This is the age of fast fashion: unsustainable and ugly. If they weren’t already, tragedies like the collapse of the Bangladeshi garment factory, Rana Plaza, have opened our eyes to worker exploitation in the fashion industry – to the ugly side of fashion. I’m thrilled to see more and more buyers going to great lengths to ensure their clothes are created ethically, and to really understand “Who Makes My Clothes?”.
With a heightened awareness of ethics in the fashion industry, it’s becoming ever-more important for designers and brands to understand and embrace “Supply Chain Transparency” for the success and reputation of their business. Here’s a quick look at what supply transparency actually means, some great tools you can use to help you become more visible and some examples of amazing brands leading the way forward in this shift.
What is supply chain transparency?
Would you be surprised to hear that many brands do not even know who makes their clothes?
Fashion is a labour-intensive industry, and, in the majority of cases, driven by profit. There are many things that go on behind the scenes during the production of a fashion item, and unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for labour exploitation and unethical practices to happen at any stage. Unless brands and designers examine their product cycle closely, they may never know if the materials they use in their products were made in an exploitative way.
Supply chain transparency refers to the extent to which information about a company, including it’s suppliers, sourcing locations and services, are made available to customers. By providing access to such information, you allow your consumer to validate the origins of your product before they buy it.
Why is it important?
Movements like Fashion Revolution Day educate the public on how brands may resort to cheap labour practices, natural resource exploitation and other unsustainable methods to increase profits. As an ethical designer or brand, you are socially responsible for every aspect of your product. Transparency helps you ensure that you aren’t even remotely responsible for tragedies like Rana Plaza. When you are aware of what goes on in every step of production, you demonstrate your commitment to the environment and your fellow humans. This improves your brand reputation and increases the appeal of your products.
How can you make your supply chain transparent?
If you look around, you will find that many big brands have already adopted supply chain transparency and traceability. Patagonia, for example, uses creative story-telling to communicate what goes on in their supply chain.
Conscious consumers appreciate this access to detailed information on the farming, production, transportation, and even sales of a product. To gain the favor of such customers, you can showcase your commitment to transparency.
There are tools that will help you compile and document all the relevant information about the origins of your products. Some of the useful ones are:
- Sourcemap: a repository where you can store and share your end-to-end supply chain data. It also allows you to analyse your risks, generate reports, and optimise your options.
- Caretrace: allows you to tell the story of your product by tracing it to where it comes from and the impact it has on the community that created it.
- Cotton Connect: is a valuable resource for brands sourcing cotton as a raw material. It allows you to not only map your cotton supply chain, but it also connects you to sustainable and reliable cotton sources.
- QR Code labels: why not allow customers to obtain instant information about the origins of a product when they shop in-store. Just like Laura Siegel, here, her product details are tied to a square graphic on the label. When this graphic is scanned with a smart phone, it directs the buyer to the source-map of the product.
Challenges In Implementing Supply Chain Transparency
One of the main concerns in implementing supply chain transparency is how it will affect your competitive advantage. When you reveal important information about your suppliers and other production details, you may worry that others will steal your ideas and suppliers.
Bruno Peters, owner of the brand HonestBy, believes that this concern shouldn’t prevent you from disclosing your product information. According to him, you will have to adapt to transparency one day when it becomes mandatory anyway, so you might as well start right away.
Just take a look at this page on the HonestBy website. It’s astonishing just how much information they provide to their customers on every product. From tracing the fabric to its source, to itemised costs of everything up to the safety pin that holds the label, every supplier detail is available for scrutiny.
Sandya Lang of Nudie Jeans suggests that a good brand will be able to establish a mutual trust with their suppliers over time. This advantage will help you stay ahead of the competition, even if your competitors approach the same suppliers based on the information you disclosed. Nevertheless, Nudie Jeans, while providing their product locations and supplier information, chooses to keep development work and price discussions confidential in order to stay ahead of such predatory competitors. Here’s more on their move to traceability.
You may be worried about disclosing certain information about your product, especially if there are issues you have yet to address. However, remember that more and more consumers are learning to judge a brand’s credibility based on how transparent it is, and so as long as you highlight your commitment to addressing the negative aspects of your product cycle, your consumers will appreciate your honesty and back you up.
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