For a seller of undies, Organic Basics doesn’t have qualms about letting it all hang out.
As part of its mission to become the Patagonia of bras, briefs and socks, the Danish company has rolled out what it calls the Impact Index: a tool that measures the environmental impact and footprints of its organic cotton, Tencel and recycled cashmere garments against those derived from more traditional materials.
Using a methodology based on publicly available benchmarks and cradle-to-gate data, it traces every item from raw material production through to consumer use, Christoffer Immanuel, Organic Basics’ co-CEO and founder, told Sourcing Journal.
But although the tool takes a life-cycle-assessment approach, it crunches the numbers in a way consumers can immediately understand.
Soon, each product page on its website will include an Impact Index bar that reveals how much waste, water, chemicals, carbon and energy an Organic Basics legging or muscle tank saves compared with conventional versions.
“To some extent, the Impact Index works almost like labeling that allows products to be compared based on the choices we make regarding materials and other factors,” he said.
Organic Basics is doing this not to brag—not completely, anyway—but because it wants to better inform purchasing decisions. And in so doing, nudge consumers toward the more conscious option.
“Even as more fashion brands are in the process of becoming more sustainable, consumers are still unsure about the impact their consumption choices have on the environment,” Immanuel said.
People, he said, are always asking him what constitutes the most sustainable T-shirt of all: Is it recycled nylon? Tencel? Organic cotton?
“It’s not an easy question to to answer, because different materials can be good in different ways,” Immanuel said. “And so we wanted a way to bring those complexities down in a way our customers can appreciate.”
Consumers are an increasingly savvy lot. A growing swath wants to know where, how and by whom their products were made.
At the same time, at least one study has found that consumers are liable to reject any information they deem overwhelming. Info-dumping on consumers can even lead them to wonder if brands are being “deliberately opaque.”
Immanuel says he doesn’t want to confuse or condescend to his customers. He sees his relationship with them as more of a “friendship,” which makes sense, since the company started in 2015 with a group of school pals who were tired of poorly designed, ill-made underwear. They had no fashion experience, either; just a desire to “make things better.”
“We try our best to be transparent with our customers about what we know and what we don’t know,” he said.
The brand isn’t the first to quantify its impact in a consumer-facing way. In 2015, It girl fave Reformation developed its own tool, called RefScale, that breaks down each product’s environmental “savings” in terms of carbon dioxide, water and waste.
Organic Basics’ own Impact Index bar will be powered by GreenStory, a “visual storytelling” platform from Canada that generates infographics for companies such as Pact and Brave Soles.
Still, Immanuel says the company is taking the concept further, not only by delving deeper into its supply chain but also by publishing a “full report” on its tool, which he hopes will inspire other companies to adopt something similar. Now, more than ever, fashion businesses need to work together to tackle the issues of our time—the climate crisis most of all.
The tool is by no means an end point, he added. Organic Basics will continue to evolve it as more data becomes available. The company also plans to leverage the Impact Index to help it achieve its own environmental goals. Since its inception, Organic Basics estimates it has saved 2.43 metric tons of waste, 29.23 metric tons of chemicals, 1,991 gigajoules of energy, 163 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 3,002 cubic meters of water over standard industry practices.
The Impact Index can help the brand “make more informed decisions about materials, supply-chain partners and transportation methods,” Immanuel said. “The biggest numbers are where we see the biggest opportunities to make a positive impact.” Size-wise, it may not be a Kering or an H&M, but it can do its part.
To that end, the brand is looking into regenerative agriculture to actively promote soil fertility, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. The fashion industry has been plundering and polluting the planet for centuries, Immanuel said, and it’s time to give something back.
“It took a million bad decisions to get the fashion industry to where it is now,” he said. “I truly believe that it’ll take a million better decisions to get us out.”