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Kingpins24: Transparency Requires Cooperation and Consumer Education

As the backbone of all sustainable and circular developments, transparency has risen through the ranks as one of denim’s greatest buzzwords this year.

Mills are going beyond adopting environmentally responsible practices and are now prioritizing the way they communicate their strategies throughout the value chain, whether it’s in the form of a sustainability report, increased social media engagement or third-party certification.

During a Kingpins24 discussion on Wednesday, Bossa director of strategy and business development Besim Ozek described transparency as part of a much bigger vision for a responsible supply chain.

“Sustainability, traceability and transparency are like three sisters,” he said. “You cannot think of a transparency project before you start a sustainability project—it should all be considered at the same time. Combining all of that will make the biggest difference in the world.”

The difference, according to Ozek, is a business with more environmentally and socially friendly practices. FashionUnited, an online global network for fashion news and careers, estimates that the sector employs a total of 161 million people around the world, meaning a more responsible industry has the power to change the planet and its people for the better.

According to Ebru Debbağ, Soorty executive director, sales and marketing, lasting change cannot happen without consumer education—and education is a responsibility that should be shared among both denim mills and brands.

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“The stories that a company builds need to be told by the shareholders as well as the company itself, because they are a part of the community,” she said. “[Sustainability] is a shared space that’s not owned by a single party.”

Debbağ highlighted an example of a successful collaboration between Soorty and Oak & Acorn, a New York City-based sustainable denim brand that builds responsible manufacturing into its storytelling. The brand’s seasonless 2021 collection landed on the radar of fashion watchers not only for highlighting denim as platform for cultural, social and political statements, but also for its variety of sustainable materials. The collection uses handwoven and hand-dyed indigo West African cotton, deadstock and denim made with recycled fibers, hemp and more.

Debbağ added that shared strategies are crucial to selecting the right partnerships. “Once you find the right partners, then your efforts in sustainability and transparency start making more sense,” she said.

And in some instances, educating consumers can be as simple as a dictionary. Debbağ explained that the mill recently published a sustainability dictionary to provide further education for a consumer who is eager to learn more.

“It’s the responsibility of the industry to [be sustainable], and then to find the right language to engage the consumer,” she said. “Most of them understand the word ‘organic;’ most of them understand ‘water consumption.’ But there’s a lot more to be done.”