Sourcing raw materials can be an issue, since it can evade a brand’s efforts where they are trying to be more transparent. The supply chain can be complex and industry opacity can be a barrier at times.
Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index can be used as a proxy for how aggressive efforts surrounding sustainability are. However, there is a lack of disclosure for sourcing new materials for the brands, these new materials are often sourced in ecosystems that are extremely valuable to the planet. However, brands are beginning to get better when being asked to disclose their operations, but they don’t tell us everything so there are still lots of blind spots in the manufacturing process that remain. For the brands to make impactful changes, that last, brands need to manage the increased costs that will inevitably happen. There also needs to be a stronger understanding of what is happening on the farms, there is still a lot of attention on the factories, but we need to look at the farms since they are at the beginning of production.
Eileen Fisher works with farms directly in a bid to improve materials they source, with leather and cotton being the main culprits, as the process for them to be used in fashion is detrimental to the planet. By increasing the wool source that comes from farms that practice regenerative clothing, farms improve the fertility of their soil, that then leads to an increase in biodiversity and can store the carbon. The brand actually sourced 47% of its wool from these farms, with plans to expand their supply chain to eventually incorporate cotton. It is speculated that there are expectations for the program to eventually reduce carbon emissions from 20,000 to 30,000 tons each year. By working alongside the wool farmers during the process, it also helps the brands to be more transparent and stick to their sustainability policies a lot easier, since they know exactly where their materials are from and understand the whole process. Patagonia is another brand that has been leading the way for sustainability. The brand uses cotton that they know has specifically come from, and been authorised, through the Regenerative Organic Certification. It was only piloted in 2019, and there have been announcements that it will be announced in the near future.
It is important that we recognise the farming industry isn’t the only culprit. Viscose is made out of wood pulp and is also a big source of deforestation around the world. It is now a target of multiple campaigns, such as the Changing Minds campaign. It is due to the structure of supply chains, that have been in place for decades, and weren’t ever questioned until recent years.
H&M was the top ranked brand in the transparency index, with a high score of 73%, however they only discussed information regarding their viscose suppliers, as did Kering. They also failed to discuss their cotton suppliers, despite bragging about their organic cotton in multiple campaigns.
If fashion transparency keeps falling short, it is because we are not pushing for the answers we want, if anything we are settling for the few answers we are given. Instead we need to look closely at brands making a difference and celebrate them.