Something that 2020 has brought is the need for radical transparency. People are asking themselves more questions. What am I consuming? Where does it come from? What impact am I making with my actions? And consumers are not afraid to put brands to shame. But why haven’t brands been transparent about how they do business? Why is it so important for them to transition to a traceable chain?
Let's talk about the big stinky fish in the room
Fast fashion: a form of producing that was created by the fashion industry to keep up with the high tempo. Producing cheap low quality clothing as fast as possible, without considering the environmental and social costs. We have been doing this for several years now without asking ourselves how this type of production is even possible, and what the actual consequences from this behaviour are. After many disasters such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza, the release of undercover documentaries and thousands of leaked photos from inside the factories, we are now opening our eyes to the harm this industry is causing. Customers are becoming more aware of the power of their purchase, and around 42 percent of millennials say they want to know what goes into products and how they are made before they buy. (The State of Fashion 2019 McKinsey).
The truth is that brands also don’t know what is going on. Big companies work with thousands of different manufacturers, and have no clue where their materials are coming from, nor in which conditions they are being produced. They often contact suppliers who then pass the order to subcontractors, which makes the search extremely difficult.
Clients are losing trust in fashion brands, but transparency seems to be the key to change. In a survey done by Fashion Revolution in November 2018, 80% of the 5.000 respondents said that fashion brands should disclose their manufacturers.
Why transparency matters
Most fashion companies are like icebergs, you can only see the tip above the water, but actually there is a whole big chunk of ice under dark waters that we don’t see. Fashion Revolutions states: ‘’It is impossible for companies to make sure human rights are respected, working conditions are adequate and the environment is safeguarded without knowing where their products are being made. That’s why transparency is essential.’’ Transparency is a powerful tool that can hold brands accountable for how they are doing business. However this doesn’t mean that sustainable or ethical practices are being done, but it is a step in the right direction.
When being open about where you produce, where you source your materials, or even what your costs are, you let your clients know that you are a trustable and honest brand. It is not enough to communicate how green you are, customers expect proof of it. In order for brands to take ownership for their actions, Fashion Revolution has been reviewing 250 big fashion brands for the last 5 years through their Fashion Transparency Index. The average number of transparency for this year was 23%, with the highest percentages being H&M (73%) and followed by C&A (70%). The lowest numbers were amongst others from Tom Ford (0%) and Pepe Jeans (0%). The majority of the researched brands lack transparency in their business, but luckily we see this slowly changing year by year.
Technology for good
From the quest for more transparency new applications have been created such as Good On You. An app that lets you search for brands and their rating based on their impact on the planet, people or animals. The Good On You team does the research work and customers get free access to the results.
Another great solution that some brands are already putting into practice is the use of a blockchain system to trace down their chain. Each node of the network can see the whole history of transactions, and all the data that is entered can’t be changed. It gives you the security and trust to boost transparency in the supply chain.
Some of the brands that are holding great transparent practices include Everlane , Nu-in and People Tree, who openly display materials, place of production, environmental impact and even transportation methods next to each item on their webshop.
All that is left as a consumer is to be critical, but also as a brand. Be critical with who you work with, what you want to represent and what kind of impact you will make towards the environment and your people.If brands are not held accountable for their actions it is impossible for them to change. Transparency should not be feared, greater honesty only means greater success, and this will help your brand build trust.