Consumers are increasingly demanding more ethical and sustainable fashion brands. In such a scenario transparency is going to play a major role.

Transparency and traceability are considered the enabler of sustainability. Fashion Revolution in its report titled 'Fashion Transparency Index- 2020 edition', defined transparency as “the public discourse of credible, comprehensive and comparable data and information about fashion’s supply chains, business practices and the impacts of these practices on workers, communities and the environment.” The past decade witnessed numerous conversations around ethical and sustainable business practices of fashion brands with an increased impetus to engage consumers—especially millennials and Gen Z—with brands and their actions. Consumers are also increasingly demanding more ethical and sustainable actions by fashion brands. Research suggests a considerable percentage of consumers are willing to pay a premium price for products and services from brands committed to social and environmental standards.

Sustainability is one of the buzzwords used by fashion brands to position their offerings as climate positive. Many fashion brands have successfully weaved sustainability into their business strategies through initiatives like circularity, waste management, recycling, reuse and zero waste. These are an integral part of their core business activity. Such initiatives establish trust among the consumers and help fashion brands secure their place among the top brands undergoing a sustainable transformation. However, many other brands use sustainability only as a marketing tool without making them an integral element of their core business activity. In this case, it becomes complicated for a consumer to trust which brand is being honest. Lack of trust is detrimental to attracting and retaining customers in any business. Transparency can play a crucial role here as it is a significant and influential precursor of trust and attitudes. Let us see what can be done.

Envisaging Sustainability through transparency lens

This entails a visioning exercise by the brands to decide how they want to position themselves marching towards a sustainable future through transparency; what kind of value chain do they want to have in place; what kind of supplier they want to go with; which product lines should they go with first; how will they share information with various stakeholders; which information and up to what extent will be shared. This clarity is required to set a road map for future initiatives in the direction of transparency. It also requires the fashion brands to set up standards to be followed internally for practicing sustainability and inform the same to all suppliers and customers. 

Tracing entire supply chain

This means fashion players will have to make their supply chains visible to all stakeholders and ascertain the provenance of various raw materials used in different upstream operations. This may require a high level of engagement between the brands and their suppliers and hence, healthy relationships for better insights. The level of traceability should be set in accordance with the kind of claim or sustainability ambitions the brand has envisaged. This step will also ensure auditing business practices and monitoring partners in the supply chain as per the standards set. It will identify the potential areas in the fashion supply chain that may pose a major threat to consumers' trust and help in their easy mitigation.

Educating consumers

Consumers have been influenced from time to time on consumption. Brands should steer their marketing efforts to get consumers to think about carbon footprints, what they are wearing, products they are buying, and their impact on the environment. For example, a consumer does not know the associated costs when he buys a product. If this information is provided, a consumer will understand that he is buying a climate positive product, which is why it is priced higher. Demand drives innovation. A survey found that some 42 per cent of millennials were interested to know about the raw materials and the way a product is manufactured before buying. New initiatives by brands will make it easier for consumers to trust them. A brand may use blockchain technology to track a fashion product right from raw material to the shelf. Straightforward, simple and clear communication is sure to build brand engagement, trust and loyalty.

Sustainability standards & community 

To ensure better regulation of fashion players' claims, common standards and guidelines may be set up by the industry. For example, a standard may set basic the criteria for any player to be labelled as 'transparent' based on the amount and quality of information it provides. The government may also put up mandates to incentivise players that are transparent in their dealings and motivate others to follow suit. This will work towards changing the mindset towards fashion buying and selling. Even while educating consumers on responsible consumption, developing a community around a similar notion may also help. Brands may collaborate with educational institutions and research agencies or service providers willing to explore such opportunities. This will help increase awareness around the concept of transparency and traceability.

The current pandemic has already shed light on the known yet 'unattended' areas like social and environmental sustainability. The sudden disruption in the economy has pushed brands to rethink their business models and consumer engagement strategies and invest in newer technologies. We all are accountable for our moves. That is what transparency brings to the table—accountability. We have only one planet. Let us responsibly use our powers to protect it.