Sustainable fashion enthusiasts; remember this lady’s name

Sarah Ditty during Fashion Revolution Week 2019. Photo by Rachel Manns

The name Sarah Ditty probably doesn’t ring a bell. But let’s remember this lady’s name from now on, because she’s the Policy Director of Fashion Revolution. The world’s biggest fashion movement that advocates for a more transparent and sustainable fashion industry.

This means she’s the project and research lead behind the movement’s Fashion Transparency Index. The index ranks the world’s biggest fashion brands on transparency and is published every year in April, during the movement’s campaign week ‘Fashion Revolution Week’.

With data available since 2016, it not only shows us the state of transparency among brands now, but also how the industry has progressed over time. Making the index a very valuable source of information.

Interview Sarah Ditty

Policy Director at fashion movement Fashion Revolution

Whether it’s climate impact, working conditions or the lack of model diversity, the fashion industry has been under fire for several years now. A growing group of consumers – and even people within the industry itself – have been increasingly pressing for change. The big question is ‘how’? And in the meantime, the industry hurtles on. This five-part series explores the call for more transparency in fashion, as increasingly ‘transparency’ is thrown into the mix when talking about making fashion sustainable. But what does transparency in fashion mean? How does it affect the industry, businesses and consumers? In this third part we feature Sarah Ditty, Policy Director of world’s biggest fashion movement: Fashion Revolution.

Q: You track and benchmark global fashion brands’ performance on transparency since 2016, what has positively surprised you so far?

“Way more brands are publishing their supplier lists than when we started the Fashion Transparency Index in 2016. Back then we looked at 40 brands and only five brands were publishing their supplier lists. And even beyond the index, we knew that only a handful of fashion brands were publishing their first-tier suppliers and very few their processing facilities (where clothes undergo dyeing, printing, finishing, etc.) and no brands published where they sourced their materials. So, it’s been quite amazing and most of all encouraging to see that now 70 out of 200 brands we reviewed are publishing their first-tier manufacturers, 38 their processing facilities (where clothes undergo dyeing, printing, finishing, etc.) and 10 brands are disclosing some of the facilities or farms supplying their fibres such as viscose, cotton, and wool. That we now have this information available, means that in these few years fashion brands had to map out their supply chains. Considering the global scale of the fashion supply chain, this isn’t an easy task.”

“We see a continuous lack of transparency on the outcomes and impact of brands’ efforts.”

Q: What do you think should still be improved?

“We see a continuous lack of transparency on the outcomes and impact of brands’ efforts. I’m not entirely sure why this is. Maybe because it isn’t easy to measure your impact and brands are trying to figure out ways to do this. The thing is, this information is vital. It shows that brands are actually implementing their policies and commitments and are genuinely committed to ensuring that they’re not just paying lip service to these things, but that their actually committed to ensuring positive outcomes and the impact of their policies and activities. Two other things that haven’t progressed as fast as we might have hoped, are that brands aren’t disclosing much information about their purchasing practices and their annual carbon footprint. Only 19.5% of the brands are publishing their annual carbon footprint in their supply chain, while this is where brands have the most impact.”

SoFa design students during Fashion Revolution Week

Q: What have you/Fashion Revolution learned over the years from leading this research?

“There have been many learnings, especially on how you measure things and what type of information is meaningful to disclose. Like how do you measure human rights? Like gender equality, one of this year’s spotlight issues in the report. And what can we expect from brands to be able to disclose? Take for instance the results of brands’ supplier assessments. Typically, brands are auditing their suppliers and they’ll give information on how those audits work and maybe some aggregated data on the outcomes. But there’s no industry wide disclosure of the outcomes of these audits. Considering how massive some of these brands’ supply chains are, it means they’re doing thousands of audits every year. In one way we want to push for that information to be publicly available, so we can better understand and track the conditions in which people are working in factories. At the same time, we question ourselves how this can be done, without it not being a meaningful massive data dump that’s hard to make sense of and takes enormous time to make publicly available. This is how the debate around disclosure of audits is still ongoing within the industry. It’s also an ongoing conversation for us in relation to our methodology.”

Q: It might be surprising to people that fast fashion brands are ranking high in the Transparency Index, while luxury brands have received low scores. Can you explain this?

“Fast fashion brands, sports and outerwear have been scrutinized a lot longer for their unsustainable practices than luxury and premium brands. It’s only recently that those higher segment brands are now being scrutinized by the media and public and are looped into this conversation. That what makes them newer to this journey, I think, and somewhat behind in the conversation about what and how to disclose information. Sometimes, especially when we’re talking about more simple products like t-shirts, there’s not much difference between ones that cost £10 or £50. They may well be produced in the same production location. Therefore, we really think it’s important to include the luxury and premium brands. What is also surprising about this conclusion is that people sometimes mix-up sustainability and transparency. They’re not the same things. If a fast fashion brand is transparent, it’s not to say that they’re sustainable. The same applies to the luxury and premium brands.”

Tom Ford scores zero points. Yet, the fashion designer is Europe’s most popular luxury brand, according to independent research conducted by Kelkoo

Q: If you ran a fast fashion brand, what would be the first transparency measures you would want to see implemented?

“The first step is always publishing your policies and commitments. That sets the strategy, tone, values, and principles of the business. Next thing is to publish at least the first-tier supplier list. I find this really important, as it enables other stakeholders to get in touch with you and actually help you potentially identify issues you wouldn’t have been able to addressed with a typical or social audit in the first place. It’s also a really good step towards getting out there and saying: ‘Look we’re accountable, we want to be accountable for what happens in our supply chain and here is the opportunity for others to help us do that!’ The third thing I would probably do is pretty straightforward, it’s publishing contact details like an e-mail and phone number of the sustainability or other relevant department. This way there’s an open line of communication between the public, consumers, and other stakeholders should anyone want to get in touch for questions, concerns, and comments. [thinks for a second] Yes, those are the three things I would probably do first.”

“Publishing your first-tier supplier list is like saying: We’re accountable, we want to be accountable and here is the opportunity for others to help us do that.”

About Sarah

With a bachelor in global studies and a master’s in globalisation and development, Sarah started her professional career as a research assistant at the European Parliament. Her love for fashion however, never faded. It was already fostered in her childhood. She grew up around sewing machines and production lines, as her mom owned a small clothing production unit in the United States. Therefore, besides research, she also worked in the fashion and beauty industry as floor manager, freelance fashion stylist, and make-up artist. Later she became Chief Editor & Researcher for the Ethical Fashion Forum. She has been with Fashion Revolution since its inception in 2013 and became the Policy Director in September 2018. “I guess this is my way of putting my passions and interests altogether in a career.” Find Sarah’s full CV on Linkedin

About Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution is a global movement that works for a more sustainable fashion industry, with a special focus on the need for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. Headquartered in the UK, the movement works with local teams in more than 100 countries. Working all year round to raise awareness of the fashion industry’s most pressing issues, there’s always a peak during the movements campaign week ‘Fashion Revolution Week’. During that week, teams all around the world organise activities on transparency and sustainability in fashion. Here lies a great deal of the movement’s impact and strengths, bringing these two topics close to people and starting the conversation.

Fashion Revolution in the Netherlands

A growing number of consumers want to know how, where, and by whom their clothes are made. Therefore, we asked during Fashion Revolution Week 2019 what people want to know from brands about their clothes during and how they would like to receive this information.

Join 26 May our event on transparency in the fashion industry

As part of this editorial series about transparency in fashion, we have organised an event on this topic on the 26th May. Together with live drawer Nina from Ikigai agency, we’ll create a visual Consumer Fashion Transparency Manifesto. You can find here more information and buy your tickets for this event (fee is €14.50).

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