Lack of data is hampering efforts to drive sustainable fashion

Despite claims that the fashion industry is starting to adopt more sustainable practices, the majority of brands are failing to back this up with hard evidence, new research has shown.

Less than 10% of companies operating within this sector are performing at a high level in terms of sustainability, according to brand comparison website, Rank A Brand. Its latest FeelGoodFashion report found that just 34 of the 368 fashion brands researched were leading by example in this field.

For instance, while 50% of brands are reporting on the implementation of climate protection measures, only 4% of were able to show that they have significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The research found a similar pattern for environmental protection measures. Many brands report on the use of environmentally preferred raw materials, such as organic cotton or recycled polyester.

However, only a small number are clear about the overall share of such materials in their production. In addition, only 3% of the fashion brands researched manufacture their clothing from 100% environmentally preferred raw materials.

This is despite increasing activity on green messaging – 63% of fashion labels now communicate about their sustainability efforts, compared to 53% in 2011, and 20% now go to the effort of publishing a sustainability report.

As a result, Rank a Brand has placed 30% of communicating fashion brands it researched on its ‘greenwashing alert’. “These brands appear to talk about sustainability rather than taking positive action. They run the risk of being accused of greenwashing and ultimately that could turn consumers away from them,” it noted.

The report has also ‘named and shamed’ those brands it feels are performing poorest on this agenda – these include the high street names of Umbro, Fred Perry and Pepe Jeans. In contrast, the likes of H&M, Jack Wolfskin, Nike, Patagonia, Puma and Timberland were all credited as leading the way by tackling climate impacts down the supply chain and making reporting more transparent.

Amongst British brands, only Pants to Poverty achieved a top rating, while Stella McCartney, Continental Clothing and People Tree also measured up well. Interestingly, Vivienne Westwood was judged as not living up to its image as a responsible brand – this is despite the fashion designer being highly vocal of late on environmental issues.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, fair labour conditions is the highest priority action area for brands operating in this field. More than half (53%) researched publish a supplier code of conduct, which includes the following ILO (International Labour Organisation) standards: no forced or slave labour; no child labour; no discrimination of any kind; and a safe and hygienic workplace.

However the report points out that this code of conduct is worthless unless it is enforced and claims that currently, only 9% of fashion brands produce convincing reports showing that their supply chain complies with fair labour conditions.

Maxine Perella

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