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Courtesy Fashion Revolution

January, 20th 2021

The inspiring, Giulia Iemmolo, Sustainability Consultant at Systain Consulting GmbH, speaks to Staiy about the importance of transparency in the apparel industry.

Words By Jen McDonald

When you buy a new piece of clothing, do you ever think about who made your clothes? Do you know who sourced your fabrics, who dyed your garments, or who weaved your jumpers? All our clothes are handmade by someone. From pattern making to cutting and sewing, hard work and graft has been put into the garments that you wear every day. Without this incredible handwork, brands would simply be non-existent. It is extremely important that all apparel brands are transparent and disclose information about their policies, practices, and their supply chain. Even some brands that disclose information do not act in a sustainable or ethical manner. 

Why is transparency so important? Well, without transparency we cannot see or protect vulnerable people and the planet. 

For Giulia Iemmolo, an Italian born and raised in Sicily, transparency is everything she believes in. Iemmolo is a Sustainability Consultant at the Berlin based Systain Consulting GmbH, a company dedicated to working in the sustainable supply chain management and focusing on social management issues.

Prior to moving to Berlin five years ago, Iemmolo studied a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Language and Culture, and she was a Sinologist. She started her professional career in Beijing for an Italian Law firm, Pirola Pennuto Zei & Associati. The firm is set up in collaboration with Officina Etica Consulting (CSR Consulting Firm), and is the first Italian CSR service provider in China. Most of the work she was involved in specialised in governance and transparency, reporting and accountability, HR engagement, community outreach programs, CSR communication tools. “Back then everything was about CSR, about volunteering activities, reporting and charities, not much about the impact and measurements of the supply chain” she explains.

In her CSR Consultant role, Iemmolo raised awareness of sustainability in the company strategy. Her mission was to extract information of Italian companies that were working in China to show how bad the working conditions were. She described the experience as an incredibly interesting challenge. She was right in the middle of this huge growing issue. “Everyone was hoping that this would become a mainstream topic” she admits. It was only when she came back to Europe that she knew this was going to be the case. “Europe was a step forward compared to Asian countries; it was an interesting shift”. She goes on to explain how Berlin, more than anywhere else in Europe, is a huge hub for sustainability.

The Italian consultant’s passion to raise awareness on sustainability and the supply chain amplified moving back to Europe. In 2015, Iemmolo decided to study an MBA at the Berlin School of Economics and Law. In 2016, recognised for her achievements she was soon hired to join Systain Consulting GmbH, where she currently works. 

Systain Consulting GmbH are an incredible, leading sustainability consultancy which focus on sustainability in the supply chain. For two decades they have been addressing global challenges in the field of environmental and human rights, enabling companies to build economically viable and sustainable structures along value chains. By using expertise, innovative methods and models, they develop needs-based solutions for each customer. They develop and implement customized strategies, Conduct data-based sustainability analyses along the supply chains and train sustainability in all stages of their customers’ supply chain.

If that was not impressive enough, Systain Consulting GmbH received the Hamburg Consulting Prize in 2013, which played a major role in winning the Otto Group’s CSR Prize of the German government in 2014 and was awarded the More-than-a-Market Award in China in 2016. They have more than 30 experts, 5 locations worldwide (Hamburg, Berlin, Istanbul, Shanghai and Dhaka) and more than 60 projects per year. When asked what makes Systain Consulting different from other consultancies, Iemmolo replied: “We have two things, firstly, a data-based approach which will give information to companies in gaining transparency in the supply chain. Secondly, we identify the problems and provide solutions by implementing measures to build up strategies”.

Through Systain, Iemmolo specialises every day in sustainability in the supply chain, especially in the textile and apparel industry. She focuses on social management issues, monitoring the development and implementation of sustainable sourcing schemes, social risk assessment, social management systems, suppliers´ monitoring systems and suppliers´ capacity. Transparency in the supply chain is vital for the apparel industry. “For brands the main problem is the sustainable criteria that they use are not aligned with quality” says Iemmolo. She goes on to explain that some brands have high standards for quality but not for the supply chain and working conditions. You need one system for sustainability and quality at the same time because your suppliers are going to feel that you are not giving them everything.

Without a doubt, Iemmolo is passionate about what she does in her daily work, and she is making a positive impact. Raising awareness of transparency in the supply chain is so important. With much of her time spent raising awareness of transparency and educating mainly fashion brands on the problems that will arise in the supply chain, when asked if the pandemic affected her work and the work that Systain Consulting GmbH does, she replied: “It opened the eyes of a lot of companies, investing in sustainability was something that increased. However, it was hard for the factories.” Systain had to adapt and act as fast as possible to digitalise all its academy – education and training workshops – online. 

Sustainability is something that is innovating and always changing. Iemmolo, explained that living in China really opened her eyes to it. Experiencing it first hand, cold mining and cities being entirely dark, not being able to breathe, they were all issues she had to face. She soon realised that this should not be the normal way of life. From that moment sustainability played an important part in her life. We wanted to know what the greatest lesson she has learned is; “Learning is challenging, working in sustainability you need to always be one step ahead, this is my personal motivation, you need to know new laws” she replies. 

Transparency in the supply chain is vital, it is a fact that a lack of it costs lives. We just need to look at 2013, when the Rana Plaza factory  collapsed and 1,134 workers were killed. People had to dig through the rubble looking for clothing labels to figure out which brands produced garments in the factory. Companies need to respect human rights, safe working conditions and environments. As individuals, we can help by being more conscious of where we shop. We have the power to make positive changes by trying to shop more sustainably. Iemmolo explains that her wish for the future would be “For the sustainability language to be simplified, what we communicate to consumers should be people focused.” She believes in the power of the fashion industry, and believes that one day the factories will be more sustainable in compliance and will contact brands, rather than be the other way about.

If you are interested in learning more about transparency and the supply chains, then registering for Systain’s free webinars is a must! They will take effect from 7th April 2021 (Webinare zu Nachhaltigkeitsthemen) and offer the chance for individuals to learn how companies can tackle social issues.