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Key Takeaways:

  • The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), in collaboration with Nike and Target, has launched the Manufacturer Climate Action Program (MCAP), a framework intended to help reduce CO2 emissions and promote sustainability in the supply chain.
  • In another positive development for sustainability, UK-based Boohoo recently signed the Pakistan Accord, adding further credence to the universal need to safeguard the safety and welfare of garment workers.
  • Following Gucci’s big win at the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) Sustainable Fashion Awards, questions swirl around the balance between promoting sustainability accolades and continuing to draw attention to the huge amount of progress that still needs to be made.

It was a big week for sustainability. Yesterday, The Interline launched its inaugural Sustainability Report, which features exclusive editorials and interviews from some key thinkers in the sustainability side of fashion, a list of some of the key players moving the needle for environmental and ethical action, and a baseline analysis of the technology market for fashion sustainability.

While our report was being finalised (these things get locked down quite a while before they get released) several new developments in sustainability took place – alongside some much-needed discussion around how we, as an industry, frame progress.

Hot off the press this week is the news that the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) – whose CEO is a contributor to The Interline’s Sustainability Report – announced the launch of its Manufacturer Climate Action Program (MCAP). The initiative, which is in collaboration with Nike and Target and is a component of the SAC’s Decarbonisation Program, aims to provide a framework to help manufacturers cut global CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030. The group also aims for net zero emissions by 2050.

Notably, the SAC consists of more than 280 retailers, brands, manufacturers, governments, academics, and nonprofit affiliates, and is, for most people, the ‘original” industry body. In their press release, the SAC explained: “The MCAP will take a pragmatic approach, providing a stepwise process to build manufacturers’ capability to accelerate target setting.” Their core steps are designed to enable manufacturers to take substantive measures to reduce emissions to combat climate change, enhance operational efficiency and growth, and continue to promote sustainability industry-wide.

Nike and Target, along with the SAC’s member list (Amazon, Levi’s, Patagonia, and Zalando, to name a few) prove that sustainability remains a top priority, and that some of the largest brands are still actively working towards a set of defined science-based goals in a condensed time frame. It does not, obviously, reckon with the need for “degrowth” – something that William Green, Co-Founder of menswear brand LESTRANGE debates in detail in The Sustainability Report 2023 – but progress of any shape is worth noting, lest the industry fall completely victim to perfection paralysis.

And in another step forward for industry-aggregate sustainability, UK-based brand Boohoo this week signed the long-running Pakistan Accord, putting another brick in the wall of improving the safety and wellbeing of garment workers. The agreement, formerly known as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, holds its brand and retailer signatories legally liable for safety conditions, including training and essential improvements, at their partner factories. At the time of writing, 78 fashion brands – including Adidas, ASOS, H&M, Hugo Boss, Gap, Mango,  Primark and Zara’s parent company Inditex – have already backed Pakistan’s version, which covers  Cut-Make-Trim (CMT) facilities, namely all Ready-Made Garment (RMG), home textile, fabric and knit accessories suppliers, producing product for the signatory companies, as well as textile mills.

The acceptance of the Pakistan Accord by Boohoo – owner of 13 brands and a company with a chequered history in this space – is an important testament to the power of persistence when it comes to the implementation of responsible business practices in the fashion industry. If even half of Boohoo’s biggest competitors can follow suit (the likes of Shein, Farfetch, and Matches Fashion), it could assist in establishing and maintaining global standards for workplace safety in the fashion industry.

Progress like this deserves to be documented and mentioned, certainly. But at what point should progress be celebrated, if at all? Should celebrating not be left for when a task is completed?

This has been a question here at The Interline’s offices for a while – where we try to balance the critical and the complementary – and it’s also a question that came to the fore this week, after Gucci walked away with the prestigious Ellen MacArthur Foundation Award for Circular Economy at the 2023 Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) Sustainable Fashion Awards in Milan this week.

Gucci earned that recognition for its commitment to embed circular economy principles across its entire value chain, with the objective to design out waste and pollution while enhancing durability, reuse, recycling and second life. In particular, the Italian legacy brand won the award based on its ‘Denim Project’: an initiative promoting scalable collaboration and circularity at every step. The first products developed under the Denim Project will be available in 2024 and will include a digital product passport tracing the journey from raw materials to manufacturing and production, as well as providing information about product care and repair services to Gucci clients.

Coming back to the question of when to celebrate: when it comes to sustainability, the answer is not straightforward. On the one hand, awards for progress are a great incentive for brands, even if – in this case – awarding a brand for something it’s planning to do next year feels a bit hollow.

Being recognised for sustainability at a time when consumers find it really important is good for brand reputation, customer loyalty, and conversion rates. But, the challenge lies in the conventional approach to awards, which typically recognise completed endeavours. Drawing a parallel with renowned accolades like the Grammys or Oscars, awards are bestowed upon the culmination of a task and not midway through the recording of an album or the filming of a movie.

But in the case of fashion, if we apply this logic, awards for a job done probably won’t be coming anytime soon. Because while many brands are making headway with efforts to incorporate long-lasting, trackable, secure, and recycled materials into their products and in establishing platforms for rental, repair, and resale services – there has not been a major brand that has fully implemented a circular business model.

What is being done only represents a fragment of the loop (keeping products in use, durability, regenerative sourcing) but the rest of the process remains predominantly linear due to the gap when it comes to a product’s end of life. We have yet to see a shift in business models that change how customers interact with their products, beyond altering the way that products are designed and produced.

True circularity is going to have to involve the consumer on a much deeper level with brands’ help. This can include extending a product’s lifespan for as long as possible by brands providing good maintenance instructions and offering services to repair items when they break. It also looks like brands offering legitimate and effective take-back or recycling programs, where products can be returned for recycling or upcycling.

And for customers, circularity means seeing clothes as non-disposable, educating themselves on product care and which brands are actually being environmentally and ethically beneficial for the fashion industry.

This is where awareness, but not in the form of awards, comes in. Awards can inspire complacency and an exaggerated level of trust by consumers. We need data that is up-to-date and easy to understand, and ideally comparable, in order to see how brands (especially the biggest in the industry) are performing when it comes to sustainability. Commending incremental progress, as opposed to persisting in the pursuit of comprehensive change, carries the risk of diverting attention and resources away from the critical imperative of rethinking and improving how the fashion industry operates in line with circularity, and with ethics and the environment at the centre.

Best of The Interline:

Kicking off this week, we discussed Benchmarking Digital Product Creation For 2023 with Sophia Lara, Digital Product Creation & Transformation Lead at Kalypso, to discuss some of the key findings following the publication of their 2023 Digital Product Creation In Retail Research – a multi-year initiative that The Interline has partnered on in the past.

Rounding off the week, we released our inaugural Sustainability Report, containing exclusive editorial from industry leaders, detailed profiles of key solution providers, and our first-ever benchmark of fashion technology’s progress towards unlocking and supporting vital environmental and humanitarian goals.