Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference – or COP26 – in Glasgow later this month, more information about the workings of a new sustainability-focused fashion industry taskforce is coming into view. First announced this spring, a fashion-centric arm of His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Wales’ Sustainable Markets Initiative (“SMI”), an endeavor aimed at forging partnerships between government, business and private sector finance,” is bringing together executives from across various major fashion brands to combat climate change, including by coming to a definitive understanding of what “sustainability” entails in a fashion context, and ideally, pushing that definition on to the industry at large.
As TFL first reported earlier this year, the Prince of Wales has been spearheading an inter-industry collaboration effort as part of his broader SMI, in which fashion industry leaders are expected to play a significant part given the $2.4 trillion industry’s position as one of the world’s largest manufacturing sectors and simultaneously, one of its most prolific polluters. According to the SMI, the global apparel industry contributes approximately 10 percent of global GHG emissions, and consumption within the sector is only expected to rise within the next decade, with the volume of garments and accessories purchased by consumers slated to grow by 60 percent by 2030, making it an industry of priority on the climate front.
In terms of the fashion taskforce, which exists alongside other industry-specific taskforces, including Energy, Natural Capital, Road Transport, Health Systems, Technology, Waste, Plastics & Chemicals, Aviation, and Shipping, the SMI revealed in May that former YNAP founder Federico Marchetti will act as chair for the group, which is looking to “accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable future,” but did not elaborate on the taskforce’s individual members or its goals.
This week, the group provided insight its agenda and the makeup of its membership.
In a letter of intent published this week, the Fashion Taskforce’s revealed that for the rest of 2021 and through to 2022, it will be working on a Digital ID system designed to “inform consumers of the sustainability credentials of their garments” and to “unlock new services for customers while delivering circularity at scale.” (Chances are, connected products company EON’s CircularID™ Protocol – which connects products, customers and partners across a product’s entire product lifecycle – will serve as the backbone for this effort.)
In connection with this aim, and in what appears to be one of the most groundbreaking aspects of the initiative thus far, the group says it is working towards “a common definition for sustainable products,” something that, as TFL has noted in the past, is sorely lacking in fashion (and beyond). A lack of legal definitions for frequently-used terms, such as “sustainability,” and a dearth of otherwise agreed-upon frameworks to gauge things like whether a garment is “sustainably made” has resulted in widespread and consistent examples of greenwashing by brands, which have, for the most part, gone without legal ramifications (although, that may be starting to change in light of a growing number of lawsuits and rising attention from the Securities and Exchange Commission, among other regulators across the globe). At the same time, such consistent use of eco buzzwords continues to cause confusion among consumers.
A bid to formalize a concrete (and potentially industry-specific) understanding of sustainability is also particularly noteworthy, as regulators have failed to take on that task to date. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, for instance, opted not to define sustainability or a handful of other eco-centric terms for marketers when it issued its 300-page Green Guides in 2012. (The FTC is expected to revisit the Guides next year, and it would not be surprising if the regulator places more emphasis on sustainability terminology then).
Additionally, the Fashion Taskforce says that it is investigating regenerative farming practices across raw materials because “for brands, the highest environmental impact takes place at the very beginning of the supply chain, at the raw material level.” In furtherance of this aspect of their agenda, the Taskforce states that it is “exploring how a common approach to regenerative farming practices could represent a concrete solution not only to reduce emissions but to even reverse the climate crisis with a focus on nature-based solutions.”
In terms of membership, in addition to Mr. Marchetti, the Fashion Taskforce boasts members that is says have been “drawn from across a range of brands, platforms and retailers from all over the world.” These include Emaar Properties and Noon.com founder Mohammed Alabbar, Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti, Mulberry CEO Thierry Andreatta, Chloé President and CEO Riccardo Bellini, resale giant Vestiaire Collective’s CEO Maximillian Bittner, Stella McCartney CEO Gabriele Maggio, Gabriela Hearst founder (and Chloé creative director) Gabriela Hearst, luxury e-commerce site Moda Operandi co-founder Lauren Santo Domingo, Giorgio Armani Deputy MD Giuseppe Marsocci, Brunello Cucinelli CEO Riccardo Stefanelli, Selfridges CEO Anne Pitcher, Zalando co-CEO David Schneider, Johnstons of Elgin CEO Simon Cotton, and EON’s founder and CEO Natasha Frank.
Speaking about the Fashion Taskforce, HRH the Prince of Wales asserted that in order to tackle climate change when it comes to the fashion industry, in particular, “We need cross-industry collaboration that goes beyond borders and brands,” which is why he says he is “so pleased that some of the world’s top fashion businesses have joined forces to transform the industry and work to ensure our fashion choices do not cost us the planet.”
As we have noted in the past, while the fashion industry does not operate in a vacuum, cross-sector partnerships have largely been left out of its attempts to get a handle on its role in the larger climate movement. As Jeanine Becker and David Smith stated in their 2018 article, “The Need for Cross-Sector Collaboration,” too often, companies and industries have approached issues, including on the climate front, “with piecemeal and even siloed solutions, and with efforts that are not sufficient to address the problems at the scale at which they exist.”
The scope of the issue calls for “new processes of co-creating change and new outcomes,” Becker and Smith aptly assert (and both HRH Prince Charles and the various SMI stakeholders seem to understand), noting that change is afoot in light of “increased focus on public-private partnerships, and the rise of complex collaborative structures, in pursuit of such change.” In other words, “We are seeing the rise of cross-sector collaboration – alliances of individuals and organizations from the nonprofit, government, philanthropic, and business sectors that use their diverse perspectives and resources to jointly solve a societal problem and achieve a shared goal.”