The topic of sustainability, in particular transparency, continues to be the focus of interest in the world of fashion and footwear. There are still many steps to be taken to succeed in transforming the current state of things towards their improvement. This is why at Expo Riva Schuh & Gardabags we continue to address the topic with some of the industry’s leading exponents who have gained years of experience in this field. During the January 2023 edition, a speech was held on the Expo Riva Show stage precisely on the topic of transparency in the entire supply chain. Speaking on the subject were Dave Kelley, founder and principal partner of Zefyr Consulting LLC, a consulting firm that focuses on transforming footwear and apparel supply chains so that they are profitable, dynamic and sustainable, and Elias Gröndal, CEO and co-founder of the sourcing platform findsourcing.com, which is dedicated to making the process from idea to product realisation easier.
Moderating the talk were two other leading figures when it comes to sourcing and sustainability: Ellen Schmidt-Devlin and William Wong, both members of the Scientific Committee of Expo Riva Schuh & Gardabags.
MAIN HINDERS TO SUSTAINABILITY IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY
Both speakers, Dave Kelley and Elias Gröndal, agree on a first major obstacle to sustainability, namely the lack of a shared awareness of what materials can be considered sustainable and the concept of sustainability itself. “Without these basic foundations we risk, and I often see this happening, just greenwashing by companies,” says Kelley. He continues: “The confusion caused by the lack of common, shared guidelines affects consumers who do not know what to consider truly sustainable.
Institutions are working to create the standards that are still missing and increasingly needed, standards that the industry can follow. Sustainability should be part of a brand’s business plan and value proposition, but in reality it is something that is still difficult to implement, for some more than others. Gröndal argues that ‘brands, especially small ones, have to deal with costs as well as quality and production time. Therefore, a triangle of priorities is created that defines the decisions made by brands, buyers and producers’. In spite of these obstacles, Gröndal has noticed a progressive approach of buyers to sustainability issues, an increased focus on the search for materials and products with a low impact on the environment. A fact verified above all through its platform, used precisely for online sourcing and contacting footwear manufacturers. The filters used for the searches showed a push towards greener and more ethical business partners.
William Wong also intervenes, bringing a perspective on the Asian market: “Retailers are looking and waiting for new ideas and to find products that are more sustainable or have less impact on the environment. But many manufacturers are still reluctant to adopt the new materials because they consider them too expensive. Moreover, the biggest hurdle, which the Asian market also runs into, is finding the right way to really check the sustainability of products and processes’.
Another big problem concerns transparency: there is reluctance to share how, which suppliers and materials are used.
CONSUMER AND BRAND BEHAVIOUR TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY
One concept that emerged during the discussion and found the speakers in agreement was the responsibility of consumers to drive demand for sustainable products. The more they are chosen and purchased, the more companies will consider the green turn to meet this demand.
Says Gröndal: ‘There is more attention today to production processes and product life cycle, to the impact of throwing away or recycling. Brands are starting to conduct analyses to find out which stages of the production chain have the greatest impact on the environment. For example, it appears that the carbon footprint is greater upstream in the supply chain than in the stages after purchase and use. It is really important to develop this kind of awareness and educate people on how to act and how to drive improvements so that real benefits for the industry and the world are produced”.
But, adds Kelley, “the power right now is mainly in the hands of the big brands that have the economic resources to embark on sustainable paths, chart a virtuous course and set an example for others to follow”. Among consumers, it is the younger generation that expresses the greatest interest in environmental well-being and sustainability. They are looking for products and brands with which they can identify and with which they can share values.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRACEABILITY FOR A MORE COMPLETE SUSTAINABILITY
It is not only brands that have responsibilities, but all those who are part of and contribute to the supply chain. Thus, the challenges of traceability and transparency related to limited information about materials, products and processing methods come into play.
“To achieve transparency and traceability, a chain of custody has to be established,” Kelley argues. “Someone has to take responsibility for tracking the materials, someone else has to have control over the shipping and processing of those materials, and so, step by step, until the product is put on the market and purchased.”
Kelley goes on to say that companies must realise that they are responsible both for their own part of the process, as well as for the process as a whole “because it is from the positive actions of everyone that an overall successful end result is achieved”. For sustainable projects to be realised, a 360-degree transformation is required that involves the entire value chain and all departments within companies: finance, production, marketing, sales and so on.
Gröndal intervenes, adding how necessary it is to create a network that allows the different realities to no longer work in isolation but collaboratively. Once again, the need for synergies and sharing in order to achieve the same goal emerges. Closing and supplementing the discussion is William Wong, who sheds light on the real and current state of the market and industries: ‘Companies should be able to move beyond choices made with the intention of containing costs and focus on making sustainable decisions. We are, however, in a difficult time for the industry, the outlook for the economy is not particularly optimistic, and there is a need to find a compromise between financial and quality issues’.
THE ROLE OF MOTIVATION IN THE JOURNEY TOWARDS CHANGE
It is Ellen Schmidt-Devlin who introduces the topic of motivation as one of the drivers that moves people to strive to change the state of things. So, what might be the motivation for companies to want to become more sustainable? According to Kelley, there is definitely the knowledge that it is the right thing to do – to put products on the market that represent positive values and that they can be proud of – and meeting consumer desires. “I recently read an article by the World Economic Forum,” Kelley shares, “which said that 75 per cent of Generation Z consumers are willing to pay more for products they believe are sustainable and buy from brands they trust.” Another motivation is the laws enacted in Europe and the United States that are changing the status quo, forcing companies to make changes in order to be compliant and meet the requirements necessary to receive sustainability funding.
Gröndal also intervenes on the subject: ‘Sustainability is also a way to be relevant in the market, to lead it again without being seen as a problem to be solved. Sustainability is a value and has to emerge as such in order to encourage more purchases, just as one chooses to buy from a luxury brand for its quality and the status it expresses. Brands must build their image and find their positioning in the minds of consumers.
With transparency in the supply chain, it will be easier to understand which products are derived from sustainable raw materials and processes, and as a result a true virtuous circle involving everyone can be started.