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Can Transparency Transform The Fashion Industry?

Lucy Shea

07.07.17

Our most recent Big Ideas Breakfast posed the question, ‘Can Transparency Transform An Industry?’. And the answers took our debate to places we hadn’t expected.

With expert speakers from Kering, C&A Foundation and Fashion Revolution and over 50 attendees squeezed into Futerra HQ, this was breakfast with added intensity.

I opened the morning by setting out why Futerra is asking big questions about transparency.  Because we believe that too often, transparency is framed as merely a business obligation. And that form of dutiful transparency may be dryly correct, but doesn’t transform. Instead, we want transparency to be a source of creativity and inspiration. Bringing the logic of data together with the magic of storytelling. Because if consumers, partners and designers have true insight into how our clothes are made, that might just change everything.

First to respond to that opening provocation was Eva von Alvensleben, Head of Sustainability Strategy at Kering. Eva told us that sustainability has finally become a true driver of innovation and growth. And transparency is at the heart of that change. Kering’s breakthrough Environmental Profit and Loss accounting provides a depth of transparency rarely seen before. But Kering realised that they alone can’t change the industry norms, so they open sourced their methodology in the hope others would follow. This spirit of collaboration became a pivotal theme of the whole debate:

As Eva said, “Take our raw materials. If we don’t report and make our impacts transparent to others in the industry, we can never tackle the key issues in our supply chain. Because you can’t improve if you don’t know where your challenges are.”

Orsola de Castro, Co-founder and Creative Director of Fashion Revolution picked up the thread and explained how a simple question she asked years ago – who made my clothes? –  proved to be a riddle that too few companies could answer. So this transparency question became the heart of Fashion Revolution’s campaign. And through this simple request for transparency, Fashion Revolution has done the seemingly impossible: made a technical issue like supply chain transparency exciting and inspiring for mainstream fashion lovers. The results speak for themselves. Fashion Revolution has reached a staggering 533 million people and proved that transparency can be the heart of change.

“There are those that say we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on transparency, after all, it is self-declared. But for me, it may not necessarily lead to best practice, but it does lead to a culture of scrutiny and vigilance, and is that first step to understanding the industry and the supply chain.”, Orsola said.

Our final speaker, Leslie Johnston, Executive Director of C&A Foundation, explained how one of C&A Foundation’s focus areas is improving working conditions in factories. And why, in this case, transparency is the most exciting lever of change. “When you look at how decentralised the industry is, chances are the clothes you’re wearing right now have been through 20 different pairs of hands, across multiple countries, before even making it to you. And brands only have visibility to a certain degree – the first-tier garment factories.”

Leslie argued that years of self-reporting by the fashion industry hasn’t changed the dire situation too many workers face, so isn’t it time for new disruptive solutions? Take Better Buying, a C&A Foundation-funded initiative. Buying practices like late orders or missing payments can lead to labour violations in factories. The Better Buying platform allows factories to rate buyers, a bit like trip advisor, so factories can make more informed decisions about who they work with. It also opens a dialogue between factories and buyers that has never really happened before.

As the unusual London sunshine began to heat up the room, the debate got underway. Tweetable quotes flowed.

On telling a story of transparency…

“Sustainability means everything and nothing. We need be better at storytelling to bring it home.”

“We must create an intimate, scratchy, personal and modern language of sustainability.”

“Sustainability is a million things to a million people. We must tell individual stories.”

On how to create change…

“Brand loyalty of tomorrow will absolutely take into consideration every step our how our clothes are made.”

“Fashion is an old-fashioned industry. They are used to doing things in secret to create mystery.

The amount of time it takes to create change is underestimated. Creative teams within brands are creating multiple collections and don’t have enough time to think about sustainability. If we had less collections and more time those teams could take the issues into account.”

On why fashion supply chains matter…

“We wear the souls of the people who make our clothes.”

Together, throughout the morning the fashion family at our Futerra breakfast remembered that this is a system we created ourselves. There is nothing we can’t change or do differently. Which is why we need bold leadership, collaborative efforts and the daring nature to changes things. To be open. To make things open source. To make change together.

And transparency builds the trust that will make all of that possible.

 

 

Posted by Lucy Shea

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