Guestpost – I’m Beth, a Fashion Technology Student from the University of Leeds, here to question the norm and learn how to create change in the fashion industry.
Discussing Boohoo, Reformation, and solutions for a sustainable future for the fashion industry
This crisis has highlighted the many flaws of the current fashion industry and indicators show that many businesses will not survive. We rapidly learned about one-sided order cancellations and the rippling effects through supply chains leading to further social issues…
First, we will zoom into customers changing relationships with brands. We will discuss examples in the fashion industry, highlighting the unbalanced system of fashion and what exactly is wrong here. Lastly, we will discuss short, medium, and long-term solutions and visions for a sustainable future for your brand.
Consumers have huge power to sway decision making and surveys show that over 50% of people would choose a more sustainable product over another and especially the younger generations, aka Gen Z “desire brands that not only minimzse their climate change impact but actually put sustainability and transparency at the centre of their brand and product strategies.”
Gen Z “desire brands that not only minimise their climate change impact but actually put sustainability and transparency at the centre of their brand and product strategies.”
Which is a really positive and promising affirmation. The way Gen Zers consume and relate to brands is influenced by the behaviours of brands. Companies should be attuned to three implications for this generation: consumption as access rather than possession, as an expression of individual identity, and as a matter of ethical concern. See below an overview of how today’s young generation differs from the other generations.
Boohoo: slavery practices in the UK
Do you still believe nobody cares about working conditions in garment factories? Read the article from BBC on Boohoo, one of UK’s biggest retailers. Their level of compliance is appalling beyond measure: Wages below minimum, excessive overtime, illegal immigrants. We tell you, this is happening in a few hundred factories, if not thousands. All located near Leicester, UK. Most shocking perhaps that this has been for years an open secret, the government is aware of these malicious practices. Some people even complained but without any luck of getting through. For the government, Boohoo is a symbol of the UK garment industry….but not anymore now it’s out in the open. Naturally, the retailers are fleeing. Next, Asos, Zalando. Nobody wants to be caught out. From hotshots to depression in less than one week.
Perhaps, with the sweatshops out of business, legitimate factories, paying reasonable wages while providing decent working conditions will be able to compete.
Reformation: racism practices in the USA
Another example of a rapid downfall is Reformation. Long time, top of the world’s sustainable brand found itself in the spotlight of accusations of racism. After a post about donations to BLM organisations, a former employee shared her experiences with racisms in the company. The post blew up to a point Reformation couldn’t ignore it. A few days later CEO Aflalo commented with “I’ve failed” and detailed the initiatives the brand would be taking moving forward, such as launching a diversity and inclusion board. Later, founder Yael Aflalo posted a statement to the brand’s website announcing her departure from the company. “Over the past few years it has become clear to me that I am not the right person to lead a business of Reformation’s size and scope,” Aflalo said in the published statement. The implications of this on the future of Reformation will be interesting to see and how they act in the future will be key to saving themselves and sustainable fashion.
It is clear that ‘sustainability’ is no longer enough and brands who want to survive need to be holistic, a force for good, that fights injustice.
So what should fashion businesses do now?
1. Commitment to ethics, inclusivity, and diversity
Sustainability & ethical behaviour: have a strong focus on workforce protection, health and safety, and environmental programs. Make sure you have a traceable supply chain, you know who makes the garment, where the processes take place, and even where the fibre comes from. Focus on respectful and secure work environments and promote better wage systems. Have an inclusive and diverse approach, including in the board and management team to make a difference.
For example, Prada requested Ava Duvernay to join as their co-chair of diversity and inclusion advisory council after it was blasted for selling a line of figurines criticised for evoking racist imagery. Read more.
2. Holistic cooperation
Work together with NGO’s such as Clean Clothes Campaign, Fair Wear Foundation, Unicef, to name a few to check your sustainable strategy with. Make sure you get their input, work together with local NGO’s, governments to really make an impact where it’s needed most. For example, like Levi’s, workgroups, consortium, NGO’s and test your strategy & smart action plan. Read more.
Supply chain relationships are important here. This is a real opportunity for brands to work together with their suppliers, creating conversations, and making two-sided decisions. With many initiatives and governance available for companies to take part in, the message is that collaborating will allow them to build much stronger and effective sustainable practices.
3. Transparent Communication
And be trustworthy. Be aligned with association members, employees, and customers. Involve them and ask them what they think. How companies act now will determine future popularity and success with consumers. They should build trust by being honest and acting ethically. “In a survey of almost 6,000 consumers in the US, UK, Germany, Italy, and China, consumers indicated that they very favourably viewed brands that paid their furloughed employees, repurposed facilities to produce PPE, or donated to their communities.”
Further, from a business perspective, the director of sustainability at Zalando SE, Kate Heiny, says there is a “clear link between sustainability and continued commercial success,” And that the “current and future customer base are calling for more sustainable choices in fashion,” Reassuring the industry that this is the right way forward.
If this isn’t enough reasoning to be prepared for sustainability, we can soon expect wider enforcement of sustainable policies by government, currently with the “moving forward with mandatory reporting and transparency requirements, as seen in France, Germany, and the European Commission” meaning harmful practices will no longer be kept hidden leading to accountability and change.
So what does the future of fashion look like?
Looking at this situation, Sanjeev Bahl (Founder and Chief Executive, Saitex) notes that “The pandemic has forced all of us to take a step back and reset our priorities. One key takeaway that has clearly emerged is that a new transparent model that showcases verified sustainable practices will have an edge over other traditional business models.”
Questions about this topic? Write them down in our comments below. Did you like this? Perhaps you will like our previous article ‘How is the Textile Industry Impacted by the Coronavirus‘. Do you see mistakes? Let us know! Do you want to stay informed? Sign up for our Newsletter or social via Facebook and Instagram.