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business Campaigns Editor's pick sustainability

From G7 to fashion weeks – why the industry needs to cut the sustainable chat and take action

One minute we’re talking all about saving the planet, the next, it’s onto the indulgence and excess of fashion weeks. No wonder there’s so much questioning around what the industry is about right now. 

At the G7 Summit last month, François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of luxury group Kering, introduced the Fashion Pact, a deal that saw 32 brands from Adidas to Prada, coming together to commit to stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans. 

The initiative was mandated by French President Emmanuel Macron, who asked the industry to set practical objectives for reducing its environmental impact.

Practical is the keyword here. While collaboration between so many different players is in itself great progress, reflections on many of the goals are that they have been light on detail as to how they’re going to be achieved. 

Meanwhile, as has been pointed out by others this past fortnight, fashion week season has kicked off and we’re back into that completely contrasting feeling of celebration and excess once more. “Fashion month is a party,” Orsola de Castro, co-founder and creative director of non-profit Fashion Revolution, told the Business of Fashion. “It’s huge fun, but it’s the kind of fun that is no longer funny.” 

Within that is of course the volume of waste and climate impact generated from the shows themselves, but in addition, the culture of consumerism they continue to feed.  

In London we have Extinction Rebellion protesting against the very existence of fashion week itself, while in New York, the biggest stories have conversely been about the large-scale theatrics of shows from the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty. Let’s not forget, fashion weeks are about marketing – appealing to buyers, press and consumers individually to encourage them to buy and buy-into the new collections in one or other of their relative ways. 

By their very nature, they therefore clash with a more sustainable approach to supply and demand. All of which makes one question how much hot air really surrounds the topic of sustainability – no matter how much it’s “trending” – when looking across the industry at large. 

Back to the G7 pact and the biggest question that sits there then, is how will any of these promises turn into reality? As in, literally what are the methodologies behind them? 

The fact is, what we really need is less talk more doing. To put it into the simplest terms, the contradiction of fashion week doesn’t sit well with the notion of ‘actions speaking louder than words’. But neither do promises that aren’t backed by some tangible outputs to follow. 

The same goes for the sheer volume of broader sustainable pledges being made by the industry. Everywhere you turn you see promises to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, to become carbon neutral by 2022, to reduce water consumption by 2025. The same can be said for chemicals, materials, recycling, waste… the list goes on. 

That’s all well and good, but only if progress towards those things actually happen. On our side, we’re tracking them all, and the list of promises is growing at a substantially faster rate than that of the actions being made in response. This is absolutely key. It means that currently the announcements are serving in the main as PR initiatives – a way of hiding behind something that is several years away, or about buying time while you figure out what to actually do. 

The result is that we either have too many pledges that risk not being met, or those offering too little too late – such as to be carbon neutral by 2050. In Greta Thunberg’s words, this is a climate emergency

Last year, Fast Company reviewed various environmental goals set for 2020 by large corporations as well as countries, questioning which of them were on target to actually be met in time. It reads like a mixed bag, though does demonstrate progress in parts. 

The same can be said for fashion. Kering itself has always been one of the most vocal about its goals, setting them out in 2012, then reporting back on what it had and hadn’t achieved in 2016. It reset its targets in 2017 with a broader 2025 sustainability strategy in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Included in that was cutting the group’s carbon emissions by 50% and reducing its overall environmental impact by at least 40%. Not small aims. An update is expected in 2020. 

H&M is another that’s always gone big. It’s reportedly on target to hit its goals of both using 100% organic or recycled cotton, and eliminating hazardous chemicals in its production, by 2020. Future aims include becoming climate positive by 2040. 

The difficulty with all this is the sliding scale of what attaining such goals mean, not to mention how they’re measured. 

One of the ones I have the biggest issue with in the industry broadly is the idea of moving to entirely “sustainable cotton” by 2025. This isn’t so much in the goal itself by any means, but in the naming of it. What is sustainable cotton? Strictly speaking, most of the time what we’re talking about is rather “better” cotton. As in, it is literally better for the environment than that which is otherwise farmed in the conventional manner. Usually this falls under those certified via the Better Cotton Initiative and others including Organic and Fair Trade. 

This sort of language use is critical because of how misleading it can be to the consumer. It instantly gives the impression that fast fashion, like Zara as well, for instance, will be absolutely fine by 2025 because the materials used will indeed be entirely sustainable. Not true. They’ll just be less bad at that early part of the supply chain. Arguably, that’s not enough. 

The same goes for what is the lesser of two evils when we hear certain companies have managed to achieve zero waste to landfill targets, yet are continuing to incinerate items. Does the ban on incineration in France mean landfill will then be on the up? 

When it comes to greenhouse gases, there was a feeling in a recent meeting I had with some members of UK parliament, that regulation for companies to declare their emissions makes the industry immediately more accountable.

What didn’t seem to be acknowledged is that the fashion industry doesn’t know the true numbers around its emissions. As I’ve written about before, it’s not completely possible right now because there is simply not enough accurate information out there for it to report this – and it doesn’t have direct control of its supply chain in the majority of cases to discover any of it itself further. 

We know this from our work with Google to build a tool that shines a light on the raw materials stage of the supply chain – Tier 4. What’s available right now is at best globalized averages, at worst, completely unknown. The result, therefore, is guesswork. How for instance can H&M become climate positive in a true sense, if it can’t trace back the impact it is actually having? It can’t. You can apply the same to Burberry, to Nike, to whoever else you like.

A few years back there were headlines about 2020 being the “magic year for fashion” based on the industry embracing sustainability. Arguably, even in the midst of fashion week season, that has already happened. But it doesn’t mean anything if it’s just being talked about.  

Change can only take place if these goals become tangible. That’s our entire mantra as a business – drive transformation by enabling action. Enough with the pledges therefore, what we’d rather see is the industry diving deep, staying quiet, building new solutions and starting to show us some results. 

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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Campaigns Editor's pick sustainability

Adidas, Reebok & Patagonia top Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index

Sports and outdoor brands adidas, Reebok and Patagonia are leading the charge in the fashion industry’s mission towards transparency, according to Fashion Revolution’s latest index released today.

This year, the three brands are tied at the top reaching 64% of 250 possible points, marking it the first time any fashion brand has crossed the 60% threshold since the report’s first edition in 2017. Completing the top five is Esprit (62%) and H&M (61%). H&M will likely soon move a few points ahead as only yesterday it announced it is now listing all supplier and factory information on individual products on its e-commerce pages.

“The progress we are seeing this year, coupled with the feedback Fashion Revolution has received from brands, suggests that inclusion in the Fashion Transparency Index has motivated major fashion brands to be more transparent,” says Sarah Ditty, Fashion Revolution’s policy director and report author. “We are seeing many brands publishing their supplier lists and improving their scores year on year,” she adds.

The Index rates fashion brand’s and retailer’s transparency levels by measuring their performance in five key areas: policy and commitments, governance, traceability, supplier assessment and remediation, and spotlight issues.

This year, the list of brands analyzed increased from 98 to 200. Other brands ranked include C&A, Puma, Marks & Spencer, Banana Republic, Gap and Old Navy, all who remained in the top 10 from 2018, scoring between 51-60%. Luxury, specifically, is beginning to open up to displaying supply chain information, though numbers are still low compared to high performers: Gucci and Bottega Veneta, the highest scoring brands to be reviewed, make the 31-40% score.

“There is still a lot of work to be done”, adds Ditty. “Detailed information about the outcomes and impacts of their efforts is still lacking. The average score amongst the biggest fashion brands and retailers is just 21%, showing that there are still far too many big brands lagging behind.”

“Major brands are disclosing very little information and data about their purchasing practices, which means that we still don’t have visibility into what brands are doing to be responsible business partners to their suppliers.”

This year, the report also deep dives into four of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which it believes is imperative to achieve greater transparency in the fashion industry. These are: Gender Equality, Decent Work, Sustainable Consumption, Production and Climate Action.

For example, findings highlight that brands are not disclosing enough information on their efforts to empower women and girls and increase gender equality, or how they are addressing gender-based labor violations in garment factories. Furthermore, it emphasizes that although 55% of the 200 brands publish annual carbon footprint in their company websites, only 19.5% disclose carbon emissions within their own supply chains, which is where over 50% of the industry’s emissions occur.

Since Monday, Fashion Revolution has been running its annual Fashion Revolution Week, a global series of activations and marketing efforts that aim to advocate for increased transparency in the industry, while calling for consumer to ask brands about who made their clothes. The report’s publishing date, as well as the accompanying global awareness campaign, aligns with the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed 1,138 people on April 24, 2013.

How are you thinking about sustainability? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your sustainability strategy. The Current Global 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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Editor's pick sustainability

Consumer demand for accountability and sustainability is on the rise, says report

Fashion Revolution
Fashion Revolution

Ahead of Black Friday, arguably the biggest global shopping day each year, Fashion Revolution has launched a report highlighting that European consumers are urging brands and governments to take the lead in the fight for sustainability within the fashion industry.

Consumers want to know more about the social and environmental impacts of their garments when shopping, and it is incumbent on brands and governments to address those issues, the research reveals.

“The pace of change by the fashion industry simply isn’t moving fast enough, and we can see this reflected in consumer attitudes,” said Sarah Ditty, Fashion Revolution’s policy director. “People have an urgent, emotional desire to know more about how their clothes are made, and that they haven’t harmed the environment, the people who made them nor were tested on animals. And they want governments to hold brands and retailers to account to ensure this happens.”

Conducted across the five largest EU markets (UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy), the findings from the study reveal that under the topic of sustainability, environmental factors such as climate change (85%) and environmental protection (88%) are considered important by the majority of people, followed by social issues such as global poverty (84%) and gender inequality (77%).

Furthermore, 72% of those surveyed said that fashion brands should do more to improve the lives of the women making their clothes – there is a gender split in opinion, however, as 81% of women surveyed think brands should tackle gender inequality, against 72% of male respondents.

Meanwhile the government should be more proactive in not only ensuring practices are established, but developing tools to communicate it back to the population, it finds.

In an era of extreme distrust in institutions, this cry for change is more relevant than ever. The report shows that the majority of people (68%) place responsibility on the government to hold fashion brands accountable for their sustainability methods. 77% think that fashion brands should be required by law to respect the human rights of everybody involved in making their products, while 75% think they should protect the environment at every stage of the supply chain. Additionally, 72% say brands should provide information about the environmental impact of their business.

“We’d like the general public, companies and governments to use our research to help drive change in the fashion industry, to better influence their peers to care more about social and environmental issues in fashion and start asking vital questions about the impacts of our clothing,” added Ditty.

How information is communicated is a vital part of the puzzle in helping consumers match their sustainability goals with actual purchase. An earlier report by Fashion Revolution also highlighted that 80% of consumers think brands should publish which factories were used to manufacture their clothes, or which suppliers they use to source their materials from (77%).

Earlier this week, fashion data platform Lyst unveiled its year in fashion report for 2018, which trackers over 100m searches on its site over the past 12 months to analyze the trends and the buzziest brands. It revealed a 47% increase in shoppers looking for items that have sustainable credentials, using terms like “vegan leather” and “organic cotton”. Veja, a French-Brazilian sneaker brand that uses sustainable that uses sustainable materials, showed a 113% year-on-year uptick on searches, for example.

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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Editor's pick sustainability

Global fashion brand transparency is on the rise, says new industry report

Fashion Revolution
Fashion Revolution

Adidas and Reebok are leading the way towards greater transparency among major corporate players, according to a new report from sustainable non-profit organization, Fashion Revolution.

Research released in the 2018 Fashion Transparency Index shows improvement across the industry, with the 100 brands reviewed showing an overall increase of 5% in their transparency levels.

The study reviews and ranks major global brands and retailers according to their social and environmental policies, practices and impacts. The top 10 brands for transparency in 2018 also include Puma, H&M, Esprit, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, C&A and Marks & Spencer.

On the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, Fashion Revolution highlights the importance for brands to be fair and transparent, particularly when it comes to impact on the lives of workers in the supply chain and on the environment.

The non-profit is also holding a weeklong series of events with designers around the world, sharing their ideas, processes and best practice when it comes to transparency. Designers taking part include Stella McCartney, Phoebe English, Christopher Raeburn and Vivienne Westwood with aims of engaging the consumer further in the conversation of who makes their clothes.

Fashion Revolution’s global operations director and founder Carry Somers said: “Over the last five years, millions of consumers have demanded a fairer, safer, cleaner industry. It’s working. We can see that brands are listening and the industry is starting to change.

“We’re calling upon the global fashion industry to turn its commitment to responsible sourcing into effective action this Fashion Revolution Week. Too many people working in the fashion industry, mostly women, are still underpaid, unsafe and mistreated. It’s time for change”.

In a plea to promote the conversation around supply chain transparency on a wider scale, Fashion Revolution has also launched its manifesto, laying out action points they believe will achieve a cleaner and safer fashion industry. Beyond the actionable steps, the company is also calling on consumers in general to spread the word via shareable social media assets and additional reading material.

For more content on brands striving to achieve a more sustainable supply chain, see TheCurrent Daily’s Sustainability category, which includes innovations by winners of this year’s Index such as Stella McCartney’s mushroom leather handbag and adidas’ pledge to use only recycled ocean plastics by 2020.