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SNAPSHOTS FROM STAIY WEBINAR II: EVALUATING SUSTAINABILITY

December, 21st 2020

On December 13th, Staiy hosted its second Webinar. This was a great opportunity to gather five key players and innovators from the Fashion Industry to discuss sustainability alongside Staiy’s Brands Evaluation upgraded version. Let’s walk through what was said the other night!

Words By Elisa Felici

Never before this year was the Fashion Industry so wildly called into question for the unsustainability of its production methods, the pollution this sector causes, and the social disparities it generates. 

As external viewers, the fashion industry was always synonymous with creative thinking, innovation, and beauty. Today, we know this to only be an element of a greater, less candid, picture.

In our Sustainability Evaluation, we frame the most challenging demands to a sustainable fashion industry under 5 Pillars: Water, Air, Materials, Working Conditions and Supply Chain.

Water is a key resource. However, its value and centrality are too often overlooked. According to Kristian Hardiman, one of our Webinar guests and Head of Ratings at Good On You, the fundamental issue with sustainable water management is one: what gets to be seen, and what does not. In fact, there is a huge disconnection in the very localised impacts of water scarcity and water pollution, compared to what we as consumers tend to see in the finished product, or experience on a daily basis. To Kristian, water is a ‘sophisticated issue’: while the steps of a piece of clothing supply chain run on a ‘global’ scale, the environmental consequences of its production are highly ‘local’ both to the people and the environment.

There are little things we can change though. Myriam Laroche, founder of her own sustainability consulting firm and Eco Fashion Week, stressed the great focus there is on using water sustainably on the production side, but the very little attention we as consumers are most likely to pay to it in the post purchasing phase. We, Myriam says, make use of an extraordinarily unnecessary amount of water to wash our clothes. Education and new habits on the consumer side are fundamental in preserving water alongside the production phase. 

At Staiy, the Air pillar is designed to assess brands’ energy consumption, renewable energy use, CO2 emissions and carbon offsetting initiatives. Carbon transparency and offsetting projects are two words we hear a lot these days. There are multiple initiatives aiming to reduce carbon emissions. However, when we talk about transparency, we should understand something more. To Myriam Laroche, ‘transparency’ is the word of our century. This is something we consumers are, and should, increasingly seek. However, transparency is hard to achieve, especially for established brands. This tension in Max Gilgenmann’s opinion (from Fashion Revolution Germany) lies in the scope of the measurement, meaning what specific aspect you are measuring in order to be transparent. While transparency definitely relies on a defined goal of the measurement, Rachel Cannegieter-Markus, founder of Rethink Rebels, believes transparency to link to traceability as well.

A product’s carbon footprint goes hand in hand with the materials it is produced with. Materials are what make a product memorable. It is what leaves an impression on people. However, the environmental impact of such ‘styles’ are not there for us all to see. Today, brands that choose to upcycle by using second-hand materials and designs try to have a positive impact on these issues. Nevertheless, ‘where does creativity go in this scenario?’ asks Dimitra Zavakou, founder of Little Popup. Can there really be creativity in using things that are already there? 

According to Myriam and Max, the answer is yes. Second-hand will shift to an economy itself if we act for it to become so . There are ways to make it sophisticated and innovative. There is creativity and innovation in working with what you already have. ‘A new business model is possible’, argues Max. There are great opportunities in rental and second hand business as the world has recently seen manyFashion Library’ concepts popping up. Finally, as Kristian concludes, the balance in the apparel production lies in the idea of ‘producing something new and taking something out’, which is something upcycling and secondhand initiatives can achieve.

Now, the question is: where do the people fit in all these observations? Work is a value and a source of empowerment. Ultimately, this is why work is often caught into dynamics of exploitation and injustice. Working conditions in the fashion industry are seldom addressed. Which is why this year we were active witnesses to lots of campaigns such as Pay Up! or Who Made my clothes?, whose goal is to find a new balance within the apparel sector’s working conditions. To Kristian, this is something the industry is not putting the best foot forward. At the same time, Max noted how a fair payment or treatment is also ‘open to interpretation’, based on what we can understand by minimum living wage. To Myriam Laroche and Rachel Cannegieter-Markus, the way to improve working conditions in the fashion industry connects, once again, to traceability. Brands have the highest responsibility in seeing by themselves who and what is behind their suppliers. 

Finally, the discussion concluded on the lastest Pillar announced by Staiy, Supply Chain. How a brand works across its supply chain and with suppliers is key to sustainable operations. A transparent supply chain can mean that workers are fairly paid and materials are sustainably produced and sourced. However, together with water, supply chains are invisible. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a first methodology which the five panelists discussed for a traceable and sustainable supply chain. LCA looks at the social and environmental impact of a product over its entire life, including raw material extraction, material processing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, retail, use, maintenance, disposal or recycling. This methodology is crucial to assess the environmental impact of any value chain. 

All things considered, sustainability in the Fashion industry has to start from us. As Rachel remembers us, 1 euro spent on a brand piece of clothing is saying to that brand ‘I love and support what you are doing’. We, through our consumers’ choice, can fundamentally impact what brands do and do not. In a similar tone, Max invites us to ask questions, while Myriam urges us to be creative and to find our own ‘eco-friendly receipt’. Staiy is poised to become the cornerstone to that new receipt.