From the Latin Transparentem, to show light through, transparency in a corporate environment represents easy access to a comprehensive set of information on processes in the industry. Whether it be the policy and commitments, the governance, or the traceability of a brand and its products, transparency engulfs the ongoing process of monitoring and tracking one’s actions and outputs.
The tragic Rana Plaza incident of 2013 sent shockwaves through the world and the fashion/garment industry as millions were suddenly made aware of the conditions in which their clothes and accessories were made. Due to the nature of the fast fashion industry, complex supply chains involving thousands of sub-suppliers were unveiled, and it was made clear that an urgent change needed to occur in this opaque system.
Transparency, at its core, provides accountability. It holds brands accountable for their practices whether they be good or bad, as the availability of such data sheds light on those who may be vulnerable to issues such as human rights abuse or inequalities and environmental degradation.
Although there have been major strides in the right direction over the course of the past five years, the goal of easy to access, comprehensive information has yet to be reached. However, in a push for brands to realise that their statements need to be imbued with honest information and reflected in their own sustainable actions we, as consumers, have an important role to play.
Not only do we hold the power to question the origin of products, we get to choose how we consume based on this knowledge. Transparency shouldn’t be an esoteric end goal but rather should be used as a tool to sustain change. By creating open platforms of information, brands are not only building trust amongst their customers, they are also demonstrating that they are willing to commit to change via transparency.
With this in mind the question of what next seems unavoidable. The process of sharing or finding the right information can be tedious and thus many of us don’t look past the made in label on our clothes. However, consumers and producers aren’t the only ones who have embarked on this journey towards greater transparency, accountability and durable change. To ease this burden of information, innovative technologies emerge such as blockchain, a record-keeping technology using cryptography. For consumers, initiatives such as Fashion Revolution and their yearly transparency index allow us to have a broader understanding of transparency in 200 of the biggest global fashion and apparel brands. Trademarks are also actors for transparency, for instance, the assessment process of the Butterfly Mark requires that supporting evidence be disclosed to the community, thus clearing a path for transparency within the business.
Transparency today clears the way for more sustainable and ethical production tomorrow. It redefines how we approach our knowledge of products, and will allow our new definition of luxury – the certainty that what I have purchased was made in the best way possible for all those involved, whether it be the workers, the environment, or the consumer who desires beautifully and ethically crafted quality products – to become the norm rather than the exception.
Written by - Violaine Stévenin