Yolanda del Valle-Buetefuer
Sustainable Fashion Writer and Editor
When Indeefactor set out to develop a Ranking System to rate and review fashion brands against transparency and sustainability it had two intentions in mind; helping brands be more visible as well as relate to the needs of an ever growing socially conscious fashion consumer market.
The Ranking System needed to have a strong element of being uncomplicated, direct and transparent itself as well as being people and planet focused while incorporating the factors related to circularity while supporting a thriving economy.
And so IndeeFactor turned to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action as the most credible sources and benchmarks, directly aligning with their ideas and considerations around every SDG principle relating to people, planet, animals, circularity, and the economy. Each principal cross referenced 5 core areas into a further 25 principals which will be amended over time to maintain significant application.
According to Chris Yong, CEO of IndeeFactor, ‘our mission is to be the platform of choice for transparent and relevant information to consumers. And it’s not just for education purposes, but more importantly to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions. This is playing our part to contribute to achieving a sustainable earth. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals in particular, is such a comprehensive framework which has the potential for significant impact to end deep rooted issues such as poverty, enabling health and education, reducing inequality and spurring economic growth’.
CEO and Co-Founder of IndeeFactor Chris Yong
Founder of IndeeFactor Adam Baodunnov
For Adam A. Baodunnov, CMO and Founder of IndeeFactor, ‘it’s simply about doing good…it’s no longer about talking. COVID-19 has shown us how fragile our humanity, environment and economy is. There’s tons of politics about who is right and who is wrong, who should pay for environmental damage. We are all losers here. There’s so much sophisticated interest driven political talk and soulless big corporate business, I just want to be part of something simple, clear and good’.
Adam’s comments certainly resonate with The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change which was utilized based on the Paris Agreement which acknowledges that ‘human activity is causing global average temperatures to rise at unprecedented rates.’ The FICCC clearly states that fashion stakeholders have a ‘significant role in reducing climate emissions resulting from their operations’ with the awareness that most of the negative climate impact comes from manufacturing of products and materials in this industry.
That every company within fashion, retail, and the textile global chain regardless of their location and size are now responsible to take action that will result in a ‘measurable reduction’ in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
According to Business Insider, the fashion industry produces 10% of the planet’s carbon emissions, is the second largest consumer of the worlds water supply, drying up water sources and polluting rivers and streams. We know it contributes to 35% of microplastics in our oceans. It is by far the most wasteful industry with 85% of fashion ending up as waste. The statistics and the long unsustainable practices list keeps going.
It is the largest employer of women of any industry both in production manufacturing and retail and yet it is plagued with human rights abuses. To the point that in April 2020 when $40 billion of fashion orders were cancelled in response to store closures and fear of lost profits, many suppliers were forced to close and fashion makers wore the heaviest burden and still do during the pandemic. This has been the worst industrial outcome of the pandemic with such dire human costs, and is still a daily issue for fashion makers in developing countries.
And so IndeeFactor’s perspective (to borrow a term) is a ‘Build Back Better’ approach.
The FICCC signatories have affirmed their commitment not only to support movement towards circular business models, but to establish closer dialogue with consumers to increase awareness about GHG emissions due to production, use and end of life phases of fashion. To also influence consumers to reduce environmental impacts and extend the life of fashion product life by the conscious choices they make.
IndeeFactor identified early on the immense power that consumers have in influencing a reduction of GHG emissions within the fashion industry. Consumers who hear the right message, given brand transparency and an opportunity to engage as a conscious consumer via an independent, objective ranking system have the power to drive a significant shift away from GHG emissions.
Each brand now has a responsibility to shift their negative impact on social, environmental, and economic factors to a positive business framework which impacts us all.
Ranking is just one of the IndeeFactor objectives. Collaboration and partnering with brands while supporting them as they transition to transparent sustainable practices is also seen as an internal industry stakeholder responsibility.
As we transition to a circular and more sustainable fashion industry brands who don’t transition or don’t transition well will be lost along the way. The transition process is one which requires commitment and a long-term plan with a ‘how do we do better for people, planet, animals, circularity and economics’ problem-solving approach as the core business focus now.
There is no other way now to do business as we move forward in this industry. Brands don’t have a choice. Consumer pressure to become more socially responsible and transparent will mean those brands that don’t transition will lose market share and be left behind.
The industry no longer is about predominantly being ‘on-trend’. What infact is on-trend is how the planet is travelling due to our over consumption and our take-make-waste economic model. The real cost of fashion is finally front and center and is now driving the industry.
Simply and alarmingly after this week’s 2021 UN International Panel for Climate Change report, there is too much at stake. The planet is warming at a greater rate than Climate Scientists expected meaning we’ll miss the 2030 target and be behind our target of temperature reduction of 1.5 deg. This now has potential to see disruption over all industries in every country putting supply chains in further continual risk with a devastating impact on communities across the globe.
Fashion brands are now either ‘just’ a fashion brand or a sustainable fashion brand. The future looks bleak for those who don’t transition. If your favorite fashion brand or online store does not have an authentic sustainable branding position niche or message which they can back up with real data before your eyes, then to put it bluntly they are ‘yesterday’.
The latest range of lockdown loungewear for example with no fabric composition story, no supply chain transparency, no providence of where the cotton was produced, no information who made it, where the factory was from, what local communities where impacted. Doesn’t cut it with the conscious consumer anymore. This brand doesn’t have a unique buyer proposition edge.
Another brand label with a similar looking loungewear design with sustainable transparency will have done their research. They will have connected with the right suppliers, the right makers, they’ll know the pay rates of the staff and the working conditions, because they’ll have the industry body certifications, they would have been on facetime with the factory manager in real time who walked them through the factory. They may have even had a chat to one of their makers.
These brands see their roles as Brand Manager/Advocates having duty of care and the good one’s practice this over every aspect of their business. It’s the new generation of conscious brand managers and these are the ones that give us hope because they’re pushing the boundaries and they’ll take with them those who want to collaborate for the greater good.
That’s the new circular economy, it’s where everyone along the supply chain thrives because it’s a far more sustainable model and it’s far better for the planet on so many levels.
The Signatories of The Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action have committed to developing strategies and plans with other stakeholders, brands and supply chains to advocate for sustainable developments and to communication a shared vision through common strategy and messaging.
Both consumers and brands have enormous power to make a positive impact, however there is so much work to be done when the reality is ‘a lack of visibility of supply chains that allows exploitative, unsafe working conditions and environmental damage to thrive, while obscuring who owns the responsibility and power to redress these issues’ according to Fashion Transparency Index 2021.
As mentioned the IndeeFactor Ranking System has 5 indicators, people, planet, animals, circularity and economics. We now know that when our economic models are based on putting the needs of people and planet first this drives employment, local economies, and economic growth. And that has to be the most exciting component of the way forward to transparency and great sustainable models.
According to Fashion United, the current value of the global fashion industry is worth 3 trillion dollars. Women are the predominant workers in the fashion industry both here in Australia and globally. If women in developing nations where paid a fair wage rather than being exploited within this industry, we would not have 50% of the world’s population needing to be pulled out of poverty. To have fashion makers engaged in work and still be living under the poverty line where payment only allows for survival is unacceptable.
According to Fashion Revolution Transparency Index 2021, 97% of big fashion brands don’t know how many of their supply chain workers received no pay, late pay or lost their jobs due to COVID. For big brands to turn a blind eye is unconscionable and irresponsible. It is never good business when workers are paid unfairly or unfairly treated and it won’t be tolerated as we demand more sustainable transparency.
Consumer awareness campaigns from IndeeFactor and organizations such as Fashion Revolution will continue to put a spotlight on these human rights abuses. Therefore, we must know who made our clothes, are our makers receiving not just a minimum wage but a fair wage, full and productive and decent employment with equal pay for work of equal value, are their labour rights protected, are they freely allowed to participate in unions, and have safe and secure working environments…the list goes on.
As we have arrived at our critical point on this planet, according to the Fashion Transparency Index 2021, only 30% of brands where able to understand the term material ‘sustainability.’ 26% of fashion brands published ‘scienced based’ sustainable targets. 62% of brands disclosed annual carbon footprint figures from internal or retail locations. However, only 17% of brands where able to disclose the carbon footprint at raw material level. In terms of harmful chemicals, 42% of brands published a restricted substance list, while 31% of brands disclosed progress towards eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals.
The negative impacts which the fashion industry has created for the environment is an extensive list, the issues for transitioning continue to be;
Strategies and progress for the switch to more sustainable materials.
Strategies and progress for the reduction of the use of virgin plastics.
Processes by brands to reduce the impact of microfibre from synthetic fabrics.
Strategies and progress on reducing the use of hazardous chemicals, water footprint within the supply chain, water risk assessments, material fibre providence, over consumption and waste.
One of the great tragedies of the fashion industry is the negative impact on animals and ocean life. As consumers, knowing how animals within our supply chain are looked after is something we cannot turn a blind eye to. It is vital to the sustainability of good farming and good practices.
Showing kindness and animal welfare protection is equal to any ethical standard within the industry. According to Animal Welfare in Fashion 2020, ‘The New Normal’, only 38% of fashion brands considered animal welfare risks when purchasing within the fashion supply chain. Only 1 in 4 fashion brands have a formal animal welfare policy in place to help safeguard animals from risks within the supply chain.
Of the 35% who do have an animal welfare policy, more than half demonstrated no evidence of knowing anything about the animal-based products they sourced. Only 21% where able to be transparent about where their animal-based wool or down came from. We have a responsibility to care for the creatures we share the planet with.
The micro-plastic issue in our oceans has reached an alarmingly unprecedented level, where micro-plastics are now becoming part of our food chain. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 35% of ocean micro-plastics come from synthetic textiles such as polyester and nylon.
Both fibres take approximately 200 years to break down in land fill and yet they’re ending up in our waterways, rivers and oceans as microplastics are being washed out in the clothes washing process.
According to the UN Environment Programme 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans every year, causing an estimated $13 billion of economic damage to global marine ecosystems.
The most significant challenge the fashion industry is now facing is tackling the ever-growing excessive fashion waste problem with 85% of fashion becoming waste. Much of this is fast fashion, made cheaply with synthetics which continue to be harmful for decades.
Circularity’s three core principles are to eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems. However, according to Fashion Revolution Transparency Index 2021, although 27% of major brands in 2021 where able to explain development of circular solutions that enable recycling only 3% of brands published the percentage of their products which are designed to enable circularity, 8 brands in total.
These findings indicate brands have minimal knowledge as to the waste created within their supply chains and appears the circularity processes are not being fully utilized suggesting there is more to unpack for brands to move to circularity. Again, transparency would provide a better picture to the many questions raised by the data here.
As we move away from the take-make-waste economic model that finds us where we are today, the roadmap forward for the fashion industry is for a transition over to the circular economy.
Investors now are increasingly focused on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda and those publicly traded businesses that can’t demonstrate increasingly positive ESG progress are rapidly falling out of favour.
To put it simply the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states transitioning to a circular economy is ‘about environmental transformation, social equity while reducing business risk’. Over the coming weeks IndeeFactor will highlight the positive impact that fashion is having within the Circular Economy.
The IndeeFactor value system is built around doing things better and sharing great news stories. There are many out there, however we really do need to face the reality and rebuild the industry with the many brands who have already started that process.
The IdeeFactor Ranking System endeavours to analyse brands, correct misconceptions both internally for IndeeFactor and externally, put a spotlight on harmful business practices using the rank system alongside well researched industry data while supporting brands in their transition journey.
Fashion is no longer about, ‘what can this piece do for me?’ A piece of fashion tells a critical story of where we are at on this planet right now. Not just as whole communities but as individuals. It’s time to look internally and ask, ‘what’s important to me?’. ‘What’s important to the people I love and care about?’
There are so many good stories, and we can’t wait to tell them, however, the reality is…we are all responsible and together we’re very powerful on the road to a significant turn of direction.
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