Apparel industry supply chains have become increasingly tangled webs and one new organization is working to combat the complexity.
Project JUST, which launched in New York Thursday, is an organization trying to promote transparency by tracking garments from cotton production through cut-and-sew via an online platform.
The idea for the company came about when Natalie Grillon, Project JUST’s co-founder, was working as an Acumen development fellow at an organic and fair trade cotton company in Northern Uganda in 2013. In April that year, when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, Grillon was organizing a cotton order to be sold. Though her company had been working on creating a positive, sustainable impact, Grillon realized at the time that the cotton could end up in a place that didn’t meet the same values as where the cotton was grown.
Stories from the supply chain weren’t being told, according to Grillon, whether the positive story of the fair trade Uganadan cotton factory or the negative story of factory conditions in Bangladesh.
So Grillon partnered with another Acumen fellow, Shahd Al Shehail, to found Project JUST. The organization has two purposes: to provide summarized findings to the consumer and present more detailed information and data to brands.
The primary audience for the platform is the consumer. “The shopper is the main actor in the supply chain who has largely been ignored,” Grillon said. “There needs to be a signal out there that they can look for and understand, this is this kind of brand and I can trust this.”
Initially, the organization will look to target the core segment of American consumers who are already seeking out ethically sourced products in other industries, for example people who buy organic, fair-trade food at the market. From there, they will expand to a greater audience.
On the brand side, Project JUST will make its findings available in the form of data, allowing brands to search for partners that meet their expectations. The organization will partner with suppliers to make profiles on the platform and the suppliers’ employees will then be able to join and report on their working conditions.
Uploaded information will be validated from online and on-the-ground sources. They will follow up with journalists and non-profits, as well as brands for questions and comments regarding their own supply chain. Project Just will also work with a committee of experts from the fashion industry in the public and private sector to help verify the data they are receiving.
To help highlight brands’ sustainable efforts, Project JUST will give annual awards to the best and brightest companies. Grillon said companies like Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, have made considerable efforts toward improved practices and have been transparent with both accomplishments and failures.
Project JUST’s award will also honor brands with more innovative tactics toward transparency like Nudie Jeans, which makes its audits available to the consumer to download. Similarly, Everlane, the e-commerce startup dedicated to transparency, publishes photos of its factories. “To show just the top tier doesn’t seem that radical, but to the shopper it is,” Grillon said of Everlane’s tactics.
The U.S. market is not currently as aware of supply chain issues as other international markets, Grillon said, but an increasing number of e-commerce stores are starting to focus on sustainability and a core segment who want to shop their values. Some Americans are curious about ethical shopping, but the amount of information available at times makes it too overwhelming. Grillon hopes Project JUST will be a key factor in distilling that information so that shoppers can start shifting to better practices.