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We Don’t Know Enough About The Impact Our Clothing Has On People And Planet, Fashion Revolution Warns

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Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index reveals that the top 100 global fashion brands still have a long way to go towards transparency

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Image credit: Fashion Revolution

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.

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Image credit: Fashion Revolution

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.

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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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

Is Adidas’ Tech Venture a Leading Signal for the Future of Sustainable Fast Fashion? 

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Sweaters are pictured at the Adidas Knit for You store in Berlin, Germany. Source: Reuters.

ADIDAS is envisioning a brand new way of adapting to the fickle trends of the fast fashion industry – the company has been trying out an in-store technology to knit customized 200 euro (US$215) sweaters for customers within the day in order to tap into fast fashion with a personal twist.

The technology has been implemented in a pop-up store in a Berlin mall, and allowed customers to customize their own merino wool sweater according to their desires.

The in-store machine scans the customer’s body to produce the right fit and size unique to each person. Customers would then choose a design from a range of possible options and then experiment with different color combinations. Once they had made their choices, the machine would knit the sweater in situ, and then the sweater is finished by hand, washed and dried before being collected by the customer.

This new venture is part of a plan to drive up the company’s operating margins to levels on par with rival Nike by 2020. The group is experimenting with strategies to cut short the delivery times of new designs down to 12 to 18 months.

It is a strategy which has worked in the sneaker industry, but now the “Knit for You” campaign aims to add individuality into the mix, aspect often lost in ready-made products.

But speed still lies at the heart of Adidas’s game plan. The sportswear company is aiming for 50 percent of its products to be made in a faster time frame by 2020 – double the rate it produced products in 2016 – which they expect will allow them to boost the products they sell at full price by 70 percent.

And they aren’t the only ones who are banking on speed to top their competition – Japanese basic wear giant, Uniqlo, are also hoping pushing for higher production rates and supplying their stores faster will help it usurp the fast fashion crown from Inditex’s Zara, who reported US$25 billion worth of sales in 2016.

“We need to be fast,” Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai was quoted saying in an interview with Bloomberg. “We need to deliver products customers want quickly.”

Like Adidas, Uniqlo is trying to leverage technology to launch forward fast.

The company’s Ariake facility along Tokyo’s waterfront brings together marketing and design teams to streamline the operations, an outfit Uniqlo’s owner, Fast Retailing, wants to replicate in more locations. The hope is that much of the company’s operations can be slowly automated and artificial intelligence can be increasingly used to predict sales patterns.

The goal to ultimately unseat Zara might be a bit of a stretch for Fast Retailing who aims for US$26 billion by 2021, but Yanai believes Uniqlo’s focus on everyday clothing that keeps fashion forwardness and practicality in mind is a recipe for success.

Uniqlo’s no-frills approach to fashion requires less production time in general and the company could focus on upping the quality of the designs.

“Zara sells fashion rather than catering to customers’ needs,” Yanai said. “We will sell products that are rooted in people’s day-to-day lives, and we do so based on what we hear from customers.”

Fast Fashion margins are shrinking

Adidas and Uniqlo might be tapping into an industry that is already facing its twilight days.

Once the machine that drove the fashion industry, fast fashion is a term coined to describe clothes emulating catwalk trends that are quickly replicated for mass production, resulting in “micro seasons” and low wages for garment workers in some of the poorest countries in the world.

Fast fashion retailers such as Zara and H&M would churn out fresh pieces that would be rolled into stores on a weekly basis. Their rise crippled retailers that typically worked on a season-by-season basis, and relied heavily on brick-and-mortar stores to sell their clothes.

Fast fashion retailers harnessed the rise of e-commerce to peddle their wares online, spending less on advertising and relying on web analytics to chart consumer habits.

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Staff members proceed with the measuring process on a computer to order a knitting pattern at the Adidas Knit for You store in Berlin, Germany. Source: Reuters.

“If you are a fashion apparel retailer, you have to have a steady flow of newness,” Customer Growth Partners president Craig Johnson said. “You can’t just regurgitate what was hot last year.”

But that all seems to be changing.

Recently, Inditex said their profitability had shrunk to an eight-year low, while their rival H&M said their profits fell in March for the first time in four years.

The changing fortunes of the two companies have two implications: Firstly, consumer habits are changing. Large scale campaigns by activists and marketing efforts by retailers have resulted in greater awareness of the side effects of fast fashion – most notably highlighted by the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013.

The change in sales numbers indicates more and more people are spending a smaller chunk of their disposable income on clothing, and are instead diverting those resources to other areas, such as electronics or travel. LA Times reports less than four percent of every dollar is now spent on apparel compared to the eight percent that was spent in the mid-90s.

Secondly, apparel companies are now finding their margins under siege from rising production costs as the quality of living in once-poor manufacturing companies – such as Vietnam and India – and the cost of materials increase.

Fast fashion no longer appears to be the huge money-making machine it once was, and retailers are now turning to new strategies to captivate buyers.

Value Fashion on the Rise

The emergence of Adidas “Knit for You” campaign speaks to the broader question of the change fashion is experiencing; clothes tailored to the individual is beginning to matter more.

The sweater campaign’s focus on customization indicates exclusivity is far more important than the ability to buy the same shirt in six different colors for a few dollars.

“It is very individual. It is like knitting your own sweater,” Adidas customer Christina Sharif told Reuters, adding she ordered shorter arms on her electric blue sweater than the standard model.

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Employees of Fast Retailing Co., operator of Japan’s Uniqlo clothing outlets, work at the company’s new headquarters building called UNIQLO CITY TOKYO, in Tokyo, Japan. Pic: Reuters 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the speed it aims to achieve, Adidas and Uniqlo are recreating the meaning of “fast fashion” into one that leverages technology to improve efficiency rather than sacrifices resources and engages obsolescence.

Uniqlo has maintained its commitment to the culture of normcore everyday wear, but expanded its range to include limited edition art-as-fashion pieces.

It engaged top-line designers such as Christopher Lemaire, supermodel Ines de la Fressange and New York’s Museum of Modern Art to produce lines that gave its everyday wear a fashionable and enduring twist.

It is a sign the company understands the power of fashion as an identifier and is moving into what Lemaire calls “slow fast fashion” – affordable (though pricier than Uniqlo’s main line) and accessible, with a know-it-when-you-see-it specialness

“People have been realizing [fast fashion] no longer can go on the way it used to – overconsumerism and overproduction are a disaster,” Lemaire says.

“You just need a good pair of pants. If you find a good pair, you don’t have to change every six months.”

*This story first appeared on Tech Wire Asia

Blue Jeans Go ‘Green’: Is Ethical Production a Good Fit for the Denim Industry?

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As ‘new consumerism’ sees shoppers’ demand shift increasingly towards sustainability and ethically produced fashion, jeans, one of the worst offenders in terms of human and environmental production costs, will present some of the best opportunities to make a sound business out of ethically produced apparel. The peculiarities of the UK’s relationship with jeans will make it easier for brands to convince shoppers to trade up to higher quality and higher prices, mitigating the costs of ensuring more ethical production.

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Source: Unsplash

While jeans have been cemented as a staple garment for fashion and function, mounting evidence has spoken to the huge impact on people and the environment of supplying the UK’s appetite for cheap denim bottoms. Their mass production, which often requires highly toxic chemicals in order to produce pre-faded on-trend garments, has come under particular scrutiny from regulators and organisations such as the Clean Clothes Campaign.

As a result, apparel brands, retailers and manufacturers have rushed to quantify the commercial potential of ethical and sustainable apparel. The greatest challenge has been to meet growing demand for ethical fashion while dealing with the increased material and labour costs of monitoring supply chains and ensuring ethical production.

Value Placed on Quality and Fit Makes Jeans a Stand Out 

The characteristics of the UK’s relationship with jeans make this one of the best products to absorb increased production costs. Studies on ethical spending have shown that consumers are willing to spend more on products that provide improved quality along with the ethical guarantee. Because jeans are so ubiquitous and versatile, UK consumers place a higher value on product quality than they do in other apparel categories. While ‘fast fashion’ has reduced consumers’ desire for hard-wearing bottoms, many have still been willing to accept higher prices and remain loyal to brands that guarantee them comfortable materials and a flattering fit.

Compare this to the tops category, where trends change more rapidly and consumers spend less time wearing any single garment. This makes fit, comfort and durability less pressing and premium pricing more closely linked to branding. As a result, it’s more difficult to convince consumers that spending more will bring an added benefit. This happens to be where volume-driven, fast-fashion brands have led and consumers are decidedly disloyal.

As the UK becomes more mindful of its consumption, sustainably produced jeans present an opportunity for players to target a high-profile ethical issue, while supporting revenue with a product that can drive higher value sales. In many cases, the costs of ensuring ethical production will overlap with the costs of improving quality. For example, near-sourcing production may allow closer monitoring of suppliers labour practices in addition to more control over quality assurance.

Jeans to Lead in Fast Fashion Fatigue

Getting consumers to accept higher prices for a product that a decade of ‘fast fashion’ has taught them to buy cheap and replace often will be a challenge. However, led by urbanised millennials, UK consumers are gradually buying into the ‘circular economy ‘and seeking to gain maximum value from less consumption.

As evidence of this, Euromonitor International’s apparel and footwear data shows that after consecutive years of decline, unit price growth has begun to stabilise across most jeans price segments. Notably, premium and super premium jeans have only just seen a marginal decline in price growth after maintaining markedly above-average historical growth.

UK Jeans : Price Growth by Segment 2011-2016

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Brands such as Hiut Denim in the UK and Tuff’s in France have been gaining strength as a result. These players source all production internally and locally, keeping their supply chains short and guaranteeing the standards of production. Both brands have developed a fiercely loyal following of buyers who value the ethics and sustainability of their production as well as their high quality. Both brands pitch their jeans as high value investment, justifying higher retail prices to account for the increased cost of nearer sourced production.

While it is always going to be a struggle to talk the average shopper into ‘breaking-in’ a stiff, heavy 19oz pair of raw selvedge jeans (waiting the better part of a year before washing them to get an authentic fade), high-quality denim can clearly sell big. The success of selvedge lines by Topshop and Uniqlo and H&M’s ‘conscious’ jeans has demonstrated that shoppers can be convinced to trade up on ethics and quality, fueling value-led growth.

Getting Ahead of the Curve 

Sustainable jeans have thus far been limited to niche premium brands and high-profile, but small-scale, ‘green-washing’ efforts of major fast-fashion players. Those that prioritize ethics early will appear more authentic than those which seem to conform as a begrudging necessity; gaining favour with the increasingly influential millennial consumer. The challenge will be for winning brands and manufacturers to take bolder steps to make higher value ethical and sustainable jeans a more prominent feature in their product mix, before growing regulatory pressure and consumer outrage takes the initiative away from them.

*This story first appeared on Euro Monitor

Greenwashing

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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

The Case Against Fast Fashion, Summarized

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Over the past two decades, retailers like Zara, H&M and Uniqlo have established themselves as major retailer players for their alluringly low price tags and stylish looks.

Yet beneath the surface of cool cheap clothes is a dark underbelly of production that is increasingly difficult to ignore. Between wide scale pollution, corruption, human rights abuses and weak attempts at sustainability, it’s become hard to justify the prominence of these brands in the industry.

These challenges are at least in part causing a decline in the once booming market: Forever 21’s shipping firm EZ Worldwide Express dropped the brand in June, citing decreasing sales that no longer made working with the retailer profitable. Likewise, Uniqlo, which has more than 1,700 stores in 17 countries, has quietly closed five stores in major shopping malls since January, a sign of dipping sales.

Here’s the case against fast fashion, explained.

What’s the problem?
The fast fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world after big oil. It’s a huge resource suck, from procurement of cheap textiles to the exorbitant amount of energy and water used to produce and ship the garments. These items are also quickly discarded because they are cheaply made and cheaply bought: An estimated 14 million tons of clothing is disposed in the U.S. each year. Many of these items have been proven to use contaminated cotton or toxic dyes, which has grave consequences for consumers.

What about the workers making these clothes?
Cheap goods often come as the result of cheap labor. As the demand for fast fashion grew, so did the manpower needed to make the clothing, translating to long hours of unpaid overtime and poor conditions at factories overseas. A vast majority of garment production — 97 percent of it — takes place outside of the U.S. in countries without stringent labor policies, making it easy for Americans to turn a blind eye to issues. Occasionally this has resulted in tragedy on a massive scale: In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,000 employees who manufactured apparel for brands including Benetton, Bonmarché, the Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, Primark and Walmart, among others.

Aren’t companies being more transparent?
Yes and no. Retailers like Gap recently announced it will start releasing its list of global factories to demonstrate a commitment to improving factory conditions. It also decreased its total number of facilities from 1,255 to 892. Other brands have implemented similar policies following the Rana Plaza factory collapse, including UK-based Marks and Spencers and Belgium-based C&A.

However, protocol within these factories remains obscured and unaudited. A recent expose uncovered rampant workers rights violations at an Asos warehouse in South Yorkshire, England. The investigation revealed workers were discouraged from taking breaks and fired for using sick time.

What about sustainable fashion collections?
H&M launched its Conscious Collection in 2012, and Zara released its first sustainable line in September, both efforts to integrate environmentally friendly materials into their supply chains. However, it’s difficult to incorporate true sustainability into the fast fashion model and still make a profit, according to Kathleen Wright, founder of Piece & Co.

“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?’,” Wright said on the Glossy Podcast. “The race to the bottom in my opinion is very real.”

Are luxury brands contributing to these challenges?
While luxury brands produce smaller inventories of products using higher quality materials, the fashion calendar on which they operate isn’t particularly conducive to sustainable behavior. As brands increasingly push toward ‘see-now-buy-now’ fashion, making runway looks immediately available after runway shows, it perpetuates a culture of rapid consumption and disposal.

“The very nature of fashion’s raison d’être — new styles, looks and lines every season — is diametrically opposed to sustainability,” Max Lenderman, CEO of School, told Glossy in June.“The industry is based on discarding the old (which could only be six months old) and enticing people to buy the new.”

Do consumers even care about sustainable fashion?
Yes, particularly if they’re millennials. There’s even research to prove it. A 2015 Nielsen reportfound that 75 percent of individuals aged 18-34 would be willing to pay extra for environmentally friendly offerings.

Is there a case for fast fashion?
Sure, if a consumer is looking for something on the cheap without pausing to think about why it’s so cheap.

*This story first appeared on Glossy