Transparency enables brands and retailers to know their supply chain, engage with their suppliers, and improve the environmental and social impacts associated with the production of their products. Only through knowing can you effectively enact change. Fashion is a global network, with millions of people involved in the production of apparel. From farming the cotton, weaving it into fabric, dyeing it to give color, and sewing the fabric to create a garment, each stage in this long production chain, is completed by different groups of people, often in different regions and even different countries.
Given that many companies will have hundreds of different products on the market at once, millions of people are likely to have a hand in creating their products.
Whilst it is positive that fashion gives employment to so many, the challenge is making sure that the livelihoods of these workers are protected, sometimes even above the accepted standards in that country, and that the environments in which materials are extracted and processed are not negatively impacted by these activities.
To achieve transparency, brands and retailers need to work backwards, uncovering each supply chain tier at a time, tracking and tracing the factories and people that have contributed to creating their products components.
“To achieve transparency, brands and retailers need to work backwards, uncovering each supply chain tier at a time.”
At Made-By, we lead projects with brands to uncover their supply chains.
For these projects to be effective, however, we have to start with building trust, making it clear that brands and retailers are not looking to leapfrog over suppliers to secure better commercial deals but, rather, are making honest attempts at uncovering who made their clothes and how these were made.
We have had some great successes in these projects, finding ways to decrease negative impacts quickly, connecting brands to workers who they would’ve never been able to tell stories about otherwise (e.g., Mongolian goat herders), and build comprehensive pictures of their supply chains and their associated risks.
POWER OF COLLABORATION
Without having visibility to these suppliers, brands are unable to support impact reductions more upstream in the supply chain.
Once visibility is established, we have seen impact reductions of all sizes, from investing in new machinery to simply adding nozzles to hoses to save resources.
The fashion industry is increasingly recognizing the power of collaboration to engage on often complex sustainability issues.
Sharing information and working together to collectively map material supply chains not only saves time and costs but it stops repetitive work and helps in encouraging suppliers to engage in mapping, where the brand’s volumes may individually be small.
“The fashion industry is increasingly recognizing the power of collaboration.”
We are increasingly seeing transparency become a factor in sourcing, being discussed by both sustainability teams and commercial teams.
We, however, must be also aware that opening up an entire global industry cannot happen overnight.
Instead, we should celebrate some of the leaders who continually engage with their supply chains, and share with the world some of their findings (both positive and negative).
The need for brands and retailers to engage on transparency will only continue to increase, be it through stakeholder pressure, legislation, or consumer interest.
Sustainability engagement has moved far beyond being a charitable exercise, but it is becoming a critical business activity.