Last week, Fashion Revolution‘s Fashion Transparency Index 2022 came out. This year, the launch of the Index felt a little deflated. Perhaps it’s due to the cost of living crisis, where fashion is seemingly more out of reach than ever before. Perhaps it’s due to the slow progress across the fashion industry, where fuel prices, energy prices, and policies such as Brexit are severely impacting supply chains. Whatever the case, I still wanted to share my thought’s on this year’s index. Here are seven new revelations about the fashion industry from the results of the Index, and my thoughts on them…
The Average Transparency Score Across The World’s 250 Biggest Fashion Brands Is Just 24%
Imagine not knowing where 3 out of 4 garments come from. This is basically what this figure represents. Shady supply chains, hidden garment workers, and lots of scope for exploitation… It’s not good enough.
Transparency in fashion is important because it helps us to understand who made our clothes, where they came from, and how people and planet was impacted. It’s the first step on the journey towards creating a truly sustainable fashion industry, one which provides fair pay for workers, freedom to unionise, and equality, alongside new design principles such as circularity and degrowth.
Transparency is vital because it provides a true picture of how a brand is impacting people and planet. On the positive side, Fashion Revolution reports that more brands than ever are publishing a list of their manufacturers – but it’s only their first-tier suppliers. This means that if these brands’ suppliers are working with anyone else, we don’t know it. A good example of this in action is seeing how leather that causes deforestation from Brazilian firm JBL has been linked to brands such as Adidas, Coach, Dr. Martens, Converse, Fendi, Gap, H&M, LVMH, Marks & Spencer, New Balance, Nike, Prada, River Island, UGG, and Zara, even when they may have anti-deforestation policies, and they may not list JBL as a first-tier supplier.
Big Fashion Brands Talk The Talk…
…but they’re not (reporting that they’re) walking the walk. When reading through the Fashion Transparency Index’s Executive Summary, it seems that major fashion brands are good at saying what they want to achieve, and then just sort of leaving those good intentions hanging there. In short, there has been little to no results reporting against brands’ internal policies. So, fashion brands are saying they aim to do good things, but are not reporting that they are actually doing those good things. Hmm.
At the same time, Fashion Revolution has found that many policies are lacking disclosure on issues such as “social auditing, living wages, purchasing practices, unionisation, gender and racial equity, production and waste volumes, circularity, chemical use, deforestation, and carbon emissions in the supply chain”. These are vital if brands genuinely wish to be sustainable.
17 Major Fashion Brands Achieved 0% Transparency
This year, 17 fashion brands scored 0% transparency in the Fashion Transparency Index 2022, including:
- Big Bazaar – ffb
- Elie Tahari
- Fashion Nova
- Heilan Home
- Jil Sander
- Max Mara
- New Yorker
- Tom Ford
…And now you know why I don’t think luxury fashion is particularly sustainable, either.
Beware Greenwashing In Fashion
Fashion Revolution reports that “almost half of major brands (45%) publish targets on sustainable materials, yet only 37% provide information on what constitutes a sustainable material”. I’ll be honest, I’d love to know which brands make up that 8% gap!
Sustainability means a lot of things, and in fashion, the term is used all over the place. Personally, I feel comfortable calling a fashion brand sustainable if it covers the following baseline areas:
- Disclosing the people who make their clothes
- Working with adults (16+) across their supply chains
- Ensuring a healthy and safe work environment
- Launching no more than four new collections per year
- Using more sustainable materials than average
On top of that, I also look for additional qualifications such as:
- Paying a living wage
- Taking steps to reduce energy consumption, water consumption, or creation of waste
- Degrowth; reducing the amount of clothes they make
- Achieving B Corp certification (or similar)
- Implementing circular fashion practices
However, it seems that some brands are happy to call their materials sustainable without even qualifying what makes them sustainable, and as an extension of that, may be calling themselves sustainable! The real issue here is that some fashion brands feel comfortable using the word ‘sustainable’ in isolation, referring to the use of a single textile for example, when sustainability is so much more than that. New legislation may crack down on this, but in the meantime, watch out for the greenwash! (If you’re interested in more examples of fashion greenwashing, check out Greenwash.com, run by Changing Markets Foundation).
96% Of Fashion Brands Do Not Publish If Any Of Their Workers Receive A Living Wage
Yeah, you read that right. Only 4% of fashion brands publish the number of workers in their supply chain being paid a living wage, meaning that 96% of fashion brands may not be paying any of their workers a living wage at all. That desperately has to change.
A living wage means that a worker can successfully support themselves to live in basic housing, with food and essential needs covered, as well as enough money to support a family and any unforeseen events. In the UK, 1 in 6 jobs pay below the living wage, so this target applies to the UK as well as across global supply chains.
Fortunately, there is a new petition launching TODAY to tackle this. Meet the Good Clothes, Fair Pay campaign, a European Citizen’s’ Initiative (ECI) started by Fashion Revolution. The aim? To collect one million signatures from EU citizens to call on the European Commission to introduce laws on living wages in the clothing industry. As the EU is the largest consumer of clothes made worldwide, it really has the power to make wide scale change. Sign and support the campaign here: goodclothesfairpay.eu
Almost 1/3 Of The World’s Biggest Fashion Brands Scored Less Than 10% Transparency
Remembering that the Fashion Transparency Index 2022 focuses on the world’s largest 250 fashion brands, this statistic shows how the industry is generally still working on a closed, closeted, hidden basis. And it’s not sustainable.
(Now you know why I have to keep refreshing my list of fast fashion brands every year. Because fashion is still super super shady!)
Do We Need More Than A Transparency Index?
Reflecting on the last statistic, I’ve begun to question whether the Transparency Index is doing enough. While I think the Fashion Transparency Index 2022, and its past iterations, are incredibly useful indicators as to how well the fashion industry is evolving to better support people and planet, it’s not enough on its own.
I also think that topping the Fashion Transparency Index has been hijacked as a PR stunt in the past, and the top scorers are still not even close to being socially responsible, sustainable brands. This year, OVS, Kmart Australia, and Target Australia have topped the list. Of these three, all of them are overproducing fashion and peddling fast fashion. Take a simple pair of women’s jeans: OVS is currently selling 175 styles of Women’s jeans on their website. Kmart Australia: 50 styles. Target Australia: 117 styles.
Could these brands ever truly be transparent? I’m not sure.
Will they ever be sustainable? No.
The Index requires more nuance.
How To Campaign For A Better Fashion Industry
If you’re wondering how to call for a better fashion industry, participating in Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign is a great start. Joining that up with the new EU-focused Good Clothes, Fair Pay campaign, as well as actions led by Remake, Labour Behind The Label, and Clean Clothes Campaign, will make you into a true fashion revolutionary.
Alongside these, please stop buying so much new clothing. If you’re here, you probably already buy less anyway, but it’s important to remember that the ever-churning wheel of fashion is focused on profit above all else. Buying less is a radical act in fighting that exploitative machine. Shopping second-hand and sustainable fashion are also welcome antidotes.