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Kingpins Transformers shines a light on Transparency in denim

By Vivian Hendriksz


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In a rapidly changing industry, each fashion company is working out its own path in regards to transparency. Transparency, much like the word sustainability, is a key buzzword in the fashion industry at the moment. However, while most brands and retailers agree it is important to be transparent, many question how much consumers really need to know - or even want to know. Which is exactly why transparency was the main topic of discussion at Kingpins Transformer in Amsterdam on Tuesday. Key leaders and manufacturers from the denim industry came together to share their thoughts on transparency and traceability and highlighted what best practice means to them.

The one-day conference, which took place at the Westergastheater in Amsterdam, sought to examine how brands, manufacturers, denim mills and chemical producers define and deliver transparency, what information should be shared (and what informations should not be shared) and what are the best mediums for communicating transparency with consumers. Throughout the day, attendees were also asked what they believe consumers want to know from the denim supplies and if they consider it to be a priority or not when out shopping. FashionUnited attended the conference and shares some of the key points shared throughout the day.

"Where ever sustainability goes, transparency follows "

“I want to focus on that tension between the right to ask, the right to know and the need to know because I find that very interesting. Transparency is not something you should do to cover up a wrong-doing and transparency is not a marketing tool”, stressed Alberto de Conti, Head of the Fashion Division at Rudolf Group, a chemical producer. “Chemical companies have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the public and employees. Companies are asked to be conscious and transparent. There are different ways to be transparent - greener chemistries, sharing intel via a data platform and full disclosure.”

He goes on to highlight that while some would think that full transparency is the best way forward, in some cases it's not. “What is full disclosure? In our industry, there is no definition of what that means - at least there is not one everyone agrees on. There are different definitions and approaches - all valid. But there is not a single authority that is the key purveyor, the final reference everyone acknowledges. When it comes to new types of chemistry, in particular, full disclosure makes no sense.” De Conti underlines that full disclosure is fairly useless when it comes to new types of modules or chemical components as it forces companies, who have spent millions of dollars developing new products, to share all their intellectual property, thereby hindering and perhaps even slowing down new innovations.

“Full disclosure could be a stopper for innovation”, he suggests. A denim industry which ensures everything is made is a safe and fair way that is “fairly transparent” for both producers and consumers, is the optimum ideal de Conti concludes, voicing his support for initiatives such as the ZDHC 'Gateway' module, the first compatible ZDHC data exchange platform that allows chemical formulators the possibility to securely share chemical intel in line with the ZDHC standards and tools. While he hopes that all the industry's brands make their own way into the gateway and start sharing information, de Conti, as well as the other expert speakers are aware there is much work to be done concerning transparency in the denim industry.

"Transparency remains a challenge" in the denim industry sustainability journey"

"Transparency remains a challenge in the industry's sustainability journey, especially at a deeper level", says the ZDHC Foundation implementation director Dr Christina Raab. Although progress is being made when it comes to transparency within the chemical field, it remains a challenge further down the supply chain and at a wider scale. In addition, much of the information companies share is still linked to what they are legally required to divulge , rather than information, they want to share. Dr Raab believes that companies should be asking themselves "what does the consumer want to know, need to know and has a right to know?" Ideally, she would like to see a transparent framework for sharing information with consumers launching, one that is built around the use of safer chemicals and takes the entire supply chain's sustainability performance into account through a holistic approach.

Ignasi Cubiñà. co-founder and Director of Eco Intelligence Growth (EIG), believes that in order to make transparency meaningful," You have to ask the right questions." Looking to identify the gaps ahead of the industry's implementation of a circular economy, he sees the push towards transparency as beneficial in the long-term, as it will help optimize existing data and better understand products at a modular level. He notes that in the past he thought that aligning EIG accredited assessment of products against the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products program would weaken his assessment process. But then he realised that there are other certifications which are developed to assess certain stages of the supply chain that EIG accreditation could benefit from. "We are speaking the same language", he says. "Now we need to ask how was can turn these standards into bottom line parameters for the industry."

The concept of transparency has changed over the years, and not a key area many apparel or textile companies previously thought to address - not even Lenzing, a producer of textile and nonwovens cellulose fibres, best known for its creation of Tencel. Tricia Carey, Lenzing's global business director for denim reveals that transparency was not a main focus for the company back in the 1980s. However, with time, things change as by the 2000s Lenzing began taking notice of 'greenwashing.' "We would only talk about transparency when there was something good we could talk about," says Carey. However, when Lenzing began to turn its focus to its sustainability efforts, which included the launch of its first sustainability report in 2013, things began to change. “Wherever sustainability goes, transparency follows."

"We see a connection happening between storytelling and transparency"

Lenzing now publicly shares information concerning which type of trees it uses to make its cellulosic fibres, which region or country they come from as well as how much water and energy they use to produce its fibres. The company also has implemented a process for fibre identification, so they are able to offer brand certification for all their branded fibres. But how does Lenzing share this information with its consumers? In the past customers used to write letters of concern to Lenzing, asking them if they used wood from ancient forests, but now consumers are able to find the answers to their questions online at Lenzing's website Carved in Blue.

“Gen Z and Millennials get most of their information from social platforms, like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. And those forms of media have become very important for storytelling. So, we see that connection between transparency and storytelling happening,” she adds Many speakers link the success of denim brands such as Everlane to their approach to transparency and how they use it to tell their brand story to consumers. However, at the end of the day, most attendees agreed that full-transparency is not necessarily something consumers want. "I think that the consumer just wants to know that their products were made in a safe way and conscious way", stresses Mariette Hoitink, managing director of HTNK and denim insider. "We are almost like a family here, the denim industry is not that big, and I feel that consumers want to know that people who make their products are treated the same way they would treat their friends and family."

Photos: Courtesy of Kingpins

Kingpins Transformers