Will transparency become the norm in fashion?

Patagonia Fair Trade

It’s become clear that sustainability is about embracing change and being successful at change management. It starts with the brand’s purpose, vision and proposition. It includes a solid strategy and actionable plan aimed at understanding and changing the supply-chain – plus a compelling, creative internal and external communications plan to ensure people and consumers want to be part of the journey based on Futerra’s model.

From a sustainable capsule collection to a more responsible business model

For the fashion industry, it’s often a decision of ‘how’ to change the company’s supply-chain rather than ‘if’ doing anything at all. We have largely gone passed that stage. Dio Kurazawa, WGSN Denim Director, was invited to a press breakfast hosted by Patagonia on “The new industrial revolution: How can fashion go from zero to Fair Trade hero?” alongside Cara Chacon, Patagonia’s VP of Social and Environmental Responsibility, Clay Brown from Fair Trade USA and Safia Minney, founder of People Tree, on 25 October in London.

Lucy Siegle, the moderator, tried to find answers on what’s next in sustainability and, specifically, fair trade. The panel agreed that the main challenge for the fashion industry is to move from having a sustainable capsule collection to embed sustainability across the whole business.


The fashion supply-chain fragmentation challenge

The apparel industry, worth $1.3 trillion, relies on very fragmented supply-chains often spread across multiple countries. The panelists advocated that more collaboration among brands on sustainability matters, but it’s notable that apparel brands source from many different factories, so co-operation is often an issue.

Looking at brands like Patagonia, we know it is possible. Cara Chacon said the brand is about to turn $1 billion, profitably. Patagonia, whose mission is to “..use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis”, pioneered environmental solutions and became the first outdoor brand to adopt fleece made from post-consumer recycled (PCR) in 1993 and reached 100% organic cotton usage within their cotton range in 1996.

In 2012, they brand decided to invest in fair trade and, to date, nearly 500 styles, or 40% of their total product range, are Fair Trade certified.

Gen Y and Z shoppers want transparency and convenience

The panel agreed that consumers hold more power than in the past to push the industry to change and legislation to tighten. 60% of Generation Z and 39% of Millennials want to have an impact on the world and use fashion to campaign on politics and gender equality (i.e. the Future is Female). Talking about fashion consumption, though, consumers continue to buy clothing at unprecedented rates and, as a consequence, garment production is expected to increase by 63% by 2030. In terms of shopping preferences, we see that young consumers value convenience and values hence the rise of hassle-free and transparent online retailers like Brandless and Everlane. With these emerging brands strongly positioning as radically honest and open, will transparency become a point of parity in the near future?

The panel concluded that the future of sustainability in fashion is about consumer education through transparency. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s plan to make the environmental and social performances of apparel products public through the Higg Index by 2020 will be a turning point.


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