The environmental impact of fashion is a continually hot topic and for good reason. The United Nations states that the fashion industry is “widely believed to be the second-most polluting industry in the world”. It accounts for more than 20% of wastewater globally, the UN says.
That’s why upcoming generations of younger consumers are putting serious pressure on fashion brands to be more transparent about their products and be more environmentally friendly overall. Teenage environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, for example, calls out for a system change due to climate impact of fashion in a Vogue interview: “fashion brands needed to take responsibility for the environmental impact of their products.”
So many brands claim to be sustainable. Yet first should we ask ourselves, are we 100% clear on what sustainability means? Consumers expect true traceability from end to end. It’s not enough for a brand seeking climate-conscious consumers to say, “we make sure our suppliers are compliant”.
Here are three things to consider in order to offer full transparency in fashion:
1. Start with detailed specifications
The first key is to manage the detailed specification of the material down to yarn or even cotton level. The type of fibres used in the fabric will determine if the product can be recycled or not. And what about leather products, are any vegetable tanning methods used? If other materials such as plastic are used in the packaging as well as the country of origin for all components of the product are also important data points.
2. Gather data insights from every stage of production and shipping
There’s a lot of waste in production, not to mention the electricity, chemicals, and extensive use of water (which is a limited resource). It’s crucial to be clear on how compliant each supplieris in the full supply chain down to the cotton field workers, not just your main supplier. Then the product needs to be shipped to its final destination, but can that be done in a way to reduce its carbon footprint?
3. Facilitate easy access to data for consumers
In a perfect world, a brand owner will have access to all the data mentioned above. In the real world, there are often challenges to get this information to the end consumer, which is exactly what they are asking for. The key dealing with these challenges is to ensure you have control of your data in one place. Then have a QR code on each garment where relevant information can be stored and easily shared with the consumer.
Understandably, it can be a big task to get a grip on all this data. Make sure you have the right foundation in place to collect and manage the data, and that it is easily accessible. Unless you produce your own products, it is wise to extend the data capture outside your four walls into production and supply chain to gain more transparency in your value chain. Finally, you need an easy way to let consumers visualise this data, typically through QR codes on the product that can be scanned in a store or published online.
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Jarrod Kinchington is vice president and managing director for Infor ANZ.