Transparency transformation: A focus on the fashion ecosystem

September 28, 2021
by: Lindsey Hermes

With the world in a state of flux due to Covid, even the strongest brands are scrambling to cope with constant change and disruption. Companies in every industry have been forced to transform digitally and operationally, all while being more transparent and sustainable. The challenges are never-ending, but in the fashion industry in particular, supply chains are notoriously complex and opaque. However, there is a rich ecosystem of organisations that are helping to address challenges in the industry. Here, we profile some of them. This isn't an exhaustive list, so log your favorite fashion-focused partners in the comments. 

Driving change in fashion 

Since the 2013 Rana Plaza incident, many brands have realised what is at stake is trust. This trust - from consumers to investors - impacts brand reputation, share of wallet, and loyalty -- all driven from the lack of ethical production practices.This has reignited a conversation about the social responsibility of clothing companies. Amidst the adversity, though, there have been some positive outcomes. 

Fashion Revolution, for example, was founded in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster and it is now one of the world’s largest fashion activism movements. Their Fashion Transparency Index aims to incentivise and push leading brands to be more transparent about their policies and supply chain. 

Clean Clothes Campaign is an international organisation advocating against human rights violations and environmental damages. The industry has seen a growing number of sustainable initiatives and ethical trade practices because of this organisation. 

Fashion for Good is the global initiative to make fashion a force for positive change. They scale innovation, offer practical action in the form of support, funding and roadmaps, and foster sector-wide collaboration rather than competition. 

Supplier Apparel Coalition (SAC) is an industry-wide group of brands, retailers, manufacturers, non-governmental organizations, academic experts, and government organizations working together to develop tools like the Higg Index, that enables facilities of all sizes, at every stage in their sustainability journey, to standardise measurement of value chain sustainability.

Apparel Impact Institute (AII) aggregates brands, manufacturers and industry stakeholders to select, fund and scale high-impact projects that improves the sustainability outcomes of the apparel and footwear industry. At Serai we recently hosted a webinar, “In search of sustainability: The apparel supply chain of the future,” with AII’s President, Lewis Perkins. You can watch the full recording of the webinar here.

The Open Apparel Registry (OAR) is an open source tool which maps garment facilities worldwide and assigns a unique ID number to each. It is a go-to source for identifying apparel facilities and their affiliations by collating disparate supplier lists from industry stakeholders into one central, open source map and database.

MOTIF provides online learning experiences focused on apparel specifically. Important course topics include supply chain management,  3D design and sustainability, plus training on fundamental, technical, business and creative skills. Tomorrow’s leaders need a foundational understanding of these core competencies in order to impact transformation at all levels of a company, which bring us to the next NGO.

Redress is a Hong Kong-based NGO with a mission to promote environmental sustainability in Asia’s fashion industry by reducing textile waste, pollution, water and energy consumption. Like MOTIF, Redress takes activism to students and young professionals on a few channels, from education to design competitions. 

Governments, too, have their say

There are numerous government bodies and regulators who are actively involved. One such law was recently passed by Germany - the German Supply Chain Act (Lieferkettengesetz) requires companies with over 3000 employees to prove that there is no forced labour in their supply chain. 

France has a law in place since February 2017, known as The French Devoir de Vigilance law, which applies to companies headquartered in France that employ at least 5,000 employees in the country, or at least 10,000 employees worldwide to publish and implement a vigilance plan to prevent serious violations of human rights, fundamental freedoms, the health and safety of people and the environment, and must also publish annual implementation reports.

Australia and UK’s  Modern Slavery Act passed in 2018 and 2015 respectively, to establish minimum standards of transparency in supply chains in relation to modern slavery and human trafficking.

Also there will be an upcoming European Supply Chain law, draft will be introduced before the end of 2021, with agreement between the Parliament, Commission, and Council expected in 2022. The EU Parliament states that, while companies have a duty to respect human rights and the environment, it is the responsibility of states and governments to protect human rights and the environment.

Digitally-savvy, selective consumers

The global fashion market  is expected to grow from US$1.5 trillion in 2020 to roughly US$2.25 trillion by 2025 and 75 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable products. Consumers want to know where their clothes are made, who is making them, what is the carbon footprint and more. They are demanding visibility, traceability and transparency to farm level for their clothes. 

These organisations, and many others, are changing the fashion industry. However, further collaboration on a global scale can be extremely powerful in setting the agenda for sustainability and driving innovation and visibility. The fashion ecosystem has the potential to deliver the positive economic and environmental impacts that both brands and their consumers need. We can expect these trends to remain, if not increase, and having an awareness of the key players in the ecosystem can support the foundation of supply chain transparency in your organization. 

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