People are literally losing their lives to supply the world with fast fashion.
In 2013, a fire broke out at in a Bangladesh garment factory, causing the building to collapse and inevitably killing over 1,000 workers. It wouldn’t be the last time where fashion factory conditions and lax safety regulations would undergo massive scrutiny in the public eye.
Promises abound with retail behemoths like H&M and Gap, Inc. — which use multiple factories to source apparel supplied to their hundreds of global retail locations — vowing to clean up their act without much evidence of doing so.
Despite the severe tragedies and reality of present-day retail behavior which has direct impact on both the global labor force and the planet, consumers are turning toward a sundry of new companies that promise transparency from the ground up — skipping those that they can no longer trust to deliver on their promises to be ethical citizens.
To help add fuel to the fire for transparency within the industry, Natalie Grillon co-founded Project Just with Shahd AlShehail three years ago when they met as global Acumen fellows.
Driven as a movement to provide education in the form of a social networking tool, Project Just is an online platform that reviews brands for their supply chain ethics and sustainability. Adding in a gamification element, users can 'upvote' or 'downvote' brands based on their sustainability practices. The group also publishes shopping guides of the best brands under its 'Just Approved' seal.
We spoke with Grillon to further discuss the transparency challenges fashion brands face, and why storytelling by way of gamifying the shopping experience is changing the way consumers think about their favorite brands.
TriplePundit: Why is transparency important to both consumers and brands?
Natalie Grillon: For consumers, it's all about expecting experience with brands beyond just a purchase; they want to know the story behind the brand, relate to the brand on a personal level and a values level. Transparency is a part of all of these emotional and social behaviors.
Millennials and Generation Z also don't trust brands. You have to win their trust and prove [your ethics]. Post-recession insights on sustainability issues [within the fashion industry] have left people skeptical. It all ties into trust. With the prevalence of information about brand practices, people want proof that brands are truly doing what they say they are doing from beginning to end.
3p: Which brands do you feel are leading the way?
NG: There are a lot of small, interesting brands doing really interesting work while pushing the industry to innovate. I love Reformation for their Ref Scale; Duka Scarves for upcycling; Beru Kids for LA manufacturing and their use of dead stock; and Mudd Jeans for their leasing program. I was also excited about Levi's recycled jeans initiative. Across the board as a big company, Adidas is really doing an incredible job working toward greater sustainability.
In terms of setting a standard for luxury in sustainability, the Kering Group — Stella McCartney, Balenciaga, etc. — is sharing a lot of their internal knowledge.
3p: Do you believe this shift in the fashion industry is here to stay?
NG: Definitely. You can see the outcomes from this line of thinking around transparency and innovation across the board in the exciting new brands that are getting attention. Companies like Everlane, Eckhaus Latta and others come to mind.
You also see on the supply side the shift in the number of brands that are producing ethically and integrating this behavior into their manufacturing model from day one. With that said, there is still a lot to do and a long way to go.
3p: What do you find surprising about how your users are interacting with and telling stories about the brands they love?
NG: It's been interesting to see a lot of the votes on our platform: How many people upvote or downvote one of our brands based on their practices. Sometimes, their responses don’t align with what we would expect based on the brand’s transparency or practices. I think a lot of shoppers are still pretty naive on a lot of these issues around company ethics. However, they're also as eager to learn.
It's also interesting to see how passionate some people are about getting it right by really trying to change their shopping behavior to have a positive impact with everyday choices.
3p: Why does Project Just exist? What's the future of the platform, and how do you see it playing a critical role in the consumer/brand/impact relationship?
NG: We exist to change the way we shop. We want to increase transparency and accountability in the fashion industry through consumer demand. Consumer demand is the most powerful lever to shift a part of the industry that's currently ignored. Government intervention and company-based self-regulation haven’t worked. We know that demand and sales data can shift practices.
Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology, and digital inclusion.