United Kingdom, London — The fashion industry knows that it needs to clean up its act, but when brands themselves don’t know their own supply chains, how can they make the necessary strategic changes?
In the third masterclass in #BoFLIVE’s new series, How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Brand, London Editor Sarah Kent was joined by Dr Helen Crowley, a senior advisor and fellow at Conservation International; Dio Kurazawa, founding partner at sustainability consultancy The Bear Scouts; and Allbirds Sustainability Manager Hana Kajimura for a virtual panel discussing how to track and measure impact in a way that enables meaningful change.
Key Lessons from Masterclass 3: Tracking and Traceability
Tracing your supply chain is only the first step. "Traceability is just a process you go through as you're mapping your supply chain… Transparency is how you report [those findings]," said Crowley. She added that a deeper understanding of your supply chain is the fundamental premise for "building a collaborative, and I would say compassionate, relationship across your supply chain," as well as a healthy internal culture of transparency and accountability.
The tech to support supply chain traceability is out there. Kurazawa sees blockchain as "a next step to help elevate knowing where things are." Similarly, open-source resources published by fashion's biggest players (such as Kering's Environmental Profit and Loss model) offer a helpful starting point, said Crowley.
Don't be afraid to focus. Measuring multiple forms of environmental impact across an entire supply chain is a vast and complex task, so a deep and narrow approach can be more impactful than a broad and shallow one, said Kajimura. "In order to really move the needle we needed to be focused," she said. For Allbirds, that meant cracking down on petrochemicals and plastics in footwear. "If you go back to what your purpose is… it can help you to prioritise," added Crowley.
Supply chain management is about more than just the environment. "When we talk about metrics, measurements and tracking, the thinking goes environmental… whereas the human side is so nuanced," said Kajimura. "So many of the problems we have in the social space is because we've tried to [implement a]… pass-fail audit system that might work on the environmental side, but not on the human side." Building a deep and trust-based partnership with suppliers will offer better insight into the complex realities of workers' rights.
Think beyond mitigating negative impact. "The thing about saying, 'I'm going to do less bad' is that you're missing an opportunity," said Crowley. Instead, companies should look at the learnings they gain from fully understanding their supply chains as an opportunity to pursue better models. For instance, sourcing raw materials from regenerative farms, which sequester more carbon into the land than is used in production. "Anything that degrades or converts a natural ecosystem into a production system has got to stop," said Crowley. "Remember the precautionary principle — you don't do things if you know you're going to cause harm." Kurozawa goes a step further, encouraging a focus on circularity that avoids using new materials at all.
Also, stay tuned for the next monthly episode of BoF's online learning series How to Build a Sustainable Fashion Brand.
Masterclass 4: Buying Better, with Marsha Dickson and Ayesha Barenblat, on November 10th, 15:00 GMT / 12:00 ET
Key questions answered
How do you buy responsibly?
What best practices enable the entire supply chain to act responsibly?
Identify collaborative models to drive change
Propose improvements to partner relationships
Masterclass 5: The Case for Culture
Key questions answered
How do companies create a culture that drives responsible business practices?
What should companies be focusing on and why?
Identify factors that enable more inclusive and responsible operations
Establish measurable objectives