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Transparency Has Become Fashion’s Hot Trend

The concept of transparency is at the forefront of fashion and there are many organizations trying to help move the industry in the right direction.

“There is an enormous urgency about transparency right now,” said Natalie Grillon, co-founder of Project Just, speaking at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Summer Institute on Monday. “From climate change to factory conditions, there’s an urgency to address certain situations and to do something about it.”

The organization’s mission is to transform the fashion industry into a transparent, accountable and sustainable system that celebrates the stories, the people and the resources behind the clothing. Grillon said informed and empowered consumers have the power to transform the fashion industry to an ethical and sustainable one with each purchase.

Project Just assesses a brand’s supply chain through various criteria and has developed a searchable catalog of more than 100 brands. Grillon explained that the goal is to determine what a brand is doing to “do no harm” as part of its business operations, how they are taking care of the people and the environment in their supply chain and how transparent they are with their information. In addition, Project Just evaluates a company’s involvement in the communities in which it operates, corporate social responsibility efforts and multi-stakeholder initiatives.

The process involves publicly available self-reported and third-party reported information.

“We develop a seal of approval for consumers based on sustainability, ethics, innovation and aesthetics selected by a committee of industry experts,” Grillon said. “We like to think by doing this we’re having a conversation with the industry.”

Grillon said there is a “particular set of consumers that care” about transparency in the brands they purchase, but admitted they are a minority. She also noted that “there’s a lot of positive work being done,” but not enough in a collaborative way. One way that could be elevated, according to Grillon, is through the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which has as part of its mission to create a transparency platform for the industry.

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Citing companies like Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, PrAna and Reformation as leaders in the “Transparency Movement,” Grillon said they all “are still on a journey” toward true transparency at every level.

Acknowledgement is also important, Grillon explained, citing Noah, a clothing company that put an image of its recycled paper packaging on its web site with the words” Our Packaging Sucks” showing that it can do better. Another example offered was H&M’s slightly less transparent move to release information to an NGO when it found Syrian refugee children working at a factory making its goods in Turkey instead of just releasing the information on their own.

Companies should be consistent in their marketing and messaging, factoring in what goes on their web sites to tell their brand story versus their consumer advertising. H&M was used as an example again here: The company promotes its use of recycled material in its fashion, but also has a TV ad where a consumer gets a top dirty and is seen throwing it away and buying a new one.

One important way companies look to be and show transparency is through certification by organizations that measure, test and give approval on many levels throughout the supply chain – from labor and environmental standards to material and manufacturing methods.

Two of these groups, Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, and Oeko-Tex, discussed “Harmonizing Certification” on panel with a representative from organic cotton uniform company Loomstate.

Lori Wyman, North American representative for GOTS, explained that in addition to verifying for organic raw materials, GOTS certification also stipulates requirements throughout the supply chain for ecology and labor conditions in textile and apparel manufacturing.

Anna Czerwinska, marketing and communications manager for Oeko-Tex, detailed the group’s various certifications, such as Standard 100 for harmful chemicals, Made in Green for sustainability, Leather Standard, Eco Passport for textile chemical suppliers and Detox to Zero tied to Greenpeace’s program of a similar name aimed at eliminating harmful chemicals and waste.

Chiming in, Loomstate sustainability director Katina Boutis, said the company relies on three basic tenets: responsible sourcing, transparency and traceability, and trust.

Boutis, who showed more than dozen certifications Loomstate has achieved, said, “There is a lack of synchronized certification that leads to audit fatigue. There are many of the same requirement in different certifications.”

She added that Loomstate looks to achieve these certifications because it does believe in the many causes they represent, and at the same time “we’re setting ourselves apart,” she said.