What Makes a Sustainable Fashion Brand? – Webinar Recap
Photo via Unsplash
We recently hosted a webinar with the #1 sustainability ratings and discovery platform for fashion, Good On You, and the online luxury fashion retailer, Farfetch. Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of SupplyCompass and moderator of the webinar and the panellists, Sandra Capponi, Co-Founder of Good On You and Tom Berry, Global Director of Sustainable Business at Farfetch, sought to explore how the critical growth of sustainability in fashion is shaped by consumer choices and business innovation.
Conscious consumerism and new business opportunities in alternative models is fuelling the rise of sustainability.
Both retail and technology can help guide consumers into making easier, better decisions, the latter also helping in collating and analysing data through hundreds of data points.
Spotting greenwashing through research and diving into the details, and honest, factual communication is required from consumers and brands.
Growth without an increase in material consumption, and breaking down internal barriers by making sustainability meaningful to each area of the business is vital.
The Commerciality of Sustainability
Flora kicked off by asking what the business case for fashion was from both perspectives, focusing on the commerciality of sustainability. Sandra cited the rise in conscious consumerism including Lyst reporting a 75% increase in sustainability-related search words in 2019 from 2018, consumers who simply care enough that prompted the start of Good On You as well as a doubling of users and an increased number of brands on the platform in recent periods. Tom cited traditional reasons including costs, environmental efficiencies, reputational risks, and regulatory and physical risk from climate change and disruption in supply chains, along with the stemming of new opportunities and alternate ways of making money in different models such as resale. He said Farfetch had seen significant growth in conscious products and sustainable services, aided by their Positively Conscious program, outpacing the growth of other products over the last 12-18 months.
Sandra cited the rise in conscious consumerism, while Tom cited the stemming of new opportunities and alternate ways of making money in different models.
The Role of Technology and Retail
Flora mentioned that several brands have come to SupplyCompass to use sustainability as a superior solution for navigation in uncertain times, as well as a new deadstock offering in the pipeline that has got several brands excited. Her next question, aimed at Tom, was what the role or responsibility of retail is in the global sustainability movement. Tom replied that from Farfetch’s point of view, it meant opportunity more than responsibility and that being transparent and leveraging great consumer relationships to drive better consumption is the key role for a marketplace model that doesn’t make anything themselves. Farfetch works closely with Good On You, because they are an independent source of accreditation and ratings, as well as seeing other independent standards at the product level.
The discussion transitioned to the role of technology; Sandra described it as a great enabler as anything complex and fragmented, can be streamlined through the power of technology. Delving into deeper detail, she mentioned the 100s of benchmarks and standards as well as all the publicly disclosed information that their brand rating system aggregates into a simple 5 point score.
Farfetch works closely with Good On You because they are an independent source of accreditation and ratings, as well as seeing other independent standards at the product level.
Sandra described sustainability using a broad definition of “protecting the future of the planet and its people, when we design, create and wear our clothes”. She mentioned the environment, including resource, energy, water, chemical use; labour, including knowing, tracing suppliers, and empowering workers and animals including sourcing and welfare as the three main indicators over 100s of data points, they look at. With respect to reliable information, Tom described it as incredibly challenging as there is no perfect system, nor a definition of a sustainable brand and there is no one answer. He mentioned Farfetch partnering with Good On You to help navigate this area, as well as transparency, was crucial in this process.
Sandra described sustainability using a broad definition of “protecting the future of the planet and its people, when we design, create and wear our clothes”.
New models, consumer roles and internal barriers
Discussing circularity, Tom said Farfetch was looking into the efficiency of products in their whole life, as too much fashion is produced and not used long enough, mentioning their resale program for handbags as well as their donations program supporting charities. Sandra mentioned that Good On You is about to release an updated version of their methodology, with the latest version honing on circularity and waste in manufacturing, and emphasised the importance of eliminating waste and moving away from a linear model.
The next question was posed by many in the audience; how do we spot greenwashing and how can you communicate sustainability effectively to your customers? Tom replied that it was a tough question and that it was important to dive into the details, not take any claim at face value, look at independent accreditations and good governance, and look for something that you can feel good about. Sandra mentioned that it was important for brands to communicate, be it in their shareholder report, website, and be factual and meaningful in the process.
How do we spot greenwashing and communicate sustainability effectively to your customers? Tom replied that it was a tough question and that it was important to dive into the details, not take any claim at face value, look at independent accreditations, good governance, and something that you can feel good about.
They also addressed the biggest elephant in the room, that of consumerism and slowing consumption in a system that focuses on increased growth. Tom replied that it was important to grow in better ways, compared to existing systems and decouple growth from resource consumption, by looking at regenerative and low impact models and growth opportunities not based on new materials, citing their profitable resale model as an example. Sandra also emphasised on the fact that we need to produce and consume less, highlighting once again new alternatives such as mending, repairing, rental and resale, while making considered, quality-based choices.
Flora focused on a question posed by many, prior to the webinar: What were the biggest barriers to becoming sustainable? She highlighted that the lack of time, increased pressure and pace of the industry made it difficult to take a step back and rethink ideas and that it was important to do that now. She also mentioned that sustainability is often siloed and that the biggest barrier was that sustainability wasn’t focused on equally across the whole team. Tom mentioned that having top-down direction is important and that sustainability could never be delivered by just one team as it is inherently cross-functional and empowering. He also said that it was important to embed that in different business decisions in a relevant way for each team, specific to their work. Sandra, citing her background as a CSR manager, empathised with the challenges and mentioned it was important to start small and convince people internally to do things differently.
A common question asked by many was what the first step is for a fashion brand in the sustainability journey. Tom replied that it was important to not make the brand focus solely on sustainability, but also make great products and find things that make sense to them and the values they hold. Sandra agreed, saying it was important to set measurable, meaningful and achievable targets and be transparent through the whole process.
Brands often forget to communicate with brands and suppliers, and it’s important to move from transactional to strategic relationships. Discussing the long-lasting impact COVID-19 had brought about, Sandra mentioned that a light had been shone on overproduction with billions of orders cancelled by big brands and that people were asking new questions about what they were doing to support workers during this time, resulting in Good On You updating their brand rating system.
What innovations and methodologies at Farfetch were in the pipeline for the future, and what is the process is for brands to get rated on Good On You? Tom replied that Farfetch was piloting new fitting technologies that would dramatically reduce returns as well as innovative models based on repairs, rentals and made-to-order. Sandra then mentioned that Good On You has rated close to 3000 brands and that they were contacted every day by brands wanting to be rated, resulting in a backlog, but that they prioritise those in high demand by their users and that they were looking to include 1000s of brands, millions of shoppers, and great partnerships in the near future.
The webinar ended with both panellists asking each other questions. Tom asked Sandra what indicator the consumer is most interested in. Sandra replied that it changes over time, depending on location. A rise in climate change and impacts was an important indicator, in the last 12 months, as well as a rise in veganism and impact on labour during the COVID-19 crisis. Sandra then asked Tom what would be the one thing he would change about Positively Conscious at Farfetch. Tom then answered that he would love to make it easier for consumers to leverage the data available and that though the program had just started and made great progress, there was more to do in making consumer journeys easier in navigating this sphere and guide them more effectively to make quicker, easier and better decisions—something the fashion industry must as a whole enable.
Read our In Conversation With feature with Gordon Renouf, Co-Founder of Good On You.
Nayanika is a designer, writer and illustrator whose work spans research, storytelling and strategy for sustainability in fashion. Her interests specifically lie in sustainable supply chains, craft production/innovation, circular economies and design for social innovation. She graduated from the prestigious MA Fashion Futures program at London College of Fashion with a Distinction in 2019, and has researched at and written for Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Fashion Revolution, amongst others.
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