ProjectJust

Patagonia Expands its Worn Wear Repair and Recycle Program

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Patagonia is expanding its Worn Wear program to raise awareness about how to repair and donate previously owned garments.

Patagonia announced that it will launch a standalone Worn Wear site that will provide detailed information about its program (which backs a “Repair is Radical” mantra) and incentivize consumers to donate old garments with discounts on new purchases. The company, which has long been hailed for its commitment to sustainable practices, started Worn Wear in 2013 in an effort to increase longevity of its products by offering repair services at select stores. It also has a repair center in Reno, Nevada that conducts an average 30,000 repairs a year, and a traveling truck that tours around the country conducting free fixes of broken zippers, rips and lost buttons.

The site is slated to launch in mid to late April, in partnership with Yerdle — a “recommerce” organization — which will allow Patagonia to sell pre-used goods online.

This year, Patagonia went on its first college tour, visiting 21 universities to offer repair services and giving speeches at select schools about the process. Among them was the Fashion Institute of Technology, which the truck visited last week.

“Students are very aware of these issues, so they’re bringing in their awareness as they become future designers,” said Suzanne Sullivan McGillicuddy, assistant dean of students and co-chair of the FIT sustainability council. “We have a minor in ethics and sustainability, and last year, in its second year, it quadrupled in number of students joining the major.”

Natalie Grillon, founder of Project Just, an informational platform focused on sustainable fashion and beauty, said Patagonia continues to be an example among brands of launching successful sustainability efforts.

“If anybody’s going to do it, Patagonia will be successful at it because they have such a loyal brand following of people,” she said. “It aligns with their long-term strategy of trying to make ethical and sustainable options, from source to end of life.”

*This story first appeared on Glossy

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Are Ethical Brands Greenwashing?

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5 questions to figure out which brands are LEGIT

As a responsible shopper looking to do the right thing, you might think if a brand is openly talking about their environmental or labor practices, they’re probably legit. And if they show you a picture of a happy worker or an NGO partner, it’s probably a sign of good intent and practices, right? Swipe that credit card.

WRONG!

Buyer beware — greenwashing is definitely a THING, and it’s not just the big fast fashion brands.

We’re always getting questions about H&M, Zara and others. Are they “greenwashing”? (i.e. exaggerating their environmental chops or social practices in an effort to make themselves seem sustainable, and even diverting attention away from negative practices like child labor, or the consumption-driven fast fashion model. Ew.)

But recently, savvy readers, like yourselves, have been asking more questions about the credentials of smaller “ethical fashion” or “eco-fashion” brands, and whether their practices add up to all their marketing.

Greenwashing is never good. But with the smaller “ethical” new kids on the block, it’s almost even more dangerous if they don’t stack up to their claims. It seeds pessimism and cynicism among consumers, just as a new vision of a sustainable industry is starting to gain traction.

So over the last month we did a mini experiment to dig into the practices of a few exciting and popular “ethical” brands, who outwardly celebrate their positive impact, intentions or transparency, and see what evidence they had to back up these assertions.

We looked at:

  • Everlane, the “radically transparent” basics brand
  • Warby Parker, the “social impact” eyeglasses company
  • Kowtow, a fairtrade, organic cotton brand making knitwear and basics from New Zealand
  • Krochet Kids, a social impact brand, empowering women in Uganda and Peru

We studied their websites and social media, contacted them through numerous channels, looked at publicly available records and everything else we could find. We did an intensive search beyond what a consumer could do in an afternoon, but without using any tools you wouldn’t have at the ready.

We went to these brands with a lot of questions surrounding labor practices, environmental practices, community engagement, management practices, size and business model, intention, innovation and transparency.

Below we’ve shared some highlights, AND, as we did this in-depth research, we pieced together the five questions we realized could help you sniff out greenwashing. (If you’re a nerd for this stuff like us, you can view everything we found on their updated brand pages on our Project JUST wiki)

So check out what we found and TRY these questions on for size:

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Curious about fibres?

1. First, check out what kind of fabrics / materials they are using.

Fabrics are an easy way to really change the impact of a supply chain for the better. PLUS it’s a super easy way for you as a shopper to know which brands are serious about changing the game. Raw materials are a big portion of the product, and consequently, its environmental and social impact. As a designer or a brand, committing to a restricted set of fabrics can be difficult — sustainable fabrics can be more expensive and not as easy to source — but it pays off in both your impact and performance in the end. So how did the brands we picked stack up?

Kowtow uses organic and fair trade cotton. Organic cotton is proven to be significantly better for people and planet, and fair trade means farmers and workers get fair wages for their work.

Krochet Kids uses some sustainable fabrics, but also uses acrylic and polyester (oil). They’re in the process of rolling out an organic cotton line.

While Everlane uses some natural fibres, none of them are certified from sustainable supply chains — you can read all about the impact of basic fabrics here. And, they also use synthetics like nylon (again, oil).

Warby Parker uses cellulose acetate, titanium, and stainless steel in its frames for both eyeglasses and sunglasses. Cellulose acetate is usually made from wood pulp. In February 2014, the brand reported via its Facebook page that Warby Parker frames are made of acetate that comes from a family-owned Italian manufacturer.

2. Second, do they have any certifications?

When you’re shopping, check out the tags — any symbols or certifications there? A certification offers a brand a rigorous program of standards and assessment, and a signal to shoppers of monitoring, high standards, and intention. A brand doesn’t have to have a certification to do good work, but often times, brands use them as a roadmap to build out a more sustainable supply chain. You have to be cautious though — some certifications aren’t that rigorous, or have major flaws in monitoring or auditing what’s actually happening on the ground. You can read more about certifications in our New Slang dictionary.

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Fair Trade Cotton UK

Survey says?

Kowtow has organic and fair trade certifications. Plain, simple and thorough.

Warby Parker is a BCorp, but we couldn’t find any information about what this means in terms of their environmental impact, or how they treat their workers. However, their recently released response to the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act means that the brand has now made its Code of Conduct publicly available (check out this release of new information on our Warby Parker brand page).

Krochet Kids is launching an organic line, and has their own special impact measurement tool that they use at each of their facilities.

Everlane doesn’t have any certifications that provide us with an easy signal to show that they’re trying, but it’s clear they like to set things up their own way. For their supply chain, they have three pillars of work: they started with transparency, are currently building their compliance, and sustainability is next. They do hold the factories they work with accountable to a 85% or higher score on the labor audit. If they don’t hit the mark, they step in with a corrective action plan, in partnership with their auditing firm, Intertek, to help.

Certifications aren’t for everyone, nor do they always work, but for the shopper and for us, it’s an easy way to know what standard a brand is holding themselves to, what are their intentions and to look into what’s actually happening to meet it.

3. Third, how transparent are they… really?

This basically comes down to what — and how much — they’re truly sharing with us. What’s on their website? Their social media? What data do they share to back up their claims of social or environmental impact?

Let’s stack ’em up.

Everlane: As fashion supply chain nerds, ever since this brand came out with their tagline, radical transparency, we’ve been curious to know what constituted “radical” from the information they shared. After all, “radical” by definition implies something beyond average. But, when we looked on the Everlane website, we didn’t really find much beyond where some of their factories were located, and what they made. What were we looking for? How they guaranteed fair wages and safe working conditions, what kinds of environmental policies they had in place, and their intentions for future improvement.

So we reached out to their team with a list of questions, and low and behold, got to sit down with the Founder & CEO, Michael Preysman —getting serious now.

He shared quite a bit of info with us including:

  • Their code of conduct
  • The average score of their factories on quarterly audits: 90.1%
  • The number of times a year their team visits their factories: 3
  • Their current lack of environmental policies, but their intent to work on this as the next phase in monitoring their supply chain
  • And lots more! (available for you to see behind a tiny little paywall, but trust us it’s worth the 5 bucks)

So why isn’t all this info available on their website?

Michael said (paraphrased) that they prefer not to reveal their work until it’s fully complete, so that the company can figure the right strategy to communicate the information to their customer, in a way that makes sense.

Legit?
You tell us. Given that these guys have shaken things up before, we’re excited to see what they churn out in the coming months to truly be “radical” in their supply chain practices.

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More than just transparent pricing?

Warby Parker: When it came to Warby Parker, we received not one answer to our questions. Not one! Between January and February 2017, we reached out six times to the PR company and twice to the brand, who then redirected us back to the PR company (head spinning emailing 😕).

This brand that claims positive social impact, and even has a BCorp certification (!), never answered our questions about whether they can trace their entire supply chain, where their suppliers are located, if they have a code of conduct, how much the workers in their supply chain are paid, how they monitor their social and environmental practices, and what their goals are to decrease their negative impact. In just the last two days, they did release a new set of info to comply with the California Transparency Act. Great – but we’ve still got questions.

Kowtow and Krochet Kids: These two brands both have a lot of information available on their website. Krochet Kids was willing to answer any question we threw their way, while Kowtow had enough info on their website and via their certifications to thoroughly answer our questions.

4. Do they express intention for improvement?

No brand is perfect. But given the major impact of fashion supply chains on people and planet, it’s important to at least have the intention and plans to continue to improve. Do they have goals on their website? Any plans that they share with the media, or consumers?

Krochet Kids told us all about their future plans. So did Everlane. Warby Parker — no answer and nothing available on their site. And finally Kowtow, who by committing to only use fair trade and organic cotton, has restricted their growth and made a sustainability commitment for the long run.

5. Fifth, and finally, will they get back to you / us / anyone?

When you ask a question — do they respond? And do they give you a straight answer?

After we emailed them this month, Everlane gave us a sit down with their founder & CEO. We had also reached out to them before with questions through various consumer channels, and had received responses — but not nearly as comprehensive as this. We appreciate this, but we also recognize that not everyone is afforded this kind of access. We hope they continue to strive to be as responsive to consumers as possible to attain this same standard of radical transparency.

Krochet Kids’ CEO and COO had a phone call with us after they answered our comprehensive survey. We were impressed with their brand, and especially with their willingness to share and open up to us.

Kowtow and Warby Parker both didn’t answer our repeated efforts to get in touch with them with our questions. That said, Kowtow has a ton of information about their brand and practices available on their website for anyone (not just supply chain dorks like us) to see. Warby Parker? Not so much.

So what did we learn?

In this day and age, with consumers buying products made by global supply chains, and with issues of human trafficking, child labor, worker abuse and environmental violations — the consumer should have a right to know how the product they’re paying for is made and be able to see the evidence to back it up.

And with brands like these, consumers should also know legitimately that the brand’s vision and proclaimed values match how they treat workers in their supply chain, and how they treat our planet. If you’re paying, you deserve to know.

So don’t get taken for a ride— keep searching, keep asking questions and tell your friends to ask, too. From our experience, you might even get to sit down with the CEO.

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*This story first appeared on New Co Shift

Radical Transparency? H&M and Zara Are Actually More Transparent Than Everlane

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image: Everlane

Everlane’s go-to is transparency. Pricing transparency – in particular – has garnered the San Francisco-based brand a lot attention since its launch in 2011, including a spot on Fast Co.’s 20146 “50 Most Innovative Companies” list. It also earned Everlane “$12 million in revenue in 2013, and double that in 2014,” according to Bloomberg. Buzzy company slogans, like “Radical Transparency” and easy-to-read infographics that chart the production cycle of its popular garments have made the e-commerce startup a go-to for hip millennials with money and a conscience when it comes to their clothes.

In an industry famous for shrouding the connection between what it costs to manufacture garments and accessories, and the price that consumers pay for those items, Everlane seemingly fills a void; hence, its success. Price transparency aside, on the heels an array of garment manufacturing-related tragedies in recent years and amongst a larger call – particularly from millennials – for more ethically sound garments, Everlane founder and CEO, Michael Preysman, a former Investment Associate, saw a business opportunity in ethically made clothing.

In addition to offering appealing basics – such as cashmere turtlenecks, cotton crewneck sweaters, striped t-shirts, and modern oxfords – Everlane has won over consumers with its openness. Appealing to consumers is its “disruption” of the fashion industry, which comes in the form of supply chain transparency. From the design phase to transport, Everlane shines a light on the costs of its business model, thereby highlighting the differences between its model and the “traditional retail” model, which includes middlemen and retail, which drive up the price. Additionally, the company boasts its utilization of world-class factories, “the very same ones that produce your favorite designer labels.”

However, despite such seemingly straightforward dealings, Everlane is cloaked in quite a bit of mystery, itself. As retail-focused website Racked noted in an article last year, “For all its talk of transparency, Everlane is extremely tightlipped about internal goings-on. Preysman was the only Everlane employee offered up for this story, and no one from the design or creative teams was made available to be interviewed. Repeated requests to visit the brand’s New York office were declined.”

So, just how transparent is Everlane really?

TRADE SECRETS OR JUST SECRETS?

A closer look at Everlane’s website and marketing materials – complete with enormously vague language in place of definitive facts to support its claims of transparency and ethical production – reveals that there is almost certainly more at play in the Everlane model than meets the eye. In accordance with Everlane’s motto – “Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.” – one of its core missions is enabling consumers to know the factories in which their clothes are being made. With this in mind, there is a major red flag at issue when it comes to Everlane: Its factory list.

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Everlane does a nice job of listing the location cities of its factories, how many individuals each factory employs, the year that each factory was established, what garments are produced there, and the weather in each of the given cities where these factories are located. All of this information is contained in a concise summary for each of Everlane’s supplier factories. The factory descriptions also include lovely photos of the factories’ interiors and their smiling laborers.

What Everlane fails to do, though, is list the names of its factories. Instead, it opts to label them according to the products they produce for the brand, such as “The Specialty Knits Factory,” “The Travel Bag Factory,” and “The Casual Wovens Factory.” In this way, H&M is more transparent than Everlane. As you may know, the Swedish fast fashion giant identifies 98.5% of its first tier factories/suppliers by name and address, and even lists some of these factories’ suppliers.

In accordance with Everlane’s motto, we ask: Why would a brand based on transparency not list its factories? Preysman has a seemingly rational answer, of course. He told the Wall Street Journal in 2013 that the company withholds the names of its factories for trade secret purposes. He says that Everlane does not name names in order to prevent competitors from utilizing the factories that he and his team have “spent months finding.” Preysman says he simply “doesn’t want competitors moving in on his turf.”

On its face, Preysman’s reasoning seems rather judicious, particularly because supplier lists – just like customer lists, sales and distribution methods, advertising strategies, and manufacturing processes – are a textbook type of asset for which businesses rely on trade secret law to protect.

However, it is worth acknowledging there is at least one very glaring and extremely critical missing link here: Some of Everlane’s suppliers publicly identify their connection with the retailer, thereby destroying any potential protections afforded to the brand by trade secret law.

For the uninitiated, in order for an individual or company to successfully claim trade secret protection in court, he must show that he has met a number of recognized measures to ensure that such information was, in fact, properly managed and kept secret. For instance, courts have held that in order to prove that a trade secret holder has met his burden, he must establish – among other things – that he made sure that only those necessary were privy to the secret info.

Secondarily, the party claiming trade secret protection must show that all of those who did have access to the secret information were made aware that it was confidential information, and that he utilized confidentiality agreements with employees and with business partners whenever disclosing confidential information to them to prevent the spread of the information. For Everlane, this would mean requiring that its factory partners – among others – not disclose their manufacturing relationships, and it would be Everlane’s duty to monitor that such information is not made public.

Such monitoring should not be terribly difficult for Everlane considering that it lists only seventeen factories as within its supply chain – a very small number compared to H&M’s network, for instance, which consists of 342 first-tier suppliers in China, alone. Moreover, given Everlane’s claims that it maintains close relationships with its factory owners – per the Everlane website, “We visit [our factories] often, and build strong personal relationships with the owners – such monitoring and any necessary modifications should be relatively easy.

Yet, judging by Nobland Vietnam – which is just one example of a supplier that publicly lists Everlane as a client on its website – Everlane is not relying heavily on trade secret protection at all. Given that Nobland Vietnam lists Everlane as a client on its own website, trade secret protection concerns are almost certainly not even an option for Everlane, as it does not appear to be monitoring such “secrets,” which, as previously indicated, is a legal pre-requisite for claiming trade secret protection.

As such, one could argue that there is the very real possibility that Everlane’s supplier factories simply are not as ethical or sustainable as Everlane is portraying them to be, and that is why the brand relies on citing trade secret concerns as a means of avoiding disclosing them.

Consider that Level Style, Inc. – which, according to U.S. import records, provides Everlane with an array of shirt styles, including its Slim Fit Oxford and Slim Fit Denim shirt –  has come under fire within the past year or so for labor-related issues. A Hong Kong-based company that owns the Shenzhen Artigas Clothing and Leather factory, among many other sub-suppliers, Lever Style, Inc. was accused by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (“HKCTU”), a pro-democracy labor and political group in the Hong Kong, of retaliating against garment workers who were seeking severance payments and the payment of social insurance in arrears following the abrupt and unannounced closure of at least one Lever Style-owned factory in Hong Kong.

According to HKCTU, Everlane was an existing client of Shenzhen Artigas Clothing and Leather factory at the time of the factory closure and subsequent striking (Around 900 employees began striking in June 2015 at the company’s Shenzhen Artigas Clothing & Leather factory over severance pay and relocation of the factory. This follows a strike by almost 1,000 workers in 2014 over unpaid social insurance and housing contributions at the same factory). Maybe instances like this are why Everlane opts to shield the names of its factories from consumers.

VAGUE CLAIMS, NOT FACTS

Speaking to Racked last year, Preysman said: “Retail isn’t a space where there’s a lot of information. It’s very obfuscated.” It is unclear how, exactly, though, Everlane is any different in this respect. While Everlane makes praising claims about its factory partners and the working conditions upon which they operate – which certainly sound impressive to a consumer quickly skimming its site – the company does not actually provide any substantive information in support of its claims … at all.

For instance, in discussing how it decided to partner with Level Style, Inc., Everlane claims it selected the Chinese company “[a]fter a rigorous vetting process to find the best tailored shirting vendor.” Yet, Everlane neglects to provide information for the consumer about what its “rigorous vetting process” consists of and how Lever Style, Inc. met it.

Moreover, in providing information on its website about one of its suppliers, Everlane asserts: “We assess every potential factory through a stringent ‘compliance audit’ —which helps us evaluate the work environment.” It similarly does not elaborate on what its “stringent compliance audit” looks like.

Making vague and unsubstantiated claims in lieu of providing cold hard facts is a common trend that runs through the Everlane model. When asked about wages paid to laborers within its supply chain , Everlane told Project Just, a New York-based non-profit organization devoted to helping consumers shop in a more informed manner: “The workers at each of our factories are paid, on average, a higher wage than their peers. Having said that, we can’t explicitly state how much each worker is compensated due to confidentiality agreements with our manufacturing partners.”

An Everlane spokesman did, however, tell Project Just that the company maintains a “Vendor Code of Conduct” and that “each factory is subject to a yearly semi-announced audit by a third-party company, with this visit focusing in on our 13 compliancy standards.” Everlane failed to provide any specific information on its “13 compliancy standards” and its auditing system.

In fact, a bit of research reveals that Everlane does not actually publicize any detailed information about its “vetting process,” “Vendor Code of Conduct,” auditing system or the results of such audits at all. In this way, Zara is more transparent than Everlane. Zara’s parent company, Inditex lists its “Code of Conduct for Manufacturers and Suppliers Inditex Group” in full on its website.

Similarly, Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company, is also more transparent than Everlane, as it provides information identifying its auditing processes, as well as information regarding steps taken to address any failures to meet the company’s established standards. According to one summary from the company’s 2015 Annual Report, “Poor storage management of dangerous chemicals (China): On discovering this problem at a fabric supplier in China , members of our CSR department immediately offered guidance and training. The fabric supplier concerned also appointed an external manager and introduced on-site safety management training.” Inditex provides similar information.

Finally, in conversing with a Project Just editor, an Everlane spokesman asserted that it “does not use any subcontractors,” which may not be entirely true. Unauthorized subcontracting to an unapproved factory is “very, very common,” according to Gary Peck, founder and managing director of the S Group, a design and sourcing company based in Portland, Oregon. Though almost all retailers prohibit the practice in their contracts, a significant number of suppliers still do it to save money, speed production and meet high-volume orders.

While physical audits can certainly help in determining the actual places of productions, in many cases it is very difficult to determine when a contractor or subcontractor produces products at an approved or non-approved site. With this in mind, such an assertion by Everlane might suggest that it does not know the true extent of its supply chain . Per Project Just, “It is unclear if the brand can trace its entire supply chain.”

With quite a few seemingly loose ends and an array of very elusive and unverified claims, it is best to think twice about Everlane. Experts in the field of ethical sourcing and trade still encourage skepticism, no matter how warm and fuzzy a website makes one feel. “There is a lot of consumer concern, and there is a tendency for smaller companies to want to exploit it,” says Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker Rights Consortium. “That can be a very positive motivation, but the concern is that there are people who, out of cynicism or lack of understanding, are not making verifiable claims.”

 

This story first appeared on The Fashion Law