Up Close is Sourcing Journal’s regular check-in with industry executives to get their take on topics ranging from personal style to their company’s latest moves. In this Q&A, Grant Cochrane, CEO of product verification system Oritain, explains why traceability should be a top priority for apparel and how he considers the eco impact of his own fashion purchases.
Name: Grant Cochrane
Which other industry has the best handle on the supply chain? What can apparel learn?
Within all industries, there are pioneers and laggards in respect to traceability, so it’s hard to pinpoint one exact one. The food industry has long wrestled with product safety, so they’re probably one watch. Their understanding and prioritization of the importance of provenance—in terms of both quality and safety—is something all industries can learn from.
How would you describe yourself as a consumer?
“Little and often.” I don’t subscribe to the changing whims of “drop-culture” fashion. I prefer to buy more classic pieces that I know will last longer. This enables me to shop smarter and spend more money on better-quality pieces.
As a consumer, what does it take to win your loyalty?
Integrity is number one—doing what you say you will. As a consumer, that can often be hard to qualify, and so any brand that is taking demonstrable steps to prove their promises or claims instantly jumps out at me. Those with long-term commitments to progress—and actionable steps to get there—stand out a million miles above the rest. I like brands that I can build a lifetime relationship with and invest in.
What’s your typical work (or weekend) uniform?
That’s likely a very different question now from a year or two ago! But I still like to keep it smart casual, even when working from home. A pair of jeans and shirt in a classic cut is probably typical for most days. I tend to opt for more natural fibers like cotton, wool and cashmere, fibers that will stand up to the test of time and won’t leave a lasting impact on the world once they’re done.
Which fashion era is your favorite?
I moved to London when I was young and learnt my trade in the obnoxious opulence of the ’80s. Whilst it was never really a thing for me at the time—nor now—I still feel nostalgic over the bigger power suits and Italian tailoring.
Who’s your style icon?
Paul Newman—the epitome of effortless cool.
What’s the best decision your company has made in the last year?
We conducted a large part of our business face to face. Client businesses, supply chains and needs are always unique, and so having those initial discovery meetings face to face help cover a lot of ground. With the onset of the pandemic, we quickly made the decision to go digital and established systems and processes that enabled us to do that efficiently and seamlessly, without any detriment to the client experience or solution.
How would you describe your corporate culture?
Two words jump out here: trust and meritocracy. We trust each other implicitly and encourage employees to feel empowered. To deliver the best work we can and remain agile to our clients’ needs, it’s imperative we empower our staff and then all trust one another to do the work they say they will. That frees us up to concentrate on our specific job. There isn’t much hierarchy in that sense and we like to reward employees that deliver that level of trust—regardless of age or experience.
What can companies learn from Covid-19?
For something that slowed economies and companies right down and triggered a lot of introspection, one thing in particular has emerged for me: a focus on the effects of our activities on the planet. I think all companies need to place a large emphasis on the environmental, social and ethical impacts of their operations.
What should be the apparel industry’s top priority now?
Lots of progress is being made into how to operate more sustainably and responsibly, which is really encouraging to see. But supply chains are still largely opaque and they run the risk of their efforts being undermined by unsavory practices. Supply chain transparency and traceability should be a top priority. Once you have visibility and confidence in your supply chain, you can then have confidence in the additional measures you’re putting in place to improve it.
What keeps you up at night?
There is a real sense of momentum building towards a more sustainable and responsible future. Then at times, I have this almost out-of-body fear that perhaps this feeling is just the echo chamber we operate in and the brands we deal with. And what can we, as a company, do to help remove any potential barriers and show more brands the importance of transparency, traceability and integrity, and the wider implications these have on the planet.
What makes you most optimistic?
That a lot of the change we see is being driven by everyone: consumers, companies, governments. Only through a truly collaborative approach can we hold each other accountable and achieve real change.
Tell us about your company’s latest product introduction:
Our biggest area of growth is in responsible sourcing and working with companies across commodities like coffee, soy, palm oil and cocoa. These products lend themselves particularly well to scientific traceability and, yet, carry huge risk in terms of environmental, ethical and social exploitation.