A Call for Transparency in the Fashion Industry.
Organic farming systems have been in place for decades. Yet it was only in the 1990s that organic farming standards and third-party verification of label claims began to emerge as more and more consumers became concerned with the pesticides and chemicals they would consume from non-organic food. Today, many shoppers are willing to pay a premium for organic food. Sales of organic food hit a record $43B last year, up 8.4% from the previous year according to the Organic Trade Association. This is in comparison to the 0.6% growth rate in the overall food category.
Our Skin Absorbs Much Of the Synthetics In The Fibers We Wear
While consumers remain vigilant about what they put into their bodies, what is less often considered is what we put on our bodies. US law requires brands to provide rudimentary product information such as fiber content and country of origin, yet this labeling tells us nothing about how our clothing was made and what impact it leaves on the world around us. It is important to note that our skin is our largest organ and absorbs many of the toxic pesticides and dyes that traditional fibers like conventional cotton contain.
Consumers are starting to demand transparency from fashion brands
As conscious consumers become increasingly aware of both the environmental and humanitarian impacts of supply chains worldwide, they are demanding transparency from major fashion brands. Consumer trust has eroded as issues surrounding fair labor, sustainable sourcing and the environment have come to the forefront. Information about sweatshops in the 1990s almost killed some brands as accusations of child labor and human rights abuses tainted their reputation. But still the fashion industry has been slow to provide transparency into its supply chains.
Today, consumers want to support brands that do good in the world with 66% willing to pay more for sustainable goods. 42% of millennials say they want to know what goes into products they buy and how they are made. In response, several fashion brands have committed to transparency in manufacturing. KATLA takes transparency a step further and pushes the retail industry to further illuminate their practices.
The Fashion Transparency Index
It is no secret that the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world and a major contributor of greenhouse gases. Campaign group Fashion Revolution looked at 200 major fashion brands’ social and environmental policies to develop an Index. They discovered that of the 200 brands surveyed, 55% published their annual carbon footprint on their company sites, but only 19.5% revealed carbon emissions in the supply chain - where more than half of the industry’s emissions occur. While it is good news that brands are becoming more open about their commitments and their policies, there is still a long way to go when it comes to implementing ethical and sustainable practices.
Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index has become a bellwether for the industry - an annual review of 250 of the largest fashion brands and retailers. The index reviews brands’ public disclosures on human rights and environmental issues across five key areas:
The index reviews brands’ public disclosures on human rights and environmental issues across five key areas: Policies & Commitments, Governance, Supply Chain Traceability, Know, Show and Fix and Spotlight issues (i.e. decent work, waste and circularity, gender and racial equality, sustainable sourcing of materials).
The Fashion Transparency Index Shows that Progress is Still Too Slow
The organization has found that progress on transparency in the global fashion industry among the biggest fashion brands is still too slow, with brands achieving an overall average score of just 23% in the Fashion Transparency Index 2021. Supply chain disclosure continues to improve among fashion players yet still only 47% of brands disclose their manufacturing facilities and only 27% disclose the wet processing facilities and spinning mills deep in their supply chains. Fashion Revolution global policy director Sarah Ditty said in a statement: “The world’s largest brands and retailers disclose very little about their efforts to address important topics such as poor purchasing practices, living wages, racial and gender equality, overproduction and waste, water use and carbon emissions in the supply chain.”
Transparency brings hope for the future
Despite the disappointingly slow progress from some fashion brands, there are glimmers of hope. A variety of brands including Ralph Lauren offer QR codes or tracking numbers that allow customers to learn the history behind their garments. Blockchain-based software such as Provenance, Monochain and Truepic further facilitate supply chain transparency and verification, while the platform “Good On You” ranks fashion companies based upon their eco-friendliness, labour rights, and treatment of animals. New industry certifications are emerging to verify ethical business practices and human rights responsibilities.
Just as crucial as it is for a company to ask “what needs to change and how?” is “how do we measure the change and make it stick?” The answer lies in data. Companies that seek to improve upon ethical business practices - be it diversity or lowering their carbon footprint - need to apply quantitative tools to track the baseline they are starting from and the target they are moving towards. Transparency is critical, as companies should provide visibility both to their workforces and to the public about their key objectives and progress towards meeting them.
When it Comes to Transparency, Consumers Play an Important role in Paving the Way Ahead
Independent organizations such as fashion industry “watch dogs” have an important role to play here in oversight and accountability. Yet in the end, it will be up to consumers and their collective purchasing power to provide the stamp of approval (or disapproval!) of a fashion company’s policies. To date, consumers have lacked access to full transparency required to assess fashion companies fairly. Herein lies the opportunity for fashion companies to stand out by increasing visibility about the policies and actions they are taking. Similarly, there is an opportunity for new businesses to form that specifically assess and track important ethical and environmental business practices and provide verification tools.
Katla brings promise for the future of sustainable fashion
The road ahead may be long, but fashion is taking major leaps towards embracing transparency and sustainability. From Day 1, Katla has been committed to supply chain transparency. Every Katla item has a unique tracking number that customers can input on the website to discover the origins of their item. Not only can they explore who made the fabrics, where the fabrics came from, and certifications related to the fabric, but they can also see the entire life of the garment. Customers can track the provenance of the garment to see where their garments were worn previously if the item has been resold. While there have been traceability initiatives aimed at exposing provenance or sustainability credentials, our end-to-end traceability from the moment a garment is produced is powerful in closing the loop and keeping items out of landfill.
With our transparency tool, Katla also highlights positive examples of suppliers and manufacturers. Rather than making a purely economic decision to keep our new fabrics and supply chain partners close to the chest, Katla is educating customers and the industry about a new path forward. We want customers to make informed decisions and vote for a sustainable future with their wallets.
Katla’s Partnership with Truepic is Another Step Forward in Transparency
This year, Katla partnered with Truepic, a verification platform allowing Katla to remotely and securely audit, inspect and track operations and products with authenticated images and video. This technology has been deployed in a variety of industries to advance positive social impact but this marks the first time secure media provenance has been introduced to the fashion industry. In addition to the increased transparency and efficiency, leveraging remote verifications also helps reduce Katla’s carbon footprint. Truepic helps partners reduce CO2 emissions associated with transportation and travel costs, which are replaced with authenticated inspections. Katla conservatively estimates that it will prevent the emission of 5,000 pounds of CO2 this year by minimizing transportation and leveraging Truepic’s Vision platform for operational oversight.
We Need the Public and Private Sectors to Come Together to Create a New Sustainable Paradigm
As we look ahead, it is clear that we need legislation to hold major fashion brands accountable for their impacts on people and the planet. We need stronger legislation to protect garment workers and protect against human rights abuses. We need companies to monitor and report the outcomes of their efforts and for legislation to ensure meaningful sanctions and reparations when they are not met. Both the private and public sector need to hold hands to come together and create a new sustainable and humane paradigm for our future.
We’re thrilled to be a part of the new vanguard pushing the needle forward.