In the world of transparency, no brand is an island.
In a Kingpins24 conversation, Orta Anadolu director Sedef Uncu Aki and Nikki Player, Everlane sustainable materials R&D manager, shared how partnerships like the one that exists between their companies are an essential ingredient in transparent supply chains.
Brands have been asking for traceable information and about the actions their suppliers are taking to improve their production for many years. Manufacturers, she said, are used to sharing this information. “From day one, we are saying to our customers that you can come and visit our factory, you can have a look inside of operations, ask questions about the details of the processes,” Uncu Aki said.
But in order to have comparable data and to set a minimum standard, the supply chain needs to quantify what they are doing. Life cycle assessments, she said, must be the next step going forward to create higher transparency.
“That way we can see how the total supply chain is behaving,” she said. “It’s important to really have that bigger picture, to compare the scientific performance data from one supplier to another, or from one product to another.”
For Everlane, which has recently been taken to task for internal ethical shortcomings, transparency is the first step in building an honest supply chain. “It’s the foundation that you can then build the partnerships and layer on the protocol throughout the production,” Player said.
In the near future, Player said she would like to see transparency as a requirement the way materials detail sheets are now. “We love the idea of each fabric coming with its own spec sheet of what it does for the environment and what it does for social implications from the farm through to leaving the mill,” she added.
It will require meaningful, long-term collaborations between mills and brands to push that level of information into fruition, which Player said is why Everlane seeks suppliers that share its values for transparency, high levels of social compliance, innovation and a commitment to environmental sustainability.
“We definitely have more formalized protocols around auditing, specifically within social compliance and quality at our factories right now than with our mills, but that’s something that I’m personally really excited to change,” she said. “I think it’s a lot easier for the industry to have more robust protocols around factories than mills because most brands tend to have a lot less factories and are more used to making long-term partnerships.”
Historically, Player said it’s easier for brands to make commitments to their garment manufacturers because mills and fabrics are seen as “the easiest trigger to pull” when looking for better costing. But that’s where there’s opportunity to shift how the industry works. When brands are making long-term commitments to mills and raw material suppliers, then it’s really allowing everyone in the supply chain to know that they are supported and will see investment into making positive changes, Player said.
Everlane is currently working on transparency mapping with its tier two suppliers. Player said the company is inquiring about the suppliers’ social audits, environmental certifications and their long-term plans for both. “We are really trying to make sure that we understand who we’re buying from and what they place importance on to set a baseline, and then work together to set growth plans, both for us as a brand and then with the mills that we work with,” she said.
Likewise, Orta has solid relationships with its suppliers. “We’re not switching from supplier to supplier,” Uncu Aki said. “We definitely have very long-term relationships.” And as a result, the mill is prepared to provide brands with their supplier names and all of the necessary information and certifications to verify environmental and social responsibility claims.
No level of planning or due diligence, however, could have prepared any business for the unexpectedness of the pandemic. And each company is taking away its own silver lining from the crisis.
Innovation is an industry buzzword, but Uncu Aki said the conversations at Orta have been focused on how to slow down innovation so newness has time to incubate and develop. “It’s so sad to see that most of the things that you are bringing as a company are getting lost in the middle. I see this also as waste,” she said.
Uncu Aki said she would prefer to understand a company’s “big picture” targets instead of jumping from one material to another, or one process to another.
Though the pandemic has forced Everlane to be nimble and focus on inventory management, Player said COVID-19 is an opportunity for the young brand to “double down” on its core values and recommit to producing quality, ethical basics at high value.
“We really think more than ever, offering fewer better things made with a commitment to both people and the planet is going to resonate with the consumer and it’s just the right way for a business to survive,” she said.
The pandemic has also put brand and supplier relationships to the test.
“We’ve been really lucky in that we have not had to completely shut down production. We really want to partner with our mills and our factories as much as we can through all of this to make sure that all of our livelihoods and our businesses stay intact,” Player said.
“But you know it’s been such a learning process, and one that I didn’t ever know I would take on it and there’s been a lot of really difficult conversations but I think end of the day, we just feel that it’s very important to protect our partnerships and to do everything we can to respect those that have been made to us,” she said.