Sustainability Blog: Key Drivers Advancing Transparency in 2021

January 28, 2021

By Kelly Burton, Chief Sustainability Officer, Material Exchange.

The footwear and apparel industry needs to reduce human rights risks in the supply chain, ensure health and safety for workers and products, and lessen environmental impacts all along the value chain. After decades of NGO name-shaming campaigns calling out the ills of the industry, is transparency the elixir customers and shareholders have been waiting for? This was the topic of Material Exchange’s first webinar of the year, held January 22, 2021.

Late in 2020, Material Exchange hired me as their Chief Sustainability Officer and recognizing that transparency presents the greatest opportunity to reveal, shape and enhance environmental and social impacts, it was a pleasure to lead the frank conversation about The Importance of Transparency in Fashion for 2020 with  Klaas Nuttbohm, Implementation Director at Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC), Chris Price, Director of Sales and Product Development at Prosperity Textile & Stella Blu Textile and Dr. Katherine Jones, Chief Product Officer at Oritain.

While the conversation moved quickly over several topics, it was clear that we were all united on the importance of transparency to enhance industry reputation while heralding the genuine efforts towards better practices being made. Chris Price said it best, “Transparency is essential to justifying the expense of producing ethically made and sourced product. When making a quality product, the producer should be proud to discuss the sources and methods by which it is created.” This is especially true as more and more customer are expressing their desire for authenticity, and because we now have the tools for digital storytelling.

In addition to appealing to customers, the panel also discussed risk and how transparency plays a key role in substantiating claims. Dr. Jones shared “For Oritain, the idea of transparency and traceability underpin the ideas of quality and innovation. Our partners who we work with are striving to change the industry norm by ensuring that their supply chains are providing the required ethical or sustainability claim from start to finish, and we believe that by providing scientific verification of these claims, we reinforce our partners’ commitments to customer trust and confidence.” Technology and the digital tools that now underpin origin validation from providers like Oritain and impact claims like safer chemical inputs verified by ZDHC, are key to sustainable claims by suppliers and brands alike.

The panel was united on who really is driving the momentum for transparency: brands. Appealing to raters, rankers, investors, as well as employees and customers, brands have the most to gain. But all agreed that traceability and credentials are part of a more cooperative and open value chain. Klaas Nuttbohm remarked, “Business relationships are built on give and take in both directions. Transparency is adding another layer to these principles, but they still prevail. When asking for more data and information of their upstream suppliers, it is the downstream customers responsibility to ensure they explain their reasons and properly train their supplier for the new challenges ahead.” As more tools become available communication will be a key cornerstone of transparency. .

In the end, Dr. Jones summed it up best, “ As a consumer myself, I look to brands who strive to supply ethical and sustainable products, and I think true transparency and trust in those claims is not just achieved by something written on a label, but with brands who do more about the communication and action of those claims.“

If you weren’t one of the many who signed up for the webinar, it’s not too late to watch:

To learn more about how Material Exchange can help improve transparency in supply chains, contact us.