and workers can use the information contained in the Fashion Transparency Index to make a positive difference.
You can find more information at FashionRevolution.org
Sustainability for retailers is a particularly slippery slope. While some are lauded for campaigns that make a significant impact, others are cited for hyperbole or greenwashing.
Regardless, having an environmentally friendly ethos is important to consumers — a Nielsen study found that 75 percent of millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings — and brands have taken note. It’s not enough to just sell run-of-the-mill goods, brands need to have a defined social and societal impact.
We took a look at some of the recent efforts by eight major retail brands and assigned them letter grades based on genuine transparency ventures, reception by consumers and industry leaders, and commentary from outside experts.
Patagonia has long been the frontrunner when it comes to sustainability in retail. In November, it pulled an unprecedented move and donated 100 percent of its global Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations. Patagonia also has a robust repair program that helps consumers maintain longevity of their products, in addition to selling used branded clothingfrom its Portland retail store. (And no one has forgotten its watershed “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign in 2011, which asked consumers to think twice before making a purchase in an effort to prevent waste.)
“Patagonia has done a tremendous amount of innovation for people and the planet. It’s been in their DNA from the beginning,” said Rebecca Mallard, founder of Maven Women, a sustainable women’s wear company.
Levi Strauss and Co. recognized it had to do something to cut its abundant water usage, so in 2011, it implemented its Water<Less program, which streamlines its production process to reduce water used to make denim. However, what really sets Levi’s apart is its focus on inter-industry collaboration when it comes to environmental efforts. It hosts an annual “collaboratory” that convenes retailers from around the world to glean insight and tips about more sustainable operations. It also expanded its worker well-being program last year to benefit more countries.
“They’re taking their role seriously in supporting innovation,” Ballard said. “It’s open source and about creating a cohesive network, rather than having a clutched fist attitude. Partnership is an essential element of ethics and sustainability.”
Gap, Inc.: B
Earlier this week, Athleta, part of the Gap, Inc., announced that it is launching its first line of athletic wear fully certified by Fair Trade USA, which is focused on supporting global factory workers. For every garment sold in the collection, factory workers are given an additional financial premium to use to benefit their community in areas like childcare, transportation and education. With its Fair Trade line, Athleta primarily aims to support female factory workers — the new styles are made by a factory in Sri Lanka where more than 80 percent of employees are female.
The move by Athleta follows Gap, Inc.’s announcement last year that it has begun disclosing global factor lists in a push for transparency, taking a cue from companies like UK-based Marks & Spencer and Belgium-based C&A. While it’s an important move, it only serves as the initial step before making tangible improvements to working conditions and Gap has yet to launch a program like Levi’s worker well-being efforts.
“It’s a really great first step in transparency and accountability, saying ‘these are our factories and we’re going to own up,’” said Natalie Grillon, co-founder of Project Just, a informational platform focused on sustainable fashion and beauty.
Kering Group: C+
Kering came under fire in December when it received low marks in the Apparel & Footwear Benchmark Findings Report, developed by watchdog organization KnowTheChain. Kering was positioned fourth-to-last on the report, which ranked mass retailers in several categories, including risk assessment, recruitment, monitoring and governance.
Kering claims the score was a result of issues around its information disclosure practices and that information highlighting its most recent sustainability efforts was not considered. Among these ventures is Kering’s environmental profits and loss app, which launched in October as an educational tool to track the environmental cost of fashion design. In response, Kering launched a “next generation” sustainability strategy at the end of January, a comprehensive plans to curb emissions and increase working conditions.
Though H&M launched its Conscious Collection in 2012 and has since worked with organizations to help improve transparency standards, the actual level of transparency from H&M is minimal, with sporadic posts on social media alluding to improved working conditions. Additionally, the company has been caught in several troubling incidents, like the revelation that it had used refugee workers in Europe.
“The issue with H&M is they brand themselves as better than they actually are,” Ballard said. “When you find Syrian refugee children working in factories in Turkey, which happened, and a recycling campaign that has a greenwashing component, it makes me pause.”
Like H&M, Zara has been plagued with similar challenges falling upon fast-fashion retailers. However, it took four years longer than H&M to launch its first eco-friendly line. As part of its new effort, launched late last year, the Spanish company began offering recycled packaging and boxes and also started a clothing donation program (modeled largely off of H&M’s existing program).
“As any retailer is planning for the next generation of customers, and its business in general, sustainability and social impact have to be a top consideration, and it’s positive to see Zara take a step to improve its supply chain,” Brooke Blashill, svp and director at Boutique@Ogilvy, told Glossy in a previous interview.
Despite operating on a mantra of “radical transparency,” Everlane has shown this notion is particularly elusive. Even with its push to share “Transparency Tuesday” Q&As on social media and its efforts to take customers on tours of factories, it is prohibited from disclosing its factory list and has unspecified compliance guidelines for locating new factories. However, the company audits every facility each quarter and avoids at-risk countries so there is no compliance risk, according to CEO Michael Preysman.
Preysman told Glossy in a previous article that the lack of information about its factories is an attempt to protect other brands that operate out of the same spaces. “Everlane makes products in the same factories as luxury brands,” he said. “We make the same quality product as these other brands, pay the same cost, but charge a much lower markup. We may jeopardize their business.”
In September 2016, an investigative report by BuzzFeed found that Asos workers were subjected to particularly brutal conditions, including being discouraged from taking bathroom and water breaks and getting fired for taking sick time. Despite numerous reports, the brand denied that it was complicit in the allegations. “There have been a number of allegations about the working conditions at our warehouse in Barnsley that are inaccurate, misleading or based on out-of-date information,” it said in a statement.
*This story first appeared on Glossy
Greenwashing is a term that was coined in the 1980’s by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, who saw the inconsistency in hotels that did not employ concrete recycling programs but encouraged the reuse of towels by patrons. (PRSA).
It refers to the promotion of green-based environmental initiatives or images without the implementation of business practices that actually minimize environmental impact (or any of the other negative effects of their businesses). It is also defined as the “dissemination is misinformation by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” (Oxford English Dictionary). This practice often includes misleading customers about the actual benefits of a product or practice through misleading advertising and/or unsubstantiated claims, in order to “create a benefit by appearing to be a green company, whether that benefit comes in the form of a higher stock price, more customers or favored partnerships with green organizations.” (Investopedia).
Methods: There are many routes a company can take in terms of greenwashing.
Brands can “make vague claims or omit important and relevant facts. They may do this inadvertently, just using information from their suppliers; in the recent case where several clothing companies claimed that they sold eco-friendly bamboo-clothing when they in fact sold rayon produced from bamboo – but processed in a way that uses harsh chemicals and can also release hazardous air pollutants.” (NFA).
Companies may utilize “press releases about green projects or task forces put into place, energy reduction or pollution reduction efforts, and rebranding of consumer products and advertising materials.” (Investopedia). For example, “Ford Motors — like other automakers often castigated by environmental groups for making gas guzzlers and opposing many proposed state laws aimed at fuel efficiency — has been running advertisements promoting its planned lines of hybrid and flexible-fuel cars.” (NYTimes).
Greenwashing also happens when “corporations parrot their environment programs with the end goal of earning profit.” (ABS).
Greenwashing in the Fashion Industry
Many fashion industry labels employ “green” and “ethical” marketing to target “conscious” consumers: H&M’s Conscious collection, made of organic cotton and recycled polyester; Puma’s biodegradable InCycle Collection; Adidas’ Design for Environment gear; Uniqlo’s All-Product Recycling Initiative; Zara’s eco-efficient stores; and the Gap’s P.A.C.E. program, to benefit the lives of female garment workers. (AlJazeera)
Examples of alleged Greenwashing include the following:
“Take, for instance, H&M’s use of cotton. It’s the material H&M uses most and the company boasts that the non-profit Textile Exchange has recognized H&M as the world’s number-one user of organic cotton, which has a lighter environmental impact, and reduces the use of “probably” carcinogenic pesticides. But only 13.7% of the cotton H&M uses is organic.” (Quartz)
In 2014, Forever 21 was subject to claims of greenwashing. “Not only has the fast-fashion powerhouse announced plans to the largest single-rooftop solar-power system in Los Angeles County, it also unveiled a new 18,000-square-foot concept store that promises greater quantities and even deeper discounts on its already cut-price clothing.” (ECouterre)
H&M launched a film campaign with actress Olivia Wilde to debut its new “Conscious Exclusive” collection for 2015 … yet in 2015, H&M will produce over 600 million new garments. That’s an increase of 50 million articles of clothing from 2011. It will expand its physical locations by 10 to 15 percent every year, requiring the use of energy-intensive resources. (Huffington Post).
*This story first appeared on The Fashion Law
Fast fashion is the practice of rapidly translating high fashion design trends into low-priced garments and accessories by mass-market retailers at low costs. There are a number of elements that are key to the fast fashion process, namely: the price of the garments and accessories; the method and timeline of manufacturing; the trend-based nature and disposability of the clothes themselves.
The fast fashion model has developed from a product-driven concept based on a manufacturing model referred to as “quick response,” developed in the U.S. in the 1980s. This moved to a market-based model of “fast fashion” in the late 1990s and the early part of the 21st century. (Wiley). It has since come to occupy a very profitable position in the market.
The fashion apparel industry has significantly evolved, particularly over the past several decades. The evolution of manufacturing and consumption has resulted in the intake of “400 percent more clothing today than we did 30 years ago. That shift from mid-market to fast fashion has also tracked a shift from domestic production to cheaper overseas locations from Hong Kong, to mainland China and now to even lower cost centers including Vietnam and Bangladesh.” (CNBC).
“The changing dynamics of the fashion industry have forced retailers to desire low cost and flexibility in design, quality, and speed to market, key strategies to maintain a profitable position in the increasingly demanding market.” (ResearchGate). Fast fashion retailers both meet and fuel this demand by marketing “apparel that may not be made with the finest quality materials to last a life-time, but that is cooler and far more affordable.” (CNN).
Elements of Fast Fashion
i. Price: The widespread availability of low-cost garments and apparel is a distinguishing factor for fast fashion retailers. “The fast fashion business model is based on reducing the time cycles from production to consumption such that consumers engage in more cycles in any time period.” Spain-based Zara, the world’s largest fast fashion retailer, has prices similar to those of the Gap: coats for $200, sweaters for $70, T-shirts for $30, and denim for $69. This is markedly more expensive than H&M, the Swedish-based company, which offers most coats for $69 (though some go for as low as $29), sweaters for between $29 and $34, t-shirts for $5.99, and denim for $19.99. Forever 21, the Los Angeles-based brand, is priced comparatively to H&M. It’s new concept store, Forever 21 Red, however, offers even lower prices, such as camisoles starting at $1.80, jeans at $7.80, tees at $3.80, and leggings at $5.80.
Irish retailer Primark offers some of the lowest prices in the industry. Its first U.S. store features a selection of jeans for $7, t-shirts for $3.50 and tank tops for a mere $1.60, prices that are lower than all of its fast-fashion rivals, analysts say. The retailer boasts prices that are 40% less than H&M’s and 75% less than Gap Factory stores’, according to analysts at Goldman Sachs.
Costs are largely reduced by taking advantage of lower prices in markets in developing countries. “In 2004 developing countries accounted for nearly 75 percent of all clothing exports and the removal of several import quotas has allowed companies to take advantage of the even lower cost of resources.” (Bruce, Margaret, and Lucy Daly. “Buyer behavior for fast fashion.” Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management). Workers in Bangladesh, where 80 percent of the country’s exports are apparel, currently earn the lowest minimum wage in the world, taking home about $43 a month. Chinese factory workers make slightly more: $117 to $147 a month. In contrast, American garment workers earn about $9 an hour, taking home $1,660 a month. (http://bust.com).
ii. Manufacturing Timeline and Availability: A significant point of differentiation between fast fashion retailers and non-fast fashion brands is the rapid rate of manufacturing. “The fast fashion business model is based on reducing the time cycles from production to consumption such that consumers engage in more cycles in any time period.” (Hines, Tony. 2001. “Globalization: An introduction to fashion markets and fashion marketing.”)
While the fashion industry largely operates on a seasonal calendar, fast fashion retailers deliver new garments and accessories to their stores every four to six weeks, sometimes even more frequently. Inditex brand stores (including Zara), for instance, receive deliveries of new clothes twice a week. This is significantly quicker than Salvatore Ferragamo, for example, which has centralized inventory and established computer links to suppliers , cutting the design-to-delivery cycle by 20 percent, to 10 weeks – making it one of the most speed-forward houses in the upper echelon of fashion.
The rapid speeds of delivery for which fast fashion retailer are known are largely based on the location of their manufacturers. For Zara and other similarly situated brands, “The trendiest items are made closest to home, however, so that the production process, from start to finish, takes only two to three weeks.” (NY Times). While manufacturing in local markets – such as Spain for Zara or Los Angeles for Forever 21 – may be more costly than more far-flung locations, such Bangladesh or Cambodia (which offer significantly cheaper labor), these higher labor costs are offset by greater flexibility. Items are produced in lower quantities and so, no extra inventory is left lying around and subsequently offered up at sale prices.
In addition to the widespread availability of fast fashion garments due to the brands’ rapid manufacturing turnaround times, their garments and accessories are physically widely available due to volume of goods produced and the companies’ penetration of the market both by way of e-commerce stores and brick and mortar locations. In 2012, Inditex, for instance, was making “840 million garments a year with around 5,900 stores in 85 countries, though that number is always changing – Inditex has in recent years opened more than a store a day, or about 500 stores a year. Right now there are around 4,400 stores in Europe, and almost 2,000 in Spain alone.” (NY Times, 2012).
Forever 21 “operates over 600 stores throughout the U.S. and in Canada, Europe, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines.” (Forbes). “H&M manufactures at least 600 million items each year and operates more than 3,200 stores in 55 countries. If you include its subsidiary brands, such as COS, that number jumps above 3,500 stores, and the company is expanding its locations by 10% to 15% each year.” (Quartz).
iii. Trend-based: As indicated above, the vast majority of fast fashion retailers stock trend-based garments and accessories, particularly those derived from the most recent runway collections at any given time. Due to the speed of manufacturing, fast fashion retailers are able to get their garments and accessories, which are commonly line-for-line copies of designer goods, to stores long before the actual designer. “Fast fashion poses a threat since its logic is based on copying the designs of high-end producers and quickly diffusing them—sometimes even before the high-end goods, which are based on a complicated and high quality supply chain, are distributed. As such, it mines the overall investment in style by design departments of high end producers.” (US News).
This model of manufacturing and marketing thrives on constant change and the frequent availability of new products. The continuous release of new, trend-drive products essentially makes the inventory a highly cost effective marketing tool that drives consumer visits, increases brand awareness, and results in higher rates of consumer purchases. One soruce reports: “Fast fashion companies have also enjoyed higher profit margins in that their markdown percentage is only 15% compared to competitors’ 30% plus.” (Hines, Tony. 2001. “Globalization: An introduction to fashion markets and fashion marketing.”). To keep customers coming back, high street retailers routinely source new trends in the field, and purchase on a weekly basis to introduce new items and replenish stock (Tokatli and Kizilgun 2009).
“It’s not uncommon for shoppers to wear items once or twice before discarding them. Sometimes, it’s not even a choice because the garments are so poorly made that they fall apart after only a few wears.”
iv. Disposability: Disposability plays a key role in fast fashion. “Fast fashion has paved the way for outright disposable fashion. It’s not uncommon for shoppers to wear items once or twice before discarding them. Sometimes, it’s not even a choice because the garments are so poorly made that they fall apart after only a few wears.” (US News).
Labor Concerns Associated with Fast Fashion
A number of tragedies have been directly connected to the production of fast fashion and its lower manufacturing and labor costs. In order to offer low cost clothing, fast fashion retailers source garments and accessories from factories in countries where labor costs are extremely low. For years, this was largely in China. However, “factory workers in China are increasingly pressing for higher wages. Companies have responded by moving production into places where wages are even lower, like Bangladesh.” (NPR).
India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Turkey, among others, have become popular locations for the sourcing of fast fashion garments and accessories. However, such countries largely lack the sophisticated manufacturing infrastructure of China. Per Maxine Bédat, co-founder of Zady: “Low cost means low regulation. Governments in today’s textile producing countries have little oversight into what happens in their factories.” (CNBC).
This extends to labor conditions and wages. The health of laborers “is affected by the chemicals used to produce the cheap fabrics made into T-shirts that are snapped up for $5 in Western stores.” (BI). Moreover, “in the rush to fill the void, tragedy has sometimes ensued.” (NPR).
Most significantly, in April 2013, “the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,100 garment workers died, showed the lengths to which manufacturers will subvert zoning, labor and safety requirements to score contracts and keep inventories full of on-trend fashions at bargain-basement prices.” (Al Jazeera).
On the heels of the Rana Plaza building collapse, safety problems are still extremely widespread: “A recent inspection of Bangladesh garment factories was conducted in connection with the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement between international trade unions IndustriALL and UNI Global, Bangladesh trade unions, and international brands and retailers. The round of inspections took place at 1,106 factories used by 150 Western brands, and resulted in the identification of 80,000 safety-related problems. Per the Accord for Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, safety hazards were found in every factory inspected, with nearly 20 factories being labeled as bearing a heightened risk of collapse, and 110 other factories were deemed to have notable structural issues.” (TFL).
For over two years beginning in 2011, Zara was under investigation for the use of slave labor and sweatshop conditions in factories in Argentina and Brazil. In 2011, the “Spanish high-street retailer [was] accused of allegedly accepting slave-labor working conditions supplanted by more than 30 of its outsourced plants running in Brazil.” (Forbes). Bolivian immigrant workers “were caught in slave-like conditions in garment production for the Galicia-based company, which is part of the Inditex group.” (Forbes).
Less than two years later, “immigrant workers, including children, were discovered by the workers’ rights group, La Alameda, producing clothes for Zara in ‘degrading’ sweatshop conditions, investigators claimed […] They were not registered and they were living in terrible conditions. They had no official documents and were held against their will, they were not allowed to leave their workplaces without permission.” (Telegraph).
In October 2014, textiles mills in the Tamil Nadu area of India have been accused of employing forced labor and have been linked to major fast fashion giants including H&M, Primark and C&A. According to “Flawed Fabrics,” a report from the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations and the India Committee of the Netherlands, which was compiled “through a mixture of desk research and interviews with workers,” an array of core labor rights are being violated. Girls and young women are “being lured from their home villages [at as young as age 15] by false promises” and are working under “appalling, prison-like conditions” in which the women are often bonded. (TFL).
In early 2014, at least four people were killed and more than 20 were injured when police outside Cambodia’s capital opened fire to break up a protest by striking garment workers. Wages in the garment-manufacturing sector in Cambodia remain low by international standards. In October 2015, Government officials in Cambodia announced that they will raise the minimum wage for clothing workers by 9.4% to $140 a month, hoping to ease tensions in the country’s main export industry. The new wages take effect at the beginning of 2016, but the increase falls short of the $160 a month wage proposed by unions. (TFL)
Environmental/Sustainability Concerns Associated with Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is, by its very nature, “a fast-response system that encourages disposability.” (Fletcher 2008). With brands like H&M “producing hundreds of millions of garments per year,” there is a growing public consensus that the mass production of so much cheap clothing is an enormous waste of resources such as fuel and water. (NPR). As an industry, “Fast fashion depletes the Earth’s resources and uses slave labor all over the world.” (Vogue).
In addition to a lack of regulation in terms of working and safety conditions and wages, environmental and related regulations stemming from the use of chemicals and pollutants are lax in low cost centers of manufacturing. As such, “textile companies just keep engines roaring, running largely on coal, while they systematically dump their chemicals untreated back into their local water. This has all added up to the apparel industry being the second most polluting industry in the world, behind only the oil sector.” (CNBC).
And the side effects do not stop there. The increase in production of garments and accessories has lead to an increase in waste: “Inevitably, much of this excess finds its way into landfills. In the US alone more than 10.5 million tons of clothes end up in landfills each year, and even natural fibers may not break down easily.” (Quartz).
*This story first appeared on The Fashion Law
Transparency is trending in fashion.
Mass retailers like H&M, Zara, UK-based Marks & Spencer, Belgium-based CNA and Gap Inc., which owns Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta, have begun sharing the names of the factories they work with in an effort to improve working and environmental conditions, streamline cluttered supply chains, and get on the right side of the mindful consumer. This is a departure from traditionally standard retail practices, which saw companies keeping their factory names closely held in order to protect themselves from competition.
The timing is right: Corporate brands are looking to become more transparent during a moment of increasing customer consciousness. Transparency is, on some level, a feel-good buzzword for an industry plagued by environmental and ethical issues, as becoming more transparent doesn’t require as much internal overhaul as becoming more sustainable. And it’s not for nothing: When retailers identify what factories they work with, as well as what compliance guidelines they follow, it can help improve worker conditions and bring manufacturer malpractice to light.
“The supply chain is really complicated, but it’s a positive step from a global labor union perspective to be transparent,” said Christina Hajagos-Clausen, textile and garment director of global union IndustriALL, which has contracted agreements with H&M and Zara. “Customers appreciate it, as well. If you have nothing to hide, you can show it.”
But as big brands take steps to bring their supply chains out of the shadows, they haven’t trumpeted that message as loud-and-proud as one would expect. Gap Inc. announced its factory list in a bland investor relations announcement. H&M and Zara share some updates on the subject on their social media accounts, but they’re sporadic enough to get buried by product posts and lifestyle content.
Compared to brands like direct-to-consumer retailer Everlane, these brands have kept transparency volume to a whisper. Everlane’s entire brand ethos is predicated around transparency: Its motto is “Radically Transparent,” and it hosts “Transparency Tuesdays” Q&As on Snapchat. In addition, it takes customers on video tours of new factories. The pricing structure for every product is laid out online, and interested customers can read about each of the 17 factories Everlane works with on its website.
Customers have clearly embraced this share-everything approach to retail. Everlane grew its revenue by 200 percent year-over-year in 2015, according to Bloomberg, and the brand does little marketing, accruing a customer-base mostly around mission-driven word of mouth.
But Everlane’s “radical transparency” is missing key specifics. Factory names aren’t disclosed, and the company adheres to a list of unspecified “compliance guidelines” when sourcing new factories. Meanwhile, Gap, Zara and H&M all have named factories and detailed compliance guidelines on their investor sites.
Founder and CEO Michael Preysman said in an email that the reason Everlane doesn’t disclose its factory names is that factory partners have asked them not to.
“Everlane makes products in the same factories as luxury brands,” he said. “We make the same quality product as these other brands, pay the same cost, but charge a much lower markup. We may jeopardize their business.” He added that when factories allow, the names are shared. Such factories currently include Nobland in Vietnam and Mola in Los Angeles.
Preysman said that Everlane’s requirements for factory transparency include being able to document them, share what products are made there and complete audits on worker health, pay, safety and paperwork. However, in leaving some aspects—like their names—open-ended, Everlane’s practices are subject to interpretation.
“Not releasing factory names makes you less accountable if something happens,” said Natalie Grillon of Project Just, an online resource for customers wanting to find out how and where clothing from different brands is made. “They say it’s for competitive reasons, but in reality, a lot of these factories produce for multiple brands at a time. It’s more about protecting yourself.”
Customers of Everlane and other brands like American Giant and Reformation that built their brand messages on the back of transparency and conscious shopping appreciate the respite they offer from corporate facelessness. So as such corporations as Gap and Zara make transparency efforts, customers are repelled. A message of transparency from a fast fashion brand lacks the magic word: authenticity. When you’re H&M, firing off a tweet about sustainability efforts falls on highly skeptical ears.
“H&M comes under fire a lot for their initiatives because they do publicize it,” said Grillon. “When really, they’ve made a ton of effort in support of better wages. But then they talk about it a lot, and then they come under fire a lot for anything at all that goes wrong.”
Small brands looking to break the unsustainable retail system are the underdog, so customers are more willing to work through the problematic issues with them, said Grillon. For corporations, not so much. Grillon said Gap is hesitant to flaunt its transparency efforts because, unless they’re perfect (which, thanks to the messy state of retail’s supply chains, is impossible), they’ll receive backlash. It’s also hard to trust that bigger brands aren’t falling back on transparency in lieu of sustainability.
“Transparency is a means to an end,” said Bayard Winthrop, founder and CEO of American-made brand American Giant. “We believe it has to be part of our value system because the customer is going to find everything out. But being transparent isn’t the end goal.”
Without a believable value system in place, big retail is hard to pass off a message beyond anything other than profit.
“When you talk about ethical fashion, you’re talking about working toward better conditions, higher wages, fewer chemicals,” said Grillon. “That’s going to require raising prices, and that’s a hard pill to for brands to swallow.”
*This story first appeared on Glossy
Fast-fashion retailer Zara is trying its hand at sustainability with a new fashion line made using environmentally friendly materials.
The push by Zara, which has nearly 2,000 stores in 88 countries, is indicative of the continued push for increased transparency in retail, and demonstrates the importance for retailers to commit to sustainability, according to Brooke Blashill, svp and director at Boutique@Ogilvy.
“As any retailer is planning for the next generation of customers, and its business in general, sustainability and social impact have to be a top consideration, and it’s positive to see Zara take a step to improve its supply chain,” she said.
According to the Zara site, “the collection embraces a woman who looks into a more sustainable future” and is made with materials like organic cotton, recycled wool and Tencel, a recycled fabric derived from wood cellulose. Zara says that its Tencel is sourced from sustainably managed forests and that the farming process for its organic cotton uses 90 percent less water than usual cotton.
It’s a tenuous stance given Zara’s role in perpetuating the trend of cheaply produced goods, typically made from easily procured materials, sold at a low price point. Kathleen Wright, founder of Piece & Co., said in the Glossy Podcast in August that it’s nearly impossible to reconcile sustainability with fast fashion and still turn a profit, making environmentally friendly efforts incongruous to the brand identity of companies like Zara.
“Wouldn’t it be a dream if [fast fashion retailers] stood up and said, ‘we are going to do one less delivery this year, we’re putting too many clothes out there, and we’re going to take a profit cut?’,” she said. “The race to the bottom in my opinion is very real.”
Join Life Collection AW.16 | New editorial. A fusion of masculine and feminine style which defines clean silhouettes and a colour palette inspired by mineral tones Selected pieces mainly made of Tencel®, a wood fiber extracted from forests that are sustainably managed, guaranteeing its reforestation The farming process of organic cotton consumes 90% less water than conventional cotton #joinlife
The Spanish company is also launching a social campaign using the hashtag #JoinLife that includes “Boxes with a Past,” a selection of artists on the site creatively transforming Zara cardboard boxes into works of art. Zara lso launched a series of clothing collection receptacles at 300 locations in Europe for consumers to drop unwanted clothing of any brand, with plans to expand the effort to Asia and North America in 2017.
Users can also request free clothing collection in Spain and additional clothing will also be donated to the Red Cross and Oxfam, as well as to textile projects at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lenzing, an Austrian based company focused on sustainable fabrics.
Blashill said focusing on environmentally friendly offerings is an increasingly important focus for retailers like Zara, noting that a recent Nielsen study found that 75 percent of millennials would be willing to pay extra for sustainable offerings. Competitor H&M launched its own Conscious line back in 2012.
The move also comes on the heels of retailers making increased pushes towards transparency, including Gap announcing earlier this month that it would disclose its full global factory list. Wright told Glossy in a previous article that efforts like these help create a domino effect of other brands enacted sustainable efforts.
“When a big brand steps forward like this it’s exciting because it shows that if a company at this scale can make a change like this, other more nimble companies can do the same,” Wright said.
*This story first appeared on Glossy
Driving Sustainable Change in the Textile and Leather Industries – Panel Discussion at the World Water Week 2016
Sustainability has become a key word buzzing in the World Water Week corridors. The theme for this year’s conference is “Water for Sustainable Growth” – a topic that the textile production sector has been grappling with for years.
Yesterday’s High Level panel, for example, set collaboration as a defining element in succeeding in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Complex issues, like the water issue, and complex goals like the SDGs, require complex collaborative efforts.
An afternoon session entitled “Driving sustainable change in the textile sector,” set collaboration as the main driver to achieving sustainable growth – with concrete examples from the Sweden Textile Water Initiative (STWI) – a public-private partnership between Swedish brands, the Swedish Government and SIWI – on the European side, while GAP Inc and USAID are exploring collaboration opportunities on the other side of the Atlantic.
Both collaborations aim transform the lives of thousands of textile workers, and others downstream, by empowering workers and building their capacity on everything from resource efficiency to finance and leadership. These collaborations capitalize on the reach of the textile brands in their complex supply chains, on catalytic government funding, and the involvement of competent implementation partners.
Dan Henkle, Senior VP, Global Sustainability, GAP Inc
Dan linked creating safe access to water, a basic human right, to gender equality in the workforce and leadership. “We have a 135,000 employees working for GAP, and 70% of our workers are women. Our leadership’s gender balance is very similar both in GAP headquarters and local offices. However, the percentage of women working the supply chain is 70%, but the leadership there is different.” GAP worked on personal advancement for women to empower their leadership skills, as one of three key pillars of their work with supply chain, along more environmentally friendly product design of products, and improving the efficiency of production processes.
Anna Gedda, Head of Sustainability, H&M
H&M has been working in sustainability since the 1990s. According to Anna Gedda, the challenges we face are systemic and therefore it is important that brands work together. “We need to work transparently and with trust in our suppliers and competitors for a common goal. It is important to work with our factories for the long term, have measurable targets, and provide them with incentives for improvement.” But that is not enough, she adds that working with legislators is also an area that is important but difficult for brands to get involved in, hence H&Ms cooperation with SIWI within the Sweden Textile Water Initiative is important as it builds trust with factories and opens doors to improving legislation in production countries.
One word that all panelists brought up in their opening remarks is “trust”. Another word they included in closing their remarks is “transparency.” Creating an environment to empower trust and transparency is key to any sustainable collaboration, not least, between competitors, and across different sectors.
Elin Larsson, Sustainability Director, Fillippa K
Elin and Anna agreed that brands, whether big or small, share the same issues when it comes to sustainable growth. “We’re entering a new geological era, and we have great power over our ecosystems. We have to take the responsibility, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because we have to survive here on the long run.” She added that her company is moving away from linear towards circular production (recycle, reuse and reduce resources). Calling the textile sector to move from working with supply chains to creating supply-webs, she said collaborating with competitors, customers, suppliers and politicians is crucial. “STWI has provided us a platform to engage with other buyers and with our suppliers, and we can now say that we’ve established the trust for SIWI to enter their facilities and change things on the ground.”
Katarina Veem, Director of the Swedish Water House, SIWI
“Collaborative change is becoming one of SIWIs trademarks. We have been convening water professionals for the past 26 years here in Stockholm, and we know that collaboration is the precondition for success,” Katarina said, recalling the history of the Sweden Textile Water Initiative, which started in 2010 with 30 brands and is now working with 120 suppliers and sub-suppliers in 5 countries. “By promoting shared ownership, learning, and trust towards sustainable change– we’re delivering quantifiable results. Last year, savings by factories reached 5 million dollars.”
Katarina envisions a bright future for the initiative. “We’re moving towards a global Sustainable Textile Water Initiative. Today we have Danish and Norwegian brands, and now engaging other international brands – who share the same resources and future.
Joachim Beijmo, Chief of staff, Sida
As Sida continues to provide catalytic support to STWI, Joachim said it is important to agree on the challenges to agree on how to move forward. “Water is a major risk for businesses and for our planetary well-being. If we look at the global challenge of water, we will not be able to address it without – the access to both public and private financing. So the public-private-partnership model is very useful in this regards. Here we can find a sweet spot between business and development goals.” Joachim said STWI is the biggest partnership between Sida and the private sector. He added that brands provide access to the wider consumer public, where the SDGs and their developments need to be communicated.
Chris Holmes, Global Water coordinator, USAID
While the USAID collaborates with GAP, it also collaborates with other development agencies like Sida, on different financial mechanisms to support global goal achievement. “It was here at the World Water Week last year that we engaged with GAP on our common interest of improving women’s health – so we developed a program to improve their conditions and choices through improved employment environment.” USAID has a MoU with GAP linking sustainable water and health to better employment for women. “We are very focused on the opportunity to reach scale – reach those women and girls who need assistance. In our MoU we are looking at a sector that employs women – and affects households – all along the supply chain. We’re talking about transformation and this collaboration with GAP is one of those transformative opportunities.”
The panelists concluded with lessons learned from working across this matrix of actors: public financing agencies like Sida and USAID, brands like HM, Fillippa K and GAP Inc, and NGOs like SIWI, as well as local consultancies, factories, governmental institutions, and lawmakers. They highlighted long-term capacity building of internal staff teams as key to understanding and addressing complexity of the issues in the textile sector, the importance of improving the pace of financial support through a variety of innovative and collaborative solutions to keep up with the pace of those challenges, and to broaden the scope of collaborative efforts to include other sectors and actors.
*This story first appeared on Swedish Textile Water Initiative