Sustainability and transparency have long ceased to be trendy millennial hashtags to become not only a real consumer demand but also a crucial change in business practices to ensure our planet's health. It has become obvious that we need a radical paradigm shift to completely transform the way we produce, sell, consume, and dispose of clothes.
The urgent transformation in the fashion business model and supply chain makes the work of certain brands and suppliers be called disruptive -- like PFGHL with sustainable silk. However, those relevant disruptions are reshaping the fashion industry and will make those sustainable innovations a standard practice in no time.
The fashion revolution is already happening, and both brands and consumers are re-evaluating their practices and attitudes at great speed.
Fashion Revolution Week
Who are the people who make our clothes? It´s time for more transparency in the fashion industry: Fashion Revolution wants brands to disclose their manufactures and hold accountability for their choices. Credit: Courtesy of Fashion Revolution
The reshaping of the industry is imminent, pushed and reinforced by social movements all over the world. One of the biggest ones is Fashion Revolution, founded by Orsola de Castro and Carry Sommers in April 2013, after the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh killing 1,138 people and injuring many more.
Since then, besides campaigning for a fairer fashion business model all year round, they started Fashion Revolution Week, a global movement for more transparency within the fashion industry and a sustainable awareness call for consumers, who are invited to challenge brands by asking them #WhoMadeMyClothes on social media, or by sharing the story of a garment they've had for a long time as a means of promoting slow fashion.
Fashion Revolution Transparency Index
Only 5 brands score higher than 60%: Adidas, Reebok (also from the Adidas Group), Patagonia, Esprit, and H&M. In 2018, no brand scored more than 60%. Credit: Courtesy of Fashion Revolution
As part of their effort and campaign towards transparency in the fashion industry, Fashion Revolution has presented, since 2017, the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index. In 2019, they reviewed and ranked 200 of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers about their disclosure on suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impact. It is worth pointing out that Fashion Revolution does not measure the brands' sustainable practices, only the actual transparency process. The top 5 ranked brands were Adidas, Reebok, Patagonia, Esprit, and H&M.
Transparency shines a light on issues often kept in the dark. It's not enough to fix the industry's problems, but it shows where we can improve. Credit: Courtesy of Fashion Revolution
"Transparency alone is not enough to fix the industry’s problems, but it is a necessary first step towards wider systemic change. Transparency shines a light on issues often kept in the dark", reads the Fashion Revolution's website. As consumers, we are slowly realising our power of choice as political activism since the shift in the business model places customers in the centre of brands' attention.
Transparency is demanded by a new generation of consumers, helping to reveal the structures of the fashion industry, holding brands and retailers accountable for human rights, working conditions, and environmental impact. This is crucial for the fashion industry to reduce its negative impact in the world, applying sustainability in its 3 pillars: planet, people, and profit; to disrupt this system in a long-lasting and positive way.
3 pillars of sustainability: planet (about environmental aspects), people (about society and social responsibility), and profit (regarding how companies can sustain themselves financially and generate economic prosperity). Only with the balance between these 3 pillars, we can truly achieve sustainability.
How To Take Sustainable Action
If the fashion revolution is imminent, it's necessary to take sustainable action immediately. Whether you are an independent designer, a fashion brand, a textile supplier or a final consumer, there are simple and effective sustainable steps you can take to lessen your impact on the environment whilst still being in love with fashion.
Zero Waste: #LovedClothesLast
#LovedClothesLast: writer and fashion blogger Susie Lau [right] with designer Katie Jones [left] in an upcycling workshop. Repair and reusing your clothes extends their lives and help to create a better planet. Credit: Rachel Manns/Courtesy of Fashion Revolution
Loving your clothes is a fundamental step. The British newspaper Guardian stated, back in 2018, that UK shoppers own £10bn worth of clothes they do not wear, meaning that all the resources used to produce the garment (from water to transportation carbon emissions) are completely wasted. Fashion Revolution's statistics also say that the UK discards £30bn worth of UK clothes every year -- but 95% of those items could be recycled or upcycled.
As a consumer, it's important to put every single piece of your wardrobe to good use; as a fashion retailer or textile supplier, listening to your customers and planning wisely is fundamental to avoid dead stock (and polemics like British luxury brand Burberry, who famously destroyed unsold clothes, accessories, and perfume worth £28.6m in 2018).
- The impact of fashion brands can be diminished even further by optimising pattern cutting -- fashion technology has gone a long way, and it is already possible to find suppliers that offer groundbreaking technology that effectively reduces waste.
- Using leftover textiles or buying third-parties' dead stock is another tactic, made popular by American brand Reformation, for instance.
- Fashion designers have also opted to buy vintage or second-hand pieces in bulk and upcycle them for their own collections (Reformation does that as well, repurposing old denim and vintage leather into their new, desirable pieces). Could your buying process include fabrics that come from recycled waste?
Second-hand and vintage are great sustainable options for fashion lovers that need pieces to complement their wardrobe, as well as upcycling old garments to give them new life.
Even as a final consumer, second-hand and vintage are excellent sustainable options since they extend the life of an existing garment (and doubling the useful life of clothing from 1 year to 2 years reduces emissions over the years by 24% according to TimeOut for Fast Fashion). The old disposable mentality of the "if it's broken, buy a new one" has also started to change, and projects like Fashion Revolution incentivise people to mend pieces that have holes or tears (they even have YouTube tutorials on their channel), which avoid garments to end up in a landfill. Upcycling is another great choice that gives new life to old pieces.
Open Your Factories (And Communication)
If you are positive about your brand's working conditions and environmental impact, why not open its doors so people can see and meet who makes their clothes? If that step is physically impossible, Fashion Revolution suggests brands introduce their workers on social media (you can use the #IMadeYourClothes hashtag) or their own blog platforms, using technology to reach out and start transparent conversations, building up relevant relationships despite a sometimes distant production. Fashion is made by people to people, and we should always remind each other that the power to change the industry for the better is in our hands, creating meaningful professional relationships and forming a transparent community.
Think Slow (Fashion)
Fast-fashion conglomerates might teach us a lot about speed and supply chain optimisation but as the consumer demand changes, their faster and cheaper "buy more" model is becoming obsolete.
H&M was one of 5 brands to score over 60% in the Fashion Transparency Index 2019. After many controversies, the Swedish company is working hard and rethinking the fast-fashion business model, giving more transparency to its chain. Credit: Courtesy of H&M
H&M, for example, in the top 5 Transparent brands from Fashion Revolution Transparency Index, is leading a new path to update the fast-fashion model and making it more sustainable. They have announced a trial for vintage selling online, for example, and a full transparency disclosure on 47 of their online markets, informing the piece's production country, supplier names, factory names and addresses as well as the number of workers in the factories. The information will be available in store as well, as long as customers download the app and scan the special hangtag.
Actions like that help the customer to make more informed and sustainable choices, making the shopping process thoughtful instead of impulsive -- a very important step to slow the pace of fashion consumption.
Collaborate and Share Knowledge
It's OK to feel lost towards the incredible speed changing the fashion industry and its business model. As a community made of several different workers, from textile suppliers to fashion designers and seamstresses, converters and other professionals, there are countless ways of supporting each other. Fashion Revolution is one of them, making the transparency demand heard across the globe.
Collaborations can be a great way to start implementing more sustainability into the chain. Adidas, for example, started going green in 1989, and although they are very independent in their sustainable efforts -- being, in fact, one of the 10 more sustainable corporations in the world --, the brand doesn't always do it alone: the German brand has collaborated with Parley for the Oceans, creating trainers from recycled plastic waste found in the oceans.
How could you incorporate more sustainable collaborations to make a greener impact in the fashion industry? You could start with sourcing suppliers that offer new options for your business, and talk to them to check out their working practices and conditions. Sign up to our platform and discover more on how to grow your sustainable community.