Time to Embrace New Technologies that Accelerate Textile Supply Chain Transparency
For well over a decade, activists and journalists have been alerting the general public to the dark side of fashion. The sweatshops, the inhumane conditions and the environmental misconduct taking place the world over. Then, seven years ago on 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapse, in Bangladesh, resulting in 1,100 deaths and 2,500 injuries, really highlighted the extent of such unethical practices within the clothing manufacturing industry. The disaster proved to be the wake-up call for change that had been ignored for too long.
Workers at Rana Plaza were making clothes for some of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers, and the disaster led to further enquiries and reports revealing the many layers of unethical practices across the supply chain. The demand for complete transparency had never been greater and organisations such as Fashion Revolution, CleanClothes.org and Global-Standard.org pushed forward with insightful reports and a call for implemented change.
The concept of supply chain transparency was virtually unheard of over a decade ago, so what does it actually mean today? For a brand to be “transparent” it needs to disclose the names, addresses and other important information about where it sources its raw materials and the factories that uses to manufacture its branded goods. It’s about the brand having accountability to ensure that quality, safety, and ethical standards are met at each stage. Transparency alone may not resolve the issues surrounding working conditions and the environment, but it is necessary to effectively campaign and change for the better.
Historically, the fashion industry has been opaque due to the complex process that garment production involves. From raw material to weaving, dyeing and sewing, each step is often completed, and subcontracted, by different companies and groups of people, some in different regions or countries. Multiply this by the number of products that a well-known brand offers and you can see how entangled the industry can be.
It has been and still is a challenge to achieve supply chain transparency within the fashion sector, however, a small number of brands and retailers have invested significant resources and are leading the way. Fashion Revolution has published its fifth ‘Fashion Transparency Index’ were it reviewed and ranked 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers depending on their disclosure on social and environmental policies, suppliers, practices and impacts. Brands scoring the highest in 2020 include the likes of H&M, C&A, Adidas/Reebok, Esprit and Marks & Spencer.
Ranked as number 1 in the Fashion Transparency Index 2020, H&M Group  have channelled their efforts on transparency since 2013. It was one of the first global retailers to make its supplier list public and customers can freely check the suppliers and factories making their favourite items online. Last year, H&M began to offer additional information such as production country, supplier and factory names and addresses, as well as the number of workers in the factory. Going forward the group aims to transform its whole business to become fully circular and climate positive.
In a similar vein Marks & Spencer  have created an interactive supplier map so that customers can easily view their 500+ factories and raw material suppliers. In the Google search era information on transparency provides a competitive advantage for brands and retailers to build trust and loyalty with their customers. The M&S corporate website offers insight into their materials, fair wage for workers and shwopping initiative as well as their latest launches. This includes the M&S womenswear denim collection, with cotton sourced through Better Cotton Initiative and polyester made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.
In November, Austria-based sustainable fiber producer, Lenzing Group, introduced a brand-new blockchain-enabled supply chain traceability platform powered by TextileGenesis™. The platform is accessible by all brands using its TENCEL™ and LENZING™ ECOVERO™ branded fibers, and supply chain partners globally across Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Amit Gautam, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of TextileGenesis™ said:  “With increasing compliance and reputational risks, CEOs and Boards of top 100 fashion brands have committed to using 100% sustainable and traceable fibers over the next 5 years, with transparency being a core part of business priorities. Sustainability and traceability are two sides of the same coin, and it’s great to see Lenzing paving the way for the entire fashion industry to follow. Our supply chain traceability platform will create digital accounting for Lenzing’s innovative and sustainable fibers across the entire supply chain using Fibercoins™ traceability technology.”
While the use of blockchain in the fashion and textile industry is still in its infancy, yet its advantages are starting to be recognised, from full traceability to counterfeit prevention. Key technologies are evolving so that data can be stored and updated as it moves along the supply chain, it is therefore imperative that retailers and brands have a good practice business model to match.
UK-based social enterprise Fashion-Enter Ltd. has two fashion manufacturing units in the UK and both implement the use of the Galaxius digital system. The system ensures absolute transparency which enables the business to see exactly what garment is being made and where. The connected smart system allows the factory to collect data about operations, and carry out “Just in Time” and lean strategies. Fashion-Enter Ltd. CEO Jenny Holloway said: “The total transparency of Galaxius also ensures that not only do we now know exactly who made the clothes we also know when and how long they took to make the garments too. Galaxius is invaluable to any and all factories and has significantly contributed to us being awarded the Leading Status in the Fast Forward audit.”
Supply chain transparency and traceability is not impossible and in cooperation with technology companies, the fashion sector is now in prime position to implement change.
“There is no beauty without truth and there’s no truth without transparency.” – Carry Somers, Founder and Global Operations Director, Fashion Revolution.