Sustainability is on everyone’s lips: consumers, brands, investors, regulators, everyone is pursuing the same goal – a model of fashion that doesn’t harm the planet. But there is a critical distinction between sustainability’s current state, and its true definition. And that gap is currently limiting the scope of brands’ and retailers’ sustainability strategies in a way that will fall short of expectations in the very near future.

While the fashion industry has taken steps to mitigate its environmental impact – quantifying and cutting its carbon footprint, reducing material waste, exploring circularity and so on – few brands are yet taking measurable action on humanitarian imperatives like fair wages for manufacturing operators.

Earlier this month, The Interline, along with Coats Digital, Hirdaramani Group, and The Fair Wage Association, hosted a roundtable discussion about the root causes of that disparity between the way fashion treats of planet and people. That hour-long discussion is now available to view in full, with key discussion points listed below:

Key discussion topics:

  • A lot of attention is being paid to supply chains in light of the disruption of 2020 and 2021, with the majority of businesses working to remove risk from their international sourcing and manufacturing partnerships. How is that risk reduction being managed, and where does it clash with corporate responsibility?
  • It’s universally acknowledged that fashion needs to take serious action, but it’s also clear that most sustainability strategies have focused on environmental metrics, leaving people underrepresented. Why is this, and what are the current catalysts for change?
  • Less than 1% of the cross-section of fashion brands and retailers surveyed in the 2021 Transparency Index disclosed how many of their workers were paid a living wage, and a major 2021 Sustainability Index found no brands that were willing to stake a claim in this area. Why is quantifiable action seemingly so hard to take?
  • Why are internationally-recognised labour standards are so important, and how they differ from codes of practice?
  • What structures and tools need to be put in place to allow brands and suppliers to factor in the true cost of manufacturing (both environmental and ethical) and systematise it in a way that both meets targets and creates mutual benefit for brand and supplier?
  • Can fair wages be paid without compromising on brand and manufacturer margins? Or will the future be defined by who can be best balance those margins against the risks of regulation and reputational harm?
  • What meaningful steps can brands, retailers, and suppliers take, today, to begin bringing people to their rightful place at the heart of sustainability strategies? 

For more industry roundtables, panel discussions, and workshops focused on fashion technology, keep watching The Interline.