If we closely scrutinise the environmental and ethical impact of fashion as a whole, we can see what a shocking picture it is. How can you tell ethical clothing brands from unethical ones? Some garment manufacturers have raised the standard, but how do we know who they are? More importantly, how can we identify if a green claim is actually true?
The co-founders of an initiative called Project JUST, Natalie Grillon and Shahd Al Shehail, recognised this need to empower the customer with accurate facts about their fashion choices. They wanted a way to link the fashion buyer to workers and farmers producing the raw materials for their clothes. Thus the concept of Project JUST was born. I caught up with them and discovered more about the platform and how it works.
What is Project JUST about?
Natalie and Shahd started Project JUST as a forum to improve the transparency of the fashion industry by reporting about the ethics and operations of different brands. Their ultimate aim? To advocate the benefits of making ethical choices to customers, in turn, promoting sustainable and ethical fashion as a whole.
If you take a look at the Project JUST website, you will quickly notice that it is a wiki for ethical clothing brands. All the brands listed have their supply chain information available. Reports trace the entire journey of a piece of clothing, citing both the positives and negatives through objective and transparent research into the product. The website also has JUST approved brand lists in various categories, that help consumers to make informed eco decisions when they shop.
How does Project JUST work?
The team’s research on a brand starts with publicly available information from company and third-party sources. They compile information on various aspects like the size of the company and business model, transparency, labour conditions, environment and innovation. The entire category list can be seen here. Apart from information on the internet, the team also refers to industry reports and looks into all investigative data on the brand. They also verify the information collected.
Based on this research, they answer a list of ethically significant questions. Project JUST uses this to create a comprehensive picture of the brand. Finally, they summarise the results into a document that is later uploaded to the brand page. Even after this is done, the team keeps tabs on the brands and updates reports as is necessary.
This task of compiling and verifying information isn’t as easy as it sounds. To keep reports fair and comprehensive, the JUST team has to be objective and transparent in their research. With transparency, consumers and the industry receive more information that they can use to judge for themselves.
How does Project JUST help consumers?
Project JUST is the information destination for consumers who want to ensure their fashion choices are ethical. Buyers can dig deeper into supply chain practices and view all the details about different brands and make informed choices. After all, consumer choices directly impact industry standards.
Nonetheless, nobody has the power to dictate these choices. The JUST team believes that telling someone they can’t do something and not offering reasonable alternatives is not a recipe for success. And while ethical alternatives do exist, there will always be issues with availability, price and size, so JUST encourage customers to make the effort to be informed and do the best they can with each decision. This way, consumers can enjoy the choice of making ethical fashion purchases. While these individual decisions may initially seem small, they soon gain serious significance as they accumulate from one, to tens, to thousands of consumers. Small buying decisions quickly have a big impact.
When the majority of customers consistently make wise choices, sustainability and fair practices will no longer be an ‘alternative’ option, but will soon become an industry standard.
How to be certified by Project JUST?
Regardless of certification, Project JUST encourages brands to publish available information, and encourages greater transparency. Whether you are an upcoming or existing eco-brand, you can apply for a JUST certification. However, to be on the JUST approved list in a particular category, you should meet their criteria like business transparency, environmental impact, employee working standards and sustainability of the product. To start the process, you can self-submit at this link and they will follow-up. There is a high demand right now, so expect delays before you are contacted.
Challenges faced by Project JUST and their new membership scheme.
One of the biggest factors that still surprises the JUST team is the extent of green-washing in the fashion industry. They say there is a lot of fuzziness, even among ethical brands, which is very problematic. Brands who claim to be superior in their standards need to prove it with more than just photos. Instead, they should demonstrate their commitment to suppliers, how they calculate wages and openly talk about their environmental technologies and partners.
To me, the concept and vision of Project JUST is revolutionary. They unite the power of the manufacturer and consumer.
Project JUST refuse to take payment from companies and investment groups. They rely solely on the donations of the public, and the hard work of voluntary researchers across the globe who work in professions ranging from fashion marketing to law. Without unbiased funding, Project JUST may not be able to continue to provide objective research and reporting. It would be a huge setback for the ethical fashion movement to lose such a valuable champion, sifting out the real game-changers from the green-washers. For that reason we are strongly supporting their cause and urge you to consider signing up to their membership. As well as providing invaluable financial support you will receive special information on ethical shopping, discounts on approved brands, and new research reports. Are you interested? Find out details and sign up to the scheme here.