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Sustainable fashion: the rising need for quantifiable standardization

Search Google for the meaning of “sustainable fashion” and you’ll quickly discover there’s no standard for it in a qualified way, let alone a quantifiable one. 

Some of the definitions are so sweeping they could in fact refer to nearly anything loosely associated. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s version in London, referring to it as “ethical fashion”, reads: “An umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.” 

Does that mean as a brand you have to do all of them? Or does considering just one or two count? Arguably even then these groupings only touch the surface. 

And therein lies the problem. While the industry is wrapping its head around more sustainable practices against each of those different factors, there’s no agreed-upon guideline as to what each of them are, let alone how they should be accurately measured. 

At a time when consumer awareness is only increasing and the need for education is so high, having a different understanding of what sustainable actually means, is potentially a risky game to play. 

Take the new Net Sustain strategy from luxury e-commerce player, Net-a-Porter, released two weeks ago, for instance. This includes a list of brands it now refers to as “sustainable” as per key criteria identified with an agency that include locally made, craft & community, considered materials, considered processes and reducing waste. 

To qualify, items only have to hit one of these five areas, which means, for now, something that is made from organic cotton for instance, is classified the same as something where over 50% of it has been made in its own country or community. 

Farfetch meanwhile announced its Conscious Edit in April as part of its Positively Farfetch strategy. This comes via a partnership with ethical rating system Good On You, which tracks products in terms of impact to society, the environment and animals. As with Net-a-Porter, Farfetch has identified the need for “rigorous, independently-assessed criteria”, in which brands need to score a minimum of four out of five in one area to qualify. 

Another UK-based e-commerce entity, this time at the fast fashion end of the spectrum, is ASOS. It too has a new “Responsible Edit”, which appears as both a page on its site and a filter that can be used when browsing. It reportedly includes garments made from recycled materials and sustainable fibers, such as those using less water and resulting in less waste.

So that’s three major players all now actively thinking about sustainable fashion in a qualified manner and communicating such to consumers, but all in slightly different ways and to varying degrees. 

The actual means by which measurement is carried out is seemingly different for each too. Net-a-Porter is auditing all of the brands themselves with the agency they’ve brought on – interviewing the key players involved to determine whether what they “say” is true, is actually the case. One of the biggest challenges in this space is proving there’s authenticity in what is being shared – and not just because of falsified information, but often because the brands involved think they’re more sustainable than they really are. A rigorous approach to selection and curation is therefore essential. 

It’s for that reason Net-a-Porter has only put forward 26 brands right now of the 800 it sells. The plus side is that it’s doing that curation on a product-by-product level, not just at the brand level. There can of course be a big difference in sustainability from one piece in the collection to the next, which must also be taken into consideration. 

Yet that also makes this a huge undertaking for the business. An enormous amount of resource needs to be involved, making the likelihood of scalability another challenge. 

ASOS by comparison has over 3,700 products included in its Responsible Edit, and says it’s going to be adding new products daily. Though this isn’t clarified, presumably those are not each independently verified – again for reasons of resource versus scale. 

Again, this is an indication that what we’re talking about here are different qualifiable definitions, standards and methodologies, and not quantified ones. 

And yet achieving the latter is incredibly difficult at present because of the fact there just isn’t enough data available to enable it. The majority of the fashion industry has no true view of its own supply chain. Can we categorize individual products as sustainable against individual criteria? Yes. But can we truly show depth of impact? No. 

I know this from our work with Google. We’re building out a data analytics and machine learning tool powered by Google Cloud technology that will enable fashion brands to make more responsible sourcing decisions at the raw materials stage of the supply chain. Without that, a lot of this is guesswork, or it’s a case of global averages and assumptive results. 

Creating regulated measurement for the industry is of course intensely hard. There have been numerous attempts already, but nothing that has been universally accepted under that umbrella phrase of “sustainable fashion”. Some of the strongest ones out there that could achieve this remain either too hard or time-intensive to use, or indeed just not proven as accurate enough yet. 

As an alternative, there are a multitude of standards and certifications brands can choose from to help them on this journey, but that space is also overrun and confusing, not to mention costly. One only needs to look at the enormous list Net-a-Porter is referencing on its breakdown of categories to see what I mean here. 

Without any unification on this, where does this all move down the line? Because frankly, we really need it. 

Two weeks ago, we also saw the UK government reject 18 recommendations put forward by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to help move this space forward. Among them was the suggestion that government should oblige retailers to ensure full traceability in their supply chains to prove decent livelihoods and sustainably sourced materials. Without the role of regulation, we’re at another stalemate. It’s each for their own in terms of defining what is right and what is wrong, creating ambiguity at a time when consumers increasingly want to be told and thus guided.

Here’s the other thing: fast fashion brand BooHoo.com, as with others before it, just announced a new line called “For the Future”, which sees 34 pieces made from recycled polyester. Yet the brand was one of many that came under scrutiny for its standards more broadly in the EAC report. So the question is, even if this new collection is quantifiably better for the environment and for the people involved in making it, if the mainline brand is not, does this make it a better business overall all the same? 

Or rather, is this an example of brands jumping on a new market opportunity both because the consumer demand is growing and the industry expectation is there? In which case, the alternative we’re facing right now is the question of where the line is on greenwashing? Seemingly it’s moving ever more rapidly to a place that’s harder to identify. 

The result is that all of this presents more questions than not. Due credit goes to many of these businesses for moving in the right direction with their sustainable edits particularly, but there needs to be a common and quantifiable set of standards and measurements for us to all understand and use for the long term if we’re to achieve true change. 

How are you thinking about sustainability? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick product sustainability technology

Tiffany introduces diamond provenance tool

Tiffany & Co. is introducing a new provenance tool as it strives to meet its 2020 goal of making the entire journey of its stones transparent. The Diamond Source Initiative will share the origin of all of its mined diamonds which are larger than 0.18 carats.

“We are ushering in a new era of transparency for diamonds,” said Tiffany’s chief sustainability officer Anisa Kamadoli Costa. “This is something we have long been working on — the sustainable, vertical integration of our supply chain.”

The provenance of each stone will be proven by the engraving of a unique serial number, which will not be visible to the human eye. When customers purchase a piece of jewelry featuring the stone, they will receive a certificate that verifies its origin.

The new tool is part of a sustainability goal wherein by 2020, the brand hopes to be able to track and share the entire craftsmanship journey of all of its stones, from where they are mined to where they are cut and polished.

By launching this tool, Tiffany is aiming to attract younger consumers who are keen to better understand where their purchases come from, and whether they meet their sustainable standards. Millennial consumers are also showing a growing interest towards lab-grown diamond stones, which have a lower carbon footprint than their mined counterparts, while also historically not being linked to conflict.

Tiffany is not the first jewelry brand to initiate a diamond provenance tool, however. In January 2018, DeBeers partnered with IBM to pilot a blockchain tool that could trace the entire journey of its diamonds, ensuring they are conflict-free and natural.

How are you thinking about sustainability? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Campaigns Editor's pick product Retail sustainability

Chanel to ban exotic skins due to lack of ethical sourcing

Chanel is banning exotic skins
Chanel is banning exotic skins

Chanel announced on Monday (December 3) that it is going to stop using exotic skins in its future collections, as well as furs. This is mainly to do with an increased difficulty in sourcing these materials from ethical suppliers, as the French label continues to crack down on its supply chain. 

“We are continually reviewing our supply chains to ensure they meet our expectations of integrity and traceability,” the brand said in a statement.

Exotic skins include crocodile, lizard, snake and stingray, which adorn many of its iconic handbags.

Animal rights organization PETA celebrated the brands announcement on social media as it had been lobbying for the label to ban exotic skins for decades, it said. Next on the non-profit’s agenda is urging consumers to encourage LVMH to do the same with its portfolio of brands.

Chanel is the first luxury brand to take the major step of official banning exotic skins, and it is joining the ranks of the Arcadia Group, ASOS, H&M, L Brands (which owns Victoria’s Secret), Nike and Puma. 

The banning of fur however has been previously embraced by a wider range of luxury brands, including Armani, Versace, Gucci, Burberry, Diane von Furstenberg, Furla and many others. Chanel, however, had never used much of the material in its collections to begin with, making the ban relatively easier to implement. 

This changing perception of luxury materials comes at a time when luxury brands and the wider fashion industry is embracing values of the circular economy and looking for alternative fabrics that are more sustainable, all while keeping the same level of quality found in more traditional luxury materials such as leathers and silks.

How are you thinking about sustainability? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your sustainability strategy. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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business Campaigns digital snippets e-commerce product Retail Startups sustainability technology

ICYMI: Chinese moguls rebooting fashion, biotech shaping the industry, smart checkouts rising

China’s internet moguls are rebooting fashion
China’s internet moguls are rebooting fashion

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past week.

TOP STORIES
  • How China’s internet moguls are rebooting fashion [BoF]
  • How biotechnology is reshaping fashion [BoF]
  • Smart checkouts will process $45B in transactions by 2023, study says [MobileMarketer]
  • 5 tech innovations we’re talking about from fashion week season [TheCurrentDaily]
TECHNOLOGY
  • When it comes to technology, fashion is still a laggard [BoF]
  • How Diageo is using Amazon Echo and Google Home [Digiday]
SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
  • John Lewis invests in plastic reduction [Drapers]
  • Why does so much ethical fashion look the same? [Fashionista]
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Express is the latest retailer to launch a clothing rental service [CNBC]
  • Fruit of the Loom celebrates Seek No Further with interactive shopping experience [FashionUnited]
  • Forever 21 invests in online styling service DailyLook [RetailDive]
  • Is the future of online deliveries allowing drivers access to your home? [TheIndustry]
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Hollister partners with Sit With Us [WWD]
PRODUCT
  • Why mainstream brands are embracing modest fashion [CNN]
BUSINESS
  • Revolve officially files for IPO [Fashionista]
  • Walmart buys Eloquii for undisclosed amount [RetailDive]
  • Anya Hindmarch losses mount to £28.2m [Drapers]
  • Payments startup Klarna raises $20M from H&M, its second backer from the fashion world [TechCrunch]
CULTURE
  • The London Underground is getting vending machines to clean all your dirty clothes [Wired]
  • Meet the robotic museum guide that will turn art into sound for the visually impaired [FastCompany]

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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business Campaigns digital snippets e-commerce product Retail social media sustainability technology

ICYMI: Farfetch’s Neves as the Bezos of fashion, DTC physical stores driving online sales

Farfetch
Farfetch

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past week.

TOP STORIES
  • Is Farfetch founder Neves the Jeff Bezos of fashion? [Forbes]
  • ‘Shoppable billboards’: DTC retailers say physical stores are driving online sales [Digiday]
  • Amazon reportedly plans to open 3,000 cashier-less stores by 2021 [The Next Web]
  • Is renting designer fashion the future? [FT]
TECHNOLOGY
  • Walmart to put 1M workers in Oculus Go VR headsets [WWD]
  • Ikea’s think tank envisions self-driving cars as rooms on wheels [Quartzy]
  • Forget the new iPhones: Apple’s best product is now privacy [FastCompany]
  • Cryptocurrency is coming for the beauty industry [Fashionista]
  • Amazon launches Scout, a machine learning-powered visual shopping tool [TechCrunch]
  • RFID technology addresses consumer woes over out-of-stocks [WWD]
  • Six AI innovations that could change skincare and beauty [Dazed]
  • US and South Korea just performed the world’s first live 3D hologram call over 5G [IBTimes]
  • Teaching robots to predict the future [The Next Web]
SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
  • The environment’s new clothes: biodegradable textiles grown from live organisms [Scientific American]
  • More than ever, our clothes are made of plastic. Just washing them can pollute the oceans [Vox]
  • Skechers delivers 15,000 pairs of shoes to children still in need in Puerto Rico [Businesswire]
  • Where Burberry waste goes now label isn’t burning clothes any more [SCMP]
  • Is certification the answer to fashion’s ethical issues? [LS:N Global]
  • New study shows that Gen Z will strengthen sustainability trend [FashionUnited]
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Amazon Storefronts is a new retail hub exclusively for US small businesses [TheVerge]
  • Container Store tracks appointments with voice tech [RetailDive]
  • Italy’s first Starbucks serves cocktails, ice cream, and a side of augmented reality [Mashable]
  • The future of airport retail is hyper-personalization [LS:N Global]
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Victoria’s Secret’s Pink revamps loyalty with mobile app [RetailDive]
  • Gucci’s surprise new Instagram account truly revitalizes its beauty offering [i-D]
  • How Nordstrom reinvented its retail loyalty program [Digiday]
  • The epic ‘Game of Go’: a real-time experience showcasing Nike’s latest React technology [TheDrum]
PRODUCT
  • Bespoke tailoring in the athleisure age: how China changed Savile Row [SCMP]
  • How De Beers learned to love lab-grown diamonds [BoF]
BUSINESS
  • Walmart is borrowing luxury’s playbook to gain an edge on Amazon in fashion [Quartz]
  • Store investment pays off as Harvey Nichols profits soar [TheIndustry]

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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business digital snippets e-commerce film Retail social media Startups sustainability technology

ICYMI: LVMH’s digital strategy, feathers in fashion, the McQueen documentary

Proenza Schouler
Proenza Schouler

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past week.

TOP STORIES
  • Decoding LVMH’s digital strategy [BoF]
  • Is the use of feathers in fashion any more ethical than fur? [Fashionista]
  • The McQueen documentary tells the story of the people who carry his legacy [Vogue]
TECHNOLOGY
  • Why Nordstrom is betting on high-touch tech [Fortune]
  • Avery Dennison and SoftWear Automation to create digital supply chain for manufacturers [SupplyChainDigital]
SUSTAINABILITY
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • How Sephora built a beauty empire to survive the retail apocalypse [CBInsights]
  • This is how a brick-and-mortar store can thrive in the age of Amazon [NYMag]
  • Urban Outfitters launches third-party marketplace, tests self-checkout [RetailDive]
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Nike sells out of Facebook Messenger sneaker drop in less than an hour [RetailDive]
  • Givenchy and Stella McCartney score on Instagram at Royal Wedding [WWD]
  • Victoria’s Secret is still advertising to women like it’s 1999 [Bloomberg]
  • Esprit’s Instagram posts are now shoppable [FashionUnited]
  • This Ikea print ad is designed to put you to sleep [CreativityOnline]
  • Do influencers need regulating? [BoF]
BUSINESS
  • Balenciaga is now the fastest-growing label at Kering? [Harper’s Bazaar]
  • LVMH invests $60 million into fashion platform Lyst [HypeBeast]
  • Richemont clinches takeover of Yoox Net-A-Porter [Reuters]
  • Can the Model Alliance Respect program make a difference? [Vogue]
Categories
business data digital snippets e-commerce product social media technology

What you missed: SXSW special, see-now-buy-now’s decline, LVMH’s e-commerce moves, Gucci’s memes

The #TFWGucci meme campaign - weekly round-up Gucci LVMH SXSW
The #TFWGucci meme campaign

There’s a lot to catch up on from the past fortnight – from news of the see-now-buy-now revolution’s fading, to LVMH’s e-commerce plans and Gucci’s meme campaign, not to mention the creative director shifts happening at the likes of Givenchy and Chloé.

On top of that however, is also a special digest of everything you need to know from SXSW – from our own round-up of the top technologies on show and the numerous Levi’s, Marc Jacobs and Bolt Threads announcements, through to varying views on areas including chatbots, drones and more.

If that’s not enough, do also take time to read the much deeper dives on artificial intelligence we’ve highlighted both under the top stories and tech headers too.


TOP STORIES
  • The see-now-buy-now revolution is fizzling [Glossy]
  • LVMH goes digital with all its brands under one luxury goods e-commerce site [FT]
  • #TFWGucci is the new viral campaign merging memes and fashion [Sleek]
  • WWD worked with IBM Watson’s AI to predict the biggest trends of the season [WWD]
  • Why Cosabella replaced its agency with AI and will never go back to humans [Campaign]

SXSW SPECIAL
  • SXSW 2017: Tech takeaways from AI to blockchain for the fashion and retail industries [F&M]
  • Trying on the Levi’s and Google smart jacket at SXSW feels like the future [Forbes]
  • Why Marc Jacobs’ cynical view of fashion and technology at SXSW won’t last [Forbes]
  • Bolt Threads is launching its first bioengineered spider silk product at SXSW – a tie [Forbes]
  • My afternoon at the virtual reality cinema, including trying the Spatium Philip Treacy experience [USA Today]
  • For fashion brands flocking to SXSW, what’s the ROI? [BoF]
  • Spotify lets The North Face release campaign where it rains [BrandChannel]
  • How may AI help you, sir? [Campaign]
  • 4 best practices to make bots the next big user interface [AdAge]
  • Amazon’s delivery drones can be seen at SXSW [Fortune]
  • Fashion and beauty brands are still gaga for Instagram [Glossy]
  • Armani, Neiman Marcus embrace SXSW to appeal to young affluents [Luxury Daily]
  • Neiman Marcus tries see-now-buy-now at SXSW [WWD]
  • Pauline van Dongen’s touch-sensitive denim jacket gives intimate back rubs [Dezeen]

BUSINESS
  • Neiman Marcus reportedly in talks to sell to Hudson’s Bay [Retail Dive]
  • Canada Goose gets a warm reception, extending momentum of IPO market [USA Today]
  • Clare Waight Keller becomes the first female artistic director at Givenchy [The Guardian]
  • Chloé names Natacha Ramsay-Levi as creative director [NY Times]
  • Tom Ford bids farewell to see-now-buy-now [WWD]
  • Thakoon’s business restructuring is a blow to see-now-buy-now [Glossy]
  • M&S, Starbucks, Microsoft and L’Oréal named among world’s most ethical companies [Campaign]
  • Uniqlo thinks faster fashion can help it beat Zara [Bloomberg]
  • One simple way to empower women making H&M clothes in Bangladesh: Stop paying them in cash [Quartz]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Facebook rolls out version of Instagram Stories for Messenger [AdWeek]
  • How brands are innovating on messaging platforms [L2]
  • What a chatbot can teach you – and Unilever – about hair [AdAge]
  • Drop it like its bot: Brands have cooled on chatbots [Digiday]
  • How luxury fashion brands in China use WeChat in 2017 [JingDaily]

MARKETING
  • Marques’Almeida launched an interactive website as its latest campaign [BoF]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Shopify: The invisible selling machine [Fortune]
  • Millennials buy more clothes on Amazon than any other website [Recode]
  • LIKEtoKNOW.it’s app helps you buy the products in your screenshots [TechCrunch]

TECHNOLOGY
  • How AI will make commerce as natural as talking to a friend [LinkedIn]
  • Stitch Fix creates garments using artificial intelligence as more firms seek to develop creative software [WSJ]
  • AI-powered customer service needs the human touch [Huffington Post]
  • Rethinking warehouse fulfillment — with robots [WWD]
  • Sephora is betting big on augmented reality for beauty [Glossy]
  • Walmart launches tech incubator dubbed Store No. 8 [Forbes]
Categories
film

Kidswear label The Fableists unveils short animated film

Sustainable kidswear brand The Fableists has released a short animated film narrated by British comedian Jennifer Saunders.

The Epic Thread, as it’s called, tells the tale of a fearless young girl and her pet pug Tony who follow a thread on an adventure through the life of the girl’s t-shirt. Its aim is to make the viewer think about where clothes come from – accordingly starting in the young girls bedroom tracing the thread back to the farm where the cotton was first grown.

It was created in collaboration with agency Brothers and Sisters and directors Kwok Fung Lam and Ivo Sousa from The Mill. It features music from Smith & Elms at Eclectic.

‘’It’s a great fantasy piece that takes us back to those fantastic books we read as kids and now read to our kids. Brothers and Sisters working with The Mill and Eclectic have delivered something totally original, that tells the story of the clothes, whilst creating a great young heroine,” said Matt Cooper, founder of The Fableists.

Kwok Fung Lam and Ivo Sousa, added: “We gathered as much inspirational material as possible, from character look and graphical compositions, to colour and texture. This was followed by a real hands on approach creating character designs, mood boards, style frames, storyboards and animatics, all contributing to the final look and feel, which perfectly accompanies the narrative.”