Ask the expert: are there any guarantees for sustainability?
Companies with more transparent supply chains can normally provide better guarantees.
Every week, Make it last’s sustainability expert Anna Brismar of Green Strategy answers questions about fashion and sustainability. Have a question you want answered? Send it here! And read more about what sustainable fashion really is, or at least how we define it with the help of Anna, here.
As a customer, what guarantees does one have when it comes to sustainability?
– Generally, we have very little guarantees as to the sustainability of a new fashion product, because we typically lack insight into its full supply chain. An exception would the Belgian company Honest by, who works explicitly to create high transparency for all of its products. Yet, for the fashion industry as a whole, most fashion companies are struggling to gain better insight into their supply chains, mainly because of the high complexity and geographical dispersion of standard supply chains.
This situation is especially true for large fashion companies, who are selling a high variety of different fashion products, such as H&M, Lindex and KappAhl. These companies need to rely on a very large number of supply chains, which together form a complex web of suppliers. This web typically consists of farmers, spinning units, various small manufacturers, and some larger garment factories, etc. A light blue cotton blouse, for example, must be produced in various steps, starting with cultivation of cotton fiber; spinning of the fabric thread; fabric washing, dyeing and treatment; production of the sewing thread (often polyester) and of the buttons (probably plastic); and lastly, tailoring and finishing of the final product (blouse). In all of these steps, many different suppliers and sub-suppliers are involved.
As a rule, the more suppliers that are involved for each product, the more difficult it will be for a fashion company to get proper insight and control over its supply chains, especially of the “upstream” suppliers. For example, how is the small dyeing factory working to minimize any air, soil and water pollution from its dyeing processes? Do they discharge contaminated water into a nearby river or do they treat it properly first? Are they using environmentally friendly dyeing agents or do they go for the cheapest and maybe most hazardous chemicals? What do they do with their spill material and other rest products? Are they working to minimize their energy consumption and going for renewable energy such as solar power? Are they paying fair wages and providing good working conditions for their workers? There are many aspects for each supplier to consider, which together affect the overall sustainability performance of a product.
In contrast, smaller fashion companies often have a more limited product range and thus fewer suppliers in their production. Sometimes, their supply chains are shorter too. With few and short supply chains it is easier for a company to gain good insight and control over their suppliers’ working practices, through regular inspections, evaluations and specific measures. Thus, companies with more simple and transparent supply chains can normally provide better guarantees as to the sustainability of a product.
Alternatively, we can buy locally manufactured products in stores where we can interact directly with the designer and buyer; that would give us the greatest degree of transparency and insight into the production and sustainability of a product.
Top picture by Honest By
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