To be honest with you, I’ve been sitting on the idea for this blog post for quite a while; it’s taken me a while to come to grips with what I want to say and how to discuss a topic which I’m still learning about as well as address it in relation to Wild Strings!
About a month ago, I travelled down to London to attend the Sustainable Fabrics Forum which is run by The Sustainable Angle. It was a really great and inspiring event, packed full of great sustainable fabric options, interesting people and informative seminars with some of the sustainable scene’s front-runners. For me, it was eye-opening, especially when it comes to transparency, and the lack thereof within the industry.
Transparency issues are something I’ve been mildly aware of, especially when reading about sustainability in fashion and it is widely discussed in impact blogs and by organisations like Fashion Revolution who frequently undertake a transparency index report and encourage customers to ask ‘who made my clothes?’ , but I had never really grasped the importance of it. To be honest with you (and in the spirit of transparency) I still don’t; the fashion industry is such a huge beast and it’s so easy to take people at their ‘eco-conscious collection’ headline and or bury your head in the sand because it is a huge problem, and it can get totally overwhelming once you start thinking about it!
In this article, I’m going to try my best to explain transparency and why it’s important, as well as what you and I can do to improve it…fingers crossed!
So, what is transparency?
The Oxford English Dictionary offers four meanings for the word; the one which most fits this discussion is ‘the quality of something that allows someone to see the truth easily’.
Within in the fashion industry it means having an easily traceable supply chain which follows the fabric all the way from fibre to finished garment, as well as an openness about which factories are being used and the working conditions of any employees working in the supply chain. Sounds easy right?
It should be, but most brands aren’t. Some are transparent about their first-tier factory, where the final product is cut out and put together, but fail to trace the fabric from source, or these factories slyly outsource production to other factories which have poor working conditions and unsustainable practices…and goodness knows what’s going on behind the opaque doors of those who refuse to disclose anything about their supply chain.
Sometimes, companies themselves (including brands like Tom Ford and Max Mara, which both scored 0% on the 2019 Transparency Index) are clueless to their own supply chain and this is the real problem; “Major brands are disclosing very little information their purchasing practices, which means that we still don't have visibility into what brands are doing to be responsible business partners to their suppliers."
It’s not all bad though, there are some great brands out there who are flying the transparency flag including Everlane, a US based company which spend months finding the best factories around the world and believe customers have the right to know what their products cost to make and where they were made. They reveal their true costs and share the factory and production stories behind each piece of clothing.
Another great brand is A.BCH, who’s founder Courtney Holm was featured on Claire Press’ podcast Wardrobe Crisis. They have some great techniques which highlight the transparency of the brand – it is a great, really interesting episode which I recommend you give a listen!
Why do we need it though?
The bottom line is that transparency and traceability are key to reducing the fashion industry’s environmental impact. How are we supposed to reduce carbon emissions, water consumption and textile waste, if we don’t even know what we’re using in the first place…?
Each piece of clothing you buy has an impact on the environment and social conditions but the industry can’t put anything quantifiable to each garment without knowing where the fibre was grown or produced, where the fabric was woven, how it was distributed, where the garment was produced and how it’s shipped between factories, warehouses and the consumer. As Cortney Holm says “Transparency frames everything, because without that there is not a need to improve, or to look within”.
Unfortunately, as Fashion Revolution highlight in the 2019 Transparency Index “we don’t know enough about the impact our clothing has on people and planet” and transparency is a key tool in transforming this.
What are Wild Strings doing?
After hearing a lot about transparency and traceability at last month’s forum and finding out more since, I have been brainstorming ideas and working on lots of new things to make the brand more transparent and honest!
It is sometimes difficult, as a one-woman band, to see the bigger picture as I spend a lot of time living and working in the now! Developing the brand to focus on upcycling also throws up some issues when working on traceability, as I’m often working with old clothes which already have a supply chain all of their own, most of which is impossible to trace.
This doesn’t mean, however, that I’m giving up on transparency and being honest as a brand and with our customers! I have been developing new labels and tracking information which tells you more about your garment and where it’s come from, including the charity, how much your garment has donated and how much time it has taken to create. I may not be able to give you a start to finish chain for the original garment, but I can do my best to give you it’s supply chain and production process after it comes into our hands!
Not only does this mean that the garment will hold more information when you purchase it, it will help at the inevitable end of the fabric’s life, meaning that it will be easier to recycle and put back into the production chain.
I hope this process will also make people more aware about how much time and quality goes into each garment. It is important to open consumers eyes to where their money goes, and that when they purchase a garment, hours and hours of work have gone into their clothes and that usually more pennies equal higher quality.
As the brand grows, and I get more savvy, we’ll be putting more and more honest practices into place, but for now; look out for our new labelling system and social posts about our fabric origins!
But, what can I do?
For a lot of people, the whole concept of traceability is far away and unrelatable – but it’s not! Every time you ask a question or share an experience, your forcing brands to rethink and refine their processes. The Transparency Index highlights that, as consumers, “we have the right to know that our money is not supporting exploitation, human rights abuses and environmental destruction” and have real power to change retail habits.
So, some quick tips:
Ask questions and be curious – ask the brand you're buying from where their fabric comes from or find out whether they are translucent or opaque about their supply chain!
Vote with your money – at the end of the day, companies want your money, so shop around and find those places who are transparent or on their way to show them your support.
Shop local – often (although not always) small, local brands have a smaller supply chain and smaller emissions as they source locally and are more knowledgeable about where their supply comes from. Not only are you supporting improvements in the wider industry, you’re also supporting your local economy!
Transparency and honesty are key to changing the way the fashion industry impacts our planet socially and environmentally. There is huge room for change and improvement, but those brands are out there for you to find and support – follow in the footsteps of Fashion Revolution and...