Fashion - from style to sustainability.

We know we desperately need more transparency and accountability in the fashion industry but how can we get there?

Fashion has it’s roots in humanity over 20,000 years ago when the first human stitched together furs for warmth and protection and realised that clothing could also serve as a way to distinguish friends from foes. In approximately 5,000BC the rise of great civilisations began, firstly the Sumerians, then the Egyptians and then the Romans. For these empires, clothing was no longer simply a protective barrier from the elements, it started to evolve into decorative items of comfort and then hierarchical symbols of status and power.

For centuries clothing production was a localised, hand-crafted sustainable economic activity where the makers were the wearers or lived nearby. Most of the value was on the production side of the value chain and the environment wasn’t heavily impacted.

With the event of the industrial revolution 200 years ago and increasing accessibility of global resources and labour (plus the discovery of specialist skills in far-flung corners of the globe) fashion has rapidly evolved and expanded in scale and scope. And it’s not stopped since.

Today the garment and textile industry is worth approximately  $3 trillion globally. More than the UK GDP! The modern day tradition of two season collections a year by high-end fashion designers (SS/AW) is now in serious competition with the rise of ‘fast fashion’ where new collections of cheap, low-quality mass-produced clothing are put on the shop floor every week. That’s 52+ ‘collections’ a year being produced and distributed to meet the rapidly changing demands of consumers, who in turn are being influenced (to buy more and wear it less often) by the same brands they are funding via social media.

Fashion is now the second most polluting industry in the world, only to be surpassed by the oil and gas industry. Today fashion is an industry built on huge imbalances in economic distribution along the value chain and is highly destructive to the environment. It can take over 20,000 litres of water to produce just one pair of jeans. The textile industry is one of the top three water-wasting industries in China, producing over 2.5billion tonnes of water waste every year. And it can take up to 8,000 chemicals to turn raw materials into items of clothes.

We know that there is grave need for transformational change within the industry, so how can we get to a place where there is more transparency across the supply chain with a fairer distribution of the industries economic value?

Fashion is an essential industry that isn’t going anywhere and the speed of change inherent within it could be leveraged to increase innovation beyond style to sustainability. But first, the industry needs a values overhaul. For this reason last week the UN held a session of the Commission for Social Development Council, in New York. Sustainability experts from around the world joined forces for the day to explore what can be done and how best to move the industry forwards.

We believe that until transparency, accountability and fairness become central to the way the fashion industry is led and operates, sustainable fashion will remain a novel sideline collection household brands can sell at a premium for good PR.

The #SORGindex exists to bring these values crucial to sustainability (transparency, accountability, fairness, trust) to the forefront of business. By becoming more aware of how sustainable organisations are now we can encourage them to increase how transparent they are and therefore build much-needed trust within the industry. Being simple and easy to calculate, the #SORGindex offers an accessible way to assess the sustainability of any organisation, bringing to light the relationship the organisation (and it’s owners) has with its team and the community it exists to serve. In a globalised, multi-layered industry like fashion where supply chains are unclear and value chains often unfair, the #SORGIndex offers a simple and effective way to shine a light on meritocratic organisations doing a great job.

By highlighting the work that sustainable fashion brands are doing we will be moving closer towards a more prevalent sustainable culture within the fashion industry. The #SORGIndex also has the ability to influence the perception consumers have of organisations and therefore impact their buying behaviour and habits.

We hope widespread use of the index will empower a bottom-up change in the industry that will favour all, transforming fashion from one of the least sustainable industries, to one of the most exemplary.

Here is Miguel presenting the benefits of the #SORGindex in creating a more sustainable fashion industry at the 55th session of the commission for social Development, at United Nations economic and social council,  on the 10th February in New York.

Further details about the #SORGIndex, how to use it, and the full Sustainable Organisation Model are available in Miguel’s book The Sustainable Organisation.