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Supply chain traceability is a pre-requisite for transparency. Today’s consumers increasingly expect companies to be transparent about how, where and by whom their products are made. In a culture where social media often drives the consumer dialogue, not addressing these expectations can have a direct impact on a company’s brand value.

Orsola de Castro is the co-founder of Fashion Revolution. She shares her perspective on the need for brand transparency and the growing interest from consumers in how, where and by whom their clothes are made.

The 1,134 garment workers who died in the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 knew before the collapse that their working conditions were unsafe but were told to keep working. At the time of the disaster and in subsequent days, very few brands knew whether or not they had garments being made there. Activists sifted through the rubble, looking for evidence such as labels and tags for signs of malpractice.

Transparency can play a role in preventing situations like this happening again because it brings another layer of accountability by documenting where and how clothes are made.

The Fashion Revolution movement was born out of this tragedy. Since then, consumer interest in brand transparency has snowballed, and Fashion Revolution has grown to become the biggest fashion activism movement in the world, with more than 250 million people alone reached online in April 2018. This was accomplished by merely asking, #whomademyclothes, encouraging consumers to connect with fashion supply chain workers and producers. This simple first step catapulted the conversation on transparency, visibility and holding brands accountable into the spotlight. The hashtag became a runaway success, with 3,838 brands rushing to post #imadeyourclothes in the same month.

Transparency is a key way for brands to communicate with their customers about their sustainability efforts and an essential part of consumers making more informed choices. When we are equipped with more, better quality, credible information about the human and environmental impact of the clothes we buy, we can make informed choices. Now more than ever, with social media often driving the consumer dialogue, transparency can have a direct impact on a company’s brand value. Sharing information more openly is an opportunity to build trust in the brands we buy.

Without a shared mission, we will fail.

Making transparency the new norm

Transparency is visibility. We need a fashion industry that better understands its own inner workings and that respects its manufacturers. We need a clear, uninterrupted line of vision from origin to disposal to foster dignity, empowerment and justice for the people who make our clothes and to protect the environment we all share. This represents the first step in creating a culture of scrutiny and vigilance because transparency does not necessarily lead to best practices. It does, however, lead us towards a deeper understanding of the supply chain, promoting a visibility that can save lives and protect our environment.

In the past few years we have seen a huge increase in consumers who believe that brands should disclose their manufacturers and the origin of their raw materials. We have also seen a marked increase in brands publishing their first and second tier manufactures. In the 2018 edition of the Fashion Transparency Index, which reviews 150 of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers and ranks them according to their level of disclosure on their social and environmental policies, practices and impact, we saw an overall, five percent increase in transparency. In general brands and retailers have a higher index score for reporting their policies and commitment compared to their practices and impact which needs to be improved to reap the full benefits of transparency.

It is only through transparent practices, where we can learn from each other, sharing relevant data and information, and comparing our efforts that we can reach a common objective to operate truly sustainably. However, too often, brands and manufacturers operate alone and in a fragmented way, leading to inefficiency and opaqueness, permitting a system in which human rights and environmental abuses are hidden, as was the case with the Rana Plaza disaster.

Without a shared mission, we will fail; unnecessary tragedies will continue to occur. If we do not break barriers and innovate, not just technologically but also regarding our attitudes, we will not achieve our goals for a better, more sustainable industry. Rigorous, shared disclosure will accelerate efforts to improve working conditions and ultimately improve lives across the entire supply chain. It will also increase economic efficiency, which in turn will lead to opportunities to apply savings for the benefit of people across the supply chain in most need. Consumers will be able to purchase garments with a clear conscience, knowing that they are helping, not hurting, the people who made them.

The fashion industry has an obligation to lead. It encompasses not only many other industries, such as agriculture, transport and technology, but also affects 100% of the population – its negative impact and its potential to make things better are enormous. That’s why, after transparency, we need change. In a nutshell, we need to put theory into practice, we need to act on our principles, and we need to remove the barriers preventing radical change from taking place.

Global Fashion Agenda has reached out to industry leaders to get their perspective on the priorities in the CEO Agenda and how to get closer to solutions. The think pieces are a reflection of their personal or organisation’s approach to the issues and do not necessarily state or reflect the opinions and views of Global Fashion Agenda and its Strategic Partners.