In the last couple weeks, a few announcements have popped up involving sustainability in the fashion industry. More than just the typical “clothing company x did y”, what was interesting about these is that they were all on collaborative projects. The two recent collaboration examples are on chemical management, and climate change.
Starting with chemicals, a few days ago an article in Environmental Leader announced that Levi Strauss, Nike, C&A, and H&M, were sharing intellectual property on chemicals management. The facilitating partner in this is the ZDHC Foundation, an organisation dedicated to “building a global center of excellence for chemical management in the textile and footwear industries”. The intention is to go beyond compliance (so called “restricted substances lists”) and advance further in identifying safe chemicals while discouraging the dangerous ones. Two key outputs suggested in the article were the development of a platform to standardise safe chemical alternatives, and a process for identifying and evaluating them.
A few weeks prior, Sustainable Brands excitedly shared the launch of the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. Charters are things I used to consider a “light touch”, until I became involved in an industry coalition myself on sustainable site facilities in the construction industry in Australia. Bringing together 43 major corporations is nothing to slouch at, that’s for sure! The charter features 16 principles creating a focus for the group, but the overall goal is to decarbonise and do it’s part towards the Paris Agreement.
The fashion industry is a complex one from a sustainability perspective, with modern slavery, deforestation, extended producer responsibility and circular economy (i.e. waste), and water efficiency among the high priority issues for businesses.
More challenging is its supply chain. While working at IMD Business School, I learned of one clothing manufacturer that had broken down each individual part of its process of making a garment into a different factory (supplier) in a different country. This is the norm these days. Each of the above-mentioned sustainability challenges extend to the potentially tens of thousands of suppliers. And from seeing one or two of these factories from the roadside while holidaying in Cambodia in 2016, the complexity is magnified.
The collaborative spirit of the global fashion industry is something which, I believe, is needed in any sustainability community. Sustainability does not need to be as hard it is in apparel to justify a need for collaboration. I was lucky enough to be part of it in Sydney, and I miss it here in Bucharest.