Human rights nonprofit Remake is building off the success of its #PayUp campaign with the launch of its inaugural transparency report.
And it’s drawing attention to where the industry has erred when it comes to sustainability.
“One of the reasons I believe that we haven’t made much progress on sustainability is for too long the research has been paid for and controlled by brands,” Ayesha Barenblat, Remake founder and chief executive officer said of the Remake 2020 transparency report, which challenges existing brand-funded reports. “Whenever brands don’t meet the criteria, we just change the goal posts.”
The report was built with insight from human rights, climate, water and waste experts with consultation from “un-compromised” university partners such as Timo Rissanen, associate professor of fashion and textiles at University of Technology Sydney, and Lynda Grose, chair of fashion design at California College of the Arts. Importantly, Remake’s ratings are only based on what information is publicly disclosed.
“You can’t just buy your way for a sustainable future,” said Barenblat, challenging how brands and consumers have embraced sustainability in recent months.
True to Remake’s core pillars of “transparency, education and leadership development” — research was funded by the Remake team, including its nonprofit partners and 600-member Remake ambassador network, which launched less than two years ago.
In the report, brands are categorized as “rock stars,” “offenders,” “wannabes” and “up-and-comers” based on a scale of 100 points — higher being better. The weighted averages ensure a passing score of over 50 can only be achieved when a brand meets the criteria for both garment worker wellbeing (fair wages, worker welfare) and environmental sustainability (waste, water, carbon, raw materials, animal rights and packaging). Other ranking categories include traceability and transparency, sustainable raw materials and diversity and inclusion in leadership.
Streetwear brand Supreme — which was recently acquired by VF Corp. in a $2.1 billion deal — earned a solemn “0” points on Remake’s report for its lack of public disclosure.
“Earning 0 points in our framework, there is no mention of sustainability on the Supreme web site,” read the Remake transparency report. “Time for Supreme to step up and address its carbon and human rights impact…”
Not far off from Supreme were Boohoo, Urban Outfitters and Missguided, each earning 5 points or less due to lack of public disclosure or sustainability targets. Addressing Urban Outfitters, Remake said, “While we commend Urban for not using plastic bags in its brick-and-mortar stores, it has a long road ahead of it. Urban needs to be more transparent about its material, carbon, human rights and waste impacts. Urban partakes in greenwashing by talking up its philanthropic community initiatives rather than focusing on the impact of its products on workers’ lives and our planet.”
Other “offenders” by Remake’s standards, those scoring under 36 points, were fast-fashion retailers Inditex (Zara), Uniqlo and H&M Group, as well as digital-native brands such as Allbirds and Everlane, with all omitting key details related to worker wellbeing and transparency.
“Publishing photos of its factories tells us nothing about the wellbeing of workers, how much they are paid or how the brand monitors conditions,” read a note addressing Everlane’s score. Allbirds received praise for accounting for carbon offsets and sharing factory locations, “but unfortunately, there are no details on the brand’s site detailing who is actually making these shoes, how they are treated or what they are paid,” by Remake’s write-up.
Remake’s “rock star” brands included Patagonia, Mara Hoffman, Nudie Jeans, Mud Jeans, Outerknown, Organic Basics, Girlfriend Collective and Nisolo Shoes.
In the case of Mud Jeans and Outerknown, Remake touted each of their supply chain codes of conduct for dictating water-saving practices and the use of recycled water and reusable fabrics. Patagonia, Girlfriend Collective and Nisolo Shoes were especially commended for worker wellbeing, including Patagonia’s use of Fair Trade Certified factories.
As for Remake’s “wannabes,” or those that are making progress but still have a way to go — there were a mix of brands like Reformation, Madewell, Lululemon and Nike, among others. Scores for this category averaged between 18 and 62 points with brands downranked for “greenwashing attempts.”
One-off sustainable collections that have yet to be broadened across a brand’s product assortment are themes in this category. Madewell’s eco-denim collection, for example, “may be practicing sustainability, [but] the unfortunate truth is that the rest of Madewell’s apparel line doesn’t come anywhere close in its transparency efforts,” the report noted.
On a more positive note, “up-and-coming” brands are said to be “small but mighty” labels like Prana, Known Supply and Soko jewelry, all certified Benefit Corporations.
One area of concern Barenblat highlighted in the report was how most brands scored “extremely low” in Remake’s leadership, diversity and inclusion category.
“These brands are so good at marketing sustainability — is there any substance? Across the board, we downgraded every brand when we took a hard look at D&I,” she added. Be it executive leadership or board composition, Barenblat said, “[representation] looks fundamentally different than the Black and brown women who bring our clothes to life.”
She is hopeful leadership is shifting to improve on diversity as the industry takes an honest appraisal of its shortcomings.
Zooming out a bit to address a broader view of where fashion should go from here in addressing sustainability, Barenblat called for unpacking the tension between global growth and production.
“When a company reaches a certain size that original sustainability ethos seems to go out the window. Sustainability doesn’t really scale,” she said. “The more ill-disciplined your supply chain — the harder it gets to control.”
Barenblat is also calling for brands to change how they view sustainability investments and growth.
When it comes to consumers, Barenblat thinks information should be readily “digestible” and not hidden behind pages of Corporate Social Responsibility reports. Similar to consumer-facing application Good on You, Remake also manages its own sustainable brand directory to help consumers vet potential purchases.
Looking ahead, Barenblat said, “Over time, I hope that our [sustainable brand] directory and this report becomes a go-to resource to get brands to disclose in a fair and easy-to-understand way.”
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