Categories
business Editor's pick Retail sustainability technology

The greater need for transparency: 7 brands regaining consumer trust

Sustainability has been a major talking point for the fashion industry over the past couple of years. In this year’s State of Fashion report, radical transparency was highlighted as one of the major trends retailers should be implementing. But following rising concerns of greenwashing, from misleading PR-led campaigns to the increase of fake news, consumer trust is at an all-time low and brands are having to work harder to prove their authenticity in the matter.

The Gen Z generation is particularly pushing for this change, with 90% believing companies should take responsibility to address environmental and social issues. Meanwhile almost three-quarters of Millennials are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products, demonstrating how there is tangible value in transparent produce. In order to regain their consumers’ trust, brands must therefore be explicitly open with information regarding data protection and how sustainable their supply chains truly are.

Technology is playing a major role in helping promote transparency, from blockchain helping shed light on the supply chain, to holistic e-commerce interactions. Here, we highlight some of our favorite examples of brands disrupting the space by going that extra mile in regards to transparency:

Patagonia
Patagonia: The Footprint Chronicles

Patagonia is one of the pioneering brands when it comes to sustainability, fully disclosing its textile mills, factories and farms through its website. The ‘footprint chronicles’ is a visual map showing information about the supply chain including the numbers of workers, gender mix and items produced there. Patagonia was the first outdoor brand to be certified to the Advanced Global Traceable Down Standard for maintaining excellent animal welfare standards for birds. 

As a result of its ongoing efforts, Patagonia was identified as one of the leading brands on Fashion Revolution’s most recent Transparency Index, receiving a score of 64%. 

Nestle
Nestle trialing blockchain

Nestle is the first major food and beverage company to utilize the use of blockchain technology, allowing consumers to trace the origin of their food. The company is aiming to eventually reach full supply chain transparency, with this move shedding light on 95% of its annual sourcing of raw materials. 

Products will have a QR barcode that when scanned, provides consumers with Tier 1 information on product, such as harvest date, farm location, packing date, as well as information on how to prepare it. To determine the feasibility and viability of the technology, an initial pilot scheme testing the traceability of milk will be created first, with plans to expand into palm oil production.

Walmart
Walmart beef supply chain

As it stands, only 33% of consumers trust the food system. Following the Tesco horsemeat scandal in 2013, consumers have become increasingly skeptical of where their food has come from, particularly when it comes to meat produce. In the US, Walmart is addressing this by developing the first beef supply chain. The system, which took 2 years to develop, follows a previous blockchain pilot on lettuce and spinach, which aimed to reduce contamination rates, following an increase in vegetable-related illnesses.

H&M
H&M product transparency

In the UK, retailers are only required to disclose where the garment was made, but this year to increase its transparency, H&M made the decision to go one step further by sharing specific details about their individual suppliers. Consumers can now access information on the production country, supplier name, factory name, and even the number of employees in that factory. H&M is setting the bar in the industry by allowing consumers to make informed decisions when purchasing, helping them to shop responsibly. 

For H&M’s sister brand Arket, sustainability has been a primary consideration from its inception. Beyond showcasing suppliers, the brand also aims to design long-lasting garments, while informing its customers on how to care for them and prolong their lifespan.

Volition
Volition’s clean products

Volition is democratizing the beauty industry with products designed from crowdsourced ideas that are voted by the general public before making it into production. The brand uses scientific ingredients to deliver safe and effective products, from skincare to bath and body. Volition gives all of its products the ‘safe science’ seal of approval, catering to the 42% of consumers who feel they do not get enough information on ingredient safety. 

Following consumers request of non-toxic but highly effective products, Volition’s experts created a blacklist of harmful ingredients, giving consumers peace of mind about what they are putting onto their skin.

Selfridges
Selfridges Buy Better Campaign

Department store Selfridges is doubling down on its Buying Better labels, which aim to aid consumers in their purchasing choices.  The labels highlight sustainable product attributes, such as vegan, forest-friendly or supporting communities. The labels are part of the retailer’s commitment to ensure that 50% of its products are better for people and the planet by 2022. Currently, over 3000 products across homeware, fashion and beauty feature the labels, helping guide consumers away from the disposable, fast fashion mindset.

Drunk Elephant
Drunk Elephants holistic products

Skincare brand Drunk Elephant may be new to the market, having launched in 2014, but it is already catching both the eye of consumers and major beauty conglomerates alike. Consumers have gone wild for its transparent, no-nonsense approach to skincare. The products are based on biocompatibility, and use clinically-effective natural ingredients. Each product listed on its website has a detailed breakdown of all the ingredients and their purposes, creating a holistic user-friendly experience. 72% of consumers want brands to explain the purpose of ingredients and Drunk Elephant is leading the with their holistic product breakdowns. 

As a result of this education-led approach, and its popularity with younger consumers, the brand has recently been acquired by Japanese giant Shiseido for $845million.

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.

Categories
business Campaigns Editor's pick sustainability

In-depth: The big takeaways from Cannes Lions 2018

Cannes Lions 2018
Cannes Lions 2018

Pivotal societal movements from gender equality and diversity to environmental sustainability, have been a part of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for many years, but there was a greater sense of urgency and action tied to their delivery for 2018.

Beyond the talk

It’s all too easy to step on stage – onto the influential platform that Cannes Lions represents – and talk about a need for change. A need for the industry to be more inclusive, to represent women in positive roles or to bring about a sense of brand purpose that will shift mindsets across consumer groups at large. But it’s another thing altogether to really put that into action.

In a panel focused on female empowerment, Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble, said the reason we’re still talking about the same old things is because of the fact progress is frustratingly slow. In a recent review of 40,000 ads, for instance, 29% negatively or inaccurately portrayed women in some way due to objectification, stereotyping or some kind of diminished role.

The landscape is changing, he said, but not fast enough. “There are some good examples, and we should feel good about that, but we know it’s not enough. I am optimistic however. We are getting close to that tipping point. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements changed the narrative forever. So let’s double down, and come together to be agents of change to achieve gender equality in the creative world.”

What’s key to driving this, he said, is seeing equality behind the camera, and throughout the entire creative pipeline. We can’t expect equality in the creative output until we have equality in the creative input, he explained.

Pritchard further highlighted that getting this right is also impactful on business results. Gender equal ads perform 10% better in trust and equity ratings, and 26% higher in terms of sales growth, he noted.

Beyond the trend

Driving change or action was also applied to the diversity conversation this year. Much like with gender equality, the focus here was on getting to the point of not needing to discuss it as a key subject at such an event anymore.

Said Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s editor-in-chief: “For the future, I want to see the marginalized, normalized… I don’t think we’re doing enough, but we’re all here doing our best. It will never be done until we’re not having this conversation anymore, until we’re not talking about diversity.”

Supermodel Naomi Campbell suggested that we’re currently at crunch time as to whether this diversity “trend” has sticking power. It’s got to be more than just a hot topic, she noted.

In an interview that dove into how she spent her early career being paid significantly less than her white counterparts, she explained: “I’m giving diversity another six months to see if it’s a trend, or something that’s here to stay and really change.”

Beyond purpose

Indeed, when something is deemed merely a trend, there’s also risk for brands of being perceived as jumping on the bandwagon should there not be authenticity in their approach. Having “brand purpose” or brands that “stand for something” are fellow trendy phrases, but it’s only through longstanding values that any such focus can ever ring true, speakers agreed.

The current era is a battle for truth, which is what’s placing trust at an all-time low for consumers, explained Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, which publishes the annual Trust Barometer. “The idea for big brands has to be how do we become part of this ecosystem pushing change? Beyond the idea of purpose is the notion that somehow we’re relevant, and pushing for better,” he commented.

Patagonia hit the stage with an exploration of its ongoing focus on the environment and active support of a better planet, on that note. That wasn’t something that happened overnight however, but a program of belief in the company established over a 20-year period, the brand’s European marketing director, Alex Weller, explained.

What’s key right now, he said however, is that consumers want to take action themselves. “In what increasingly feels like a stormy world, people are looking for hope. They’re looking for it in grassroots organizations, and increasingly in brands…. People are asking what can I do, how can I help, how can I take action.”

What the team realized was that if it really wanted to scale the movement, it needed to get out of the way a bit. “That bottleneck was us,” Weller said. The Patagonia Action Works platform, a microsite intended to facilitate interactions between like-minded activists, was the resulting initiative. “The end goal is that we and our community get to participate in things we care about to actually take action. To go from giving a shit to actually doing something,” he explained.

Once again, proof lies in the pudding. Weller explained that Patagonia has been growing at between 15-20% year-on-year. “We believe there is correlation between our movement building and our commercial performance. And the more direct correlation is, that the more we grow, the more we can do,” he noted.

Categories
business data Editor's pick technology

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower on the trends connecting fashion and politics

Christopher Wylie - Cambridge Analytica
Christopher Wylie

The similarities between fashion and politics are much stronger than people think, says Christopher Wylie, now widely known as the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, in an exclusive conversation with Vogue Italia.

Why is someone who blew the lid on the Facebook data scandal talking about fashion? Canada-born Wylie was studying trend forecasting at the University of the Arts London while working at Cambridge Analytica, and has spent much of his career exploring links in culture.

Much like fashion trends, politics is cyclical, and encompasses the idea of presenting an aesthetic, or narrative, he explains. “Trends are just as important in politics as they are in fashion; just that rather than an aesthetic trend, it might be an ideological, behavioural or cultural trend,” he says. “You need to keep track of all kinds of trends in politics because you need to know if you come out and say something, what the adoption of that will be six months down the road. And is that going to help you win an election.”

Given the nature of his role at a data business, unsurprisingly he also has a big view on the impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning on the fashion industry too.

Fashion’s intuitive nature is not only hard to measure in trends, but also incredibly complex for machines to learn, he explains. He believes fashion is contextual because its trends and aesthetics are hard to quantify. “How do you define bold? If I go to a black tie dinner but I’m decked out in camo, I’m actually wearing quite muted colours, but it’s quite bold,” he exemplifies, saying boldness is contextual, depending on where you are.

“How do you tell a computer about that? Amazingly, with fashion, is that not only is it visually and aesthetically really enriching, computationally and mathematically it’s really hard. It’s a hell of a lot harder than politics.”

Computer vision could be the solution, he says, because an outfit is essentially visually-encoded information. In that sense, it is human beings who would need to look at pictures of people wearing clothes and choose the relevant adjectives that describe what they look like. They then need to work closely with computers to teach them about fashion.

“Everybody needs teaching, even computers. You learnt fashion in the first place, so the computer needs to learn fashion from people as there are no machines that know fashion yet,” says Wylie.

Digital influencer Margaret Zhang wears Vetements
Digital influencer Margaret Zhang wears Vetements

We saw this movement towards focusing on the human earlier this year at SXSW. While every conversation was underpinned by the concept of artificial intelligence, the topic kept highlighting the sense of instilling humanity in all interactions – from robots learning from humans, to humans being freed from minimal tasks to focus on what matters.

Another strong theme from SXSW – and one permeating consumer trends full stop today – is around the lack of trust in society. The Edelman Trust Barometer has reported a straight-line decline for 25 years, and Wylie likens the rise of ironic fashion such as Vetements to this too. “If you have a lot of designers who are starting to make stuff that is ironic – or stupid like the €200 DHL t-shirt – and people are buying it, it’s because you have a total collapse of trust in institutions, including fashion institutions,” he says, adding that this is where fashion and culture in general have a lot more power than they give themselves credit for.

The Vogue Italia interview otherwise covered Wylie’s involvement in the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data scandal more broadly, and exactly why he decided to go public with the information.

For more on the future of data regulation and privacy, listen to our episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast with Amnesty International’s Sherif Elsayed-Ali.

Categories
Editor's pick Events technology

In-Depth: The big takeaways from SXSW Interactive 2018

SXSW 2018

While there were keynote talks about everything from quantum computing to expeditions to Mars at SXSW Interactive this year, underpinning the festival more than ever was a more down to earth (forgive the pun) reflection on society.

This is an event that used to be about future technologies at its core; anchored in the evolution of this thing called the internet. Today, however, it’s increasingly focused on much wider cultural movements because of the way in which connectivity infiltrates every part of our lives. The two are no longer distinguishable.

Politics, entertainment and human rights are all just as much a part of the conversation in Austin these days as those big tech or forward-looking viewpoints, as a result. And thus, this year’s trends are equally a mirror of that fact – a blend of what really matters to humanity first and foremost, underpinned by the technology that is both shaping and supporting it.

Being human

While artificial intelligence permeated the entire festival – noteworthy not as a trend but as an overarching umbrella to which all arrows are pointing for the future of computing – nearly every conversation kept coming back to one thing: being human.

With discussions exploring the role of automation, multiple case studies for machine learning, not to mention examples of how fast and how deep such systems are being trained, the focus, time and again, returned to the very idea of our humanity and our culture.

Even Bruce Stering, author and longstanding commentator, closed out the five-day event by turning the view on robotics into a conversation around art and culture: “We’re spending too much time making robots useful and commercially viable. We’re not thinking enough about what this exquisite control of motion ought to mean aesthetically. It’s like we’re spending too much time at the gym doing squats and not enough dancing. So I think the tech world needs to find more confidence in their artistic impulses.”

José Neves of Farfetch and Liz Bacelar of TheCurrent on stage at SXSW 2018
José Neves of Farfetch and Liz Bacelar of TheCurrent on stage at SXSW 2018

But the festival at large wasn’t just about creative license or inputting empathy in the robots or artificial intelligence we’re building (as was so focused on in 2017), but actually about reminding us of who we are as a society full stop.

Evidence lay in the very fact so many of the big keynotes on stage weren’t from the world of technology at all. Esther Perel, a renowned relationship therapist, stole the limelight on day one for instance, when she discussed the role of belonging and loneliness in the context of modern community. “We used to have belonging but little freedom. Now we have so much freedom but little sense of belonging,” she said, highlighting the very idea of what we’re craving.

Our constant battle, Bozoma Saint John, the gregarious chief brand officer from Uber, agreed, is around balancing our sense of connectivity with actual human connections. “We can use our tech to better our society and our everyday lives, but we also need to connect to people… How do we make sure in a world where things are moving so fast, that we can keep up, yet still be in touch with our humanity?” she asked.

What’s interesting to see is how this focus is starting to impact the experiences we’re creating. Even in retail today, the idea of connected or interactive stores, like Amazon Go, are becoming less about the technology itself, and more about the tech moving out of the way, or being increasingly invisible, so as to allow us to get back to the human side of what we’re doing. It’s about optimizing experiences for the human involved –in Amazon’s case, by making it about convenience.

But the same goes at the luxury end of things. As José Neves, CEO of Farfetch, said in a fireside conversation with TheCurrent’s Liz Bacelar: “If anything, companies need to think [about] how can we develop technologies that enhance the human? The store of the future for us is about how can we make the storytelling about everything humans can do – the computers can check stock, the computer can do payment; let’s get the robotic stuff out of the way, and let the human concentrate on the interaction.”

Women and diversity

That notion of humanity, society and culture spilled over unsurprisingly into widespread discussions around equality and diversity. The idea of women having a seat at the table is not a new topic for SXSW. Women in tech has long been a subject at this festival, but it had new resonance, greater weight and a bigger focus on action off the back of the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, both of which were represented on stage this year.

In her keynote, Melinda Gates, co-chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “Companies all of a sudden have to listen to what their employees want. I see the #MeToo movement finally causing a reckoning.”

Melinda Gates on stage at SXSW 2018
Melinda Gates on stage at SXSW 2018

“We’re in a really serious and complicated moment, where we have to take the power to change the industries and communities and environments we’re in for the better,” said Saint John of Uber, referring both to being a woman on a leadership team as much as to being one of color. She called for both women and men to now be standing up for this.

“We’re seeing it right now, we are demanding change. But this is not the issue of people of color to make the noise. Everyone else needs to make the noise. I want white men to look around in their offices and say let’s change this,” she added.

Whitney Wolfe-Herd, founder of dating app, Bumble, which in its conception is about giving women a greater element of control, likewise pushed the idea of men being part of the solution. “A lot of them have been the problem, but now it’s time to be part of the solution. That stands for something.”

Bumble, she said, has always been about doing things in a female-forward way, from the nature of the app itself, to the structure of the team internally. “We encourage more and more seats, we built bigger tables,” she said.

And Saint John then brought it back to our humanity once more: “We need to use this moment in time to remember what our humanity is. It will help in all the things we are talking about – in diversity, in women empowerment and in moving forward.”

Seeking trust

Tied up in the equality and diversity conversation, is a greater underlying societal reflection of uncertainty. Trust is at an all-time low hot off the heels of the fake news agenda that dominated headlines last year, not to mention a much broader perspective on weakened political and institutional beliefs, and growing concerns for the role of privacy and ownership over our own data.

In fact, the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which was referenced multiple times during SXSW, has shown a straight-line decline for 25 years, with trust in government, the media, and banks at an all-time low. Rohit Bhargava of the Non-Obvious Company, referred to us as being “in the midst of a believability crisis”. With consumers as natural sceptics, the role for brands then is around seeking how to develop or engender a sense of trust in new ways.

This is something Adidas particularly referenced. Eric Liedtke, head of global brands at the company, said: “People don’t just buy what you make, they buy what you stand for.” Referring to a youth generation that has grown up in a world that is highly stressed, he added that people are “looking for trusted brands they can rely on” and that “authenticity is going to be core for this”.

Adidas announced that it’s aiming for all of its products to be made from recycled plastics by 2024, as part of its partnership with Parley for the Oceans, and it called on the rest of the industry to start thinking about the same. The worst problem we have right now is inaction, Liedtke added. “Everyone has to opt in, put their hand in the pile and play.”

Adidas x Parley for the Oceans SXSW 2018
Adidas x Parley for the Oceans

That view on sustainability and on climate change, reverberated throughout the week, including in a session hosted by TheCurrent around bioengineering for the fashion industry. All of it tied nicely to the fact Edelman’s 2018 survey also shows there has been a renewed confidence in experts and academics, and a fast recovering belief in CEOs, rewarded for speaking out on specific issues.

With that idea of authenticity, then, came a focus at the festival on how technology can help take this to the next level. Blockchain was the big tech buzzword of the week, once again, with endless sessions dedicated to deciphering and applying it to the future of business and consumerism today.

Explained in basic terms as a digital ledger that acts as a verified and immutable source of truth, it was referenced with regards to everything from healthcare to global supply chain management. “Whether it’s diamonds being pulled out of the ground or fish from the ocean, or a shoe being manufactured and transported, the blockchain means you are able to track that and have high confidence that it’s coming from the place it’s meant to,” said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Hyperledger.

Graham Wetzbarger, chief authenticator of resale service, The RealReal, similarly said there is a major opportunity to use blockchain to connect consumers to authentication. “Imagine adding a digital ledger for every product, not only for when they’re first bought, but when they’re reselling. How interesting would it be if a product were always telling data? Always adding every place it’s been?” Through provenance then, we can bring about trust.

Joseph Lubin, co-founder of Ethereum, also noted blockchain’s relevancy to the privacy element of the trust debate. “On the web right now, I would argue that identity is broken,” he said. “We spray aspects of our identity around the web, it’s stored on corporate servers and is monetized by corporations, and often aspects of your identity aren’t well secured by those organizations.” His belief is that blockchain can solve this.

Of course, this tech isn’t a solution for everything, but in helping to bring back a sense of trust in our everyday systems, it’s evidently part of that broader conversation on humanity and society that SXSW has become so much about. The future, once more then, comes back to us being humans, albeit with tech playing an ever-increasing role in enhancing us in the process.

*Want to know which specific technologies and startups we deemed most relevant from the festival? Our team of startup scouts combed through the innovations demonstrated, examining and analyzing those of chief importance to retailers and brands today. Get in touch to find out more.

Categories
Editor's pick sustainability technology

From farm to finished garment: Blockchain is aiding this fashion collection with transparency

Martine Jarlgaard London's new collection demonstrated using Provenance blockchain technology
Martine Jarlgaard London’s new collection demonstrated using Provenance blockchain technology

Given the number of parties usually involved in producing a garment, transparency in the fashion industry is no small feat.

From farmer to consumer, there are multiple steps along the way to create the t-shirts, jeans and dresses we all frequently buy. And buy we do. According to a study from McKinsey & Company, annual clothing production exceeded 100 billion items for the first time in 2014. Consumers also now keep said pieces for about half as long as they did 15 years ago, and nearly three-fifths of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made.

The demand for transparency around where our clothing comes from and exactly what’s gone on before it reaches us is increasing however, backed particularly by campaigns like #Whomademyclothes, run by Fashion Revolution each April.

According to London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard, however, what’s really going to get us there is technology: “When I think about our world and outsourcing now, we’ve gained a great distance to how things are made. We need to re-educate ourselves. Technology will be what helps to reconnect us to the people and the places involved, and that information will increase consumer expectations, which will put more pressure on the big companies.”

On that basis, she’s launched a new pilot initiative that uses blockchain technology – a distributed and secure ledger – in a bid to enable both transparency and trust around her collections.

A partnership with blockchain technology company Provenance, consultancy A Transparent Company and London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency, it tracks the journey of raw material through the supply chain and finally to finished garment.

Each step of the process is registered and tracked on the blockchain via the Provenance app, from shearing at the British Alpaca Fashion farm, to spinning at Two Rivers Mill, through to knitting at Knitster LDN, and finally to Martine Jarlgaard, at the designer’s studio in London. Head over to Forbes to read more about it, including further insight from Jarlgaard on what she’s hoping to achieve for the industry at large by demonstrating it at this week’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit.