Written by Maye Walraven, Edited by Patrick Duffy and Natalie Tang
New York, NY — During the past decade, sustainability has revolutionized the way food and automobile industries operate and inform consumers about their products. The food industry developed organic practices and fair trade labels. The auto industry emphasizes innovative, efficient and clean technologies to enable consumers to make more Eco-conscious decisions. However the typically Avant-garde fashion industry is lagging behind when it comes to adopting and communicating sustainability trends. Several recent events triggered a push to place sustainability closer to the top of fashion industry’s priorities.
The emergence of fast-fashion has transformed our relation to clothes. Lower prices and faster turnover (hence the term “fast-fashion”) are effectively making apparel more disposable than ever. The recurrence of tragedies such as the Bangladesh factory collapse which cost over a thousand lives raises questions concerning worker conditions and fashion industry production practices in general. So, what is really the state of the fashion industry’s relationship with sustainability?
Our research at A Clean Future (ACF) so far reveals there are very large disparities in the level of engagement and efforts dedicated to sustainability from different actors in fashion. A handful of outstanding companies, most of which are part of the Sustainability Apparel Coalition, are leading the way and have managed to fully incorporate the concept of sustainability into their business models. A larger group of followers, generally motivated by risk mitigation, are taking their first steps towards sustainability by reviewing both their own performances and their supply chain’s compliance with legislation.
Sustainable fashion houses have been on developing value chain indices capable of communicating sustainability data (e.g., water consumption, GHG emissions, toxics and social welfare) throughout the entire supply chain, from farmers to end-consumers. The objective of such indices is ultimately to empower consumers to pick the most virtuous products and thus pressure the entire value chain to adopt more sustainable practices. To date, a few companies, including Nike and Timberland, have started using such indices. Although significant efforts have been invested in the data collection process and on increasing transparency levels across supply chains, little attention has been dedicated to the final step, which may be the most important: communicating credible product level sustainability information to consumers.
ACF will launch a white paper that explains these findings and recommendations for other companies to develop effective communication strategies for sustainability efforts.
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Findings will also be shared through webinars and blog up-dates, so keep following our progress!