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  • Sophia Toomb

Supply Chain Transparency & Traceability

Sustainability—a word that has become more of a trend than a term that is understood. As environmentally and socially responsible practices have become imperative to the new consumer, brands have started using terms such as “sustainable, eco-friendly, and ethical” to describe new product or collection launches to help promote more “environmentally responsible initiatives” within their company. Hello, greenwashing *eye rolls.*

*Greenwashing: a marketing tactic used my brands to deceptively promote environmentally friendly initiatives, when in reality the claims show no evidence of validity.*

So, what is the actual definition of “sustainable?” According to Merriam Webster, sustainable means “capable of being sustained” with ‘sustained’ meaning—maintained at length without interruption or weakening (Merriam Webster). Seems like that doesn’t translate exactly the way we use it when describing environmentally friendly apparel brands. Carrie Ellen Phillips, founder of BPCM— a global communications and consulting agency specializing in sustainability— says that “sustainable fashion doesn’t exist, only impactful or mindful fashion.” Impact holds more meaning than sustainable because there can be quantifiable data that you can measure, hold as benchmarks, and track progress. Sustainability means nothing when there is no data to back up these claims. How does a brand prove their true environmental and socially responsible initiatives? Transparency and traceability.

In order to gain the trust of the consumer, brands must be transparent across their entire supply chain. We want to know what type of materials brands are using, where they are sourcing from, how much water and energy they are using in their manufacturing process, who is making the clothes, how much they are being paid, what type of working conditions are being provided, if there are recycling properties, the ways they are offsetting their carbon footprint, if they are adopting a closed loop supply chain—the list goes on. All of this data is important and necessary to really understand the backbone of a brand and their sustainability claims. Don’t be easily fooled by blanketed and vague terms that are slapped on a brand’s website saying they use “ethical manufacturing processes” when they don’t explain where their factories are, if there are any social compliance certifications (such as SA8000), and if their workers are being paid a living wage.

A supply chain must also be traceable. This means we should be able to see the origin of the garment and all the steps in between. As an example, for a cotton t-shirt, this means knowing where the cotton was sourced, where it was cleaned and spun, where the shirt itself was constructed, how it got to the customer, and my personal favorite, where the shirt goes at the end-of-life if the brand has adopted recycling properties or a take-back program.

It is inspiring to see how brands are thoroughly adopting transparency and traceability across the supply chain, and talking about it! No brand is completely perfect, but personally, I rather know about the brand’s shortcoming and how they are working towards combatting their problems rather than hiding them. It helps us keep the brand accountable, as well as gaining their trust long-term. A few examples I like to reference as brands being very transparent is Boyish Jeans and Girlfriend Collective. They leave no stone unturned. More recently, Allbirds launched a new apparel collection—introducing impact tags. On each of their garments, they measure out their carbon footprint, so you know how much CO2 emissions were used to make the clothing item you are wearing. Side note: the closer to zero the better.

It’s time to hold brands accountable for their sustainability claims. Do the research, ask questions, email them, and find out what is true vs. a vague cover-up. If we want change, we must demand change.

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