The importance of fashion transparency
In the past, clothes were handmade, worn daily and repaired when needed. Having a seamstress was only for the wealthy elite, and the majority of the population wore the same garment for years. This changed in the Industrial Revolution when the process of making textiles was mechanized, making fabrics more accessible and affordable.
But if until the first half of the 20th-century textile factories and the end consumers found themselves in the same country, the reality would be much different after the two World Wars. As the world became more globalized, so did the fashion supply chains, and in a short period, we found ourselves buying clothes and accessories manufactured mainly in Asian countries.
Outsourcing made fashion supply chains much more complex. In a constant search for low cost and high-profit margins, materials began to be sourced in one location, then assembled in another and finally transported to the main fashion markets like Europe and North America. This network of processes from the raw material to the end consumer made fashion supply chains opaque. Over time, it became clear that fashion, and especially fast fashion, came with a high cost both to the workers involved and to the environment.
In an era where consumers have been empowered by social media and the internet, having easy access to information about processes, supply chain and policies, is gaining more and more relevance among young consumers who demand to know how their clothes were made. Initiatives such as the Fashion Revolution Transparency Index, want to encourage brands and factories to adopt better practices by having a full picture of their supply chains and identifying aspects that could be improved.
It is believed that around 60% of brands do not know where the clothes they sell comes from, which gives us an idea about how much information is concealed from consumers, but transparency could help change this scenario. By working alongside suppliers to get information, visiting factories to check if they match the brand’s standards and values and identifying where and how to improve, can not only be an advantage to brands and the way they present themselves to their clients but also lead a movement towards a more responsible fashion industry. When one brand sets a high standard, others have to follow if they do not wish to fall behind, and that can be powerful and impactful.
Although transparency does not ensure that clothes and accessories will be made ethically and sustainably, it does allow customers to choose in which brands to invest their money on and to check if the information promoted by a brand is actually truthful and reliable. Lack of transparency has put many brands in jeopardy in recent years, which has been influencing decisions within fashion companies to invest in circularity, guarantee labour rights for fashion workers and also reshore activities as a way of having better control over the manufacturing stages. With consumers much more aware of social and environmental issues, transparency will certainly play an important role in the future of the fashion industry.