The term “transparent fashion” or “radical transparency” has been floating around in mainstream media for a couple of years now. Whenever we hear this term, we think of sweeping concepts such as a brand being anti-sweatshop, advocating for fair trade, and overall being an ethical fashion brand. But all those obvious points of reference put aside, what do we really know about the work that goes into making a transparent fashion brand transparent? What exactly does being “transparent” even mean?
Traceability of Production Processes (#WhoMadeMyClothes)
One of the most obvious ways in which a brand can be transparent is by being open about its production processes. Here is how ethical rating app Good on You rates a brand’s traceability with regard to production processes (more specifically, how it treats all humans involved in the production process):
“We look at a brand’s impact on workers across the supply chain. These include policies and practices on child labour, forced labour, worker safety, freedom of association (the right to join a union) and payment of a living wage. We also consider a brand’s supplier relationships and auditing practices.”
Most of you might already be familiar with Fashion Revolution’s movement #WhoMadeMyClothes, and if not, they’re an action-oriented global movement raising awareness on the fashion industry’s most pressing issues. Their solution to determining if the brand you’re looking at is a transparent fashion brand is to ask them #WhoMadeMyClothes, because a transparent fashion brand will make sure to not only release information on its production process, but will also ensure that this information is widely accessible to customers and anyone else who looks for it.
Intersectional Brand Values
A less obvious aspect of a transparent fashion brand lies in intersectionality. A brand could be transparent about its production processes, but all of this will mean very little if they had compromising ethical values with regard to social issues outside of immediate environmentalism. In fact, environmentalism is indeed a very intersectional issue in itself, with some social issues most directly connected to environmentalism include racism and feminism.
If you want to check if a brand is being transparent about its values, some questions you could ask include: “What other social issues (other than environmentalism) does this brand stand for?” and “Is this brand exploiting marginalised groups for their own benefit?”
Policies and Commitments
Recently, the ethical fashion brand Everlane came under fire for its unfair treatment of customer service workers and for trying to suppress worker unions within its office in San Francisco. This news has been especially shocking, as Everlane has always been known for its “radical transparency,” promising customers that they “reveal the true costs behind all of our products—from materials to labor to transportation.”
With that said, it is a reminder and encouragement that customers should not stop their research at the term “transparent” or “radical transparency.” At the end of the day, brands can say they practice transparency, but what’s important are the detailed policies and commitments that they stand by on a daily basis.
Image taken from Fashion Revolution
Accountability (Especially in times of crisis)
On a similar note, the final facet of brand transparency involves accountability when a brand inevitably messes up. While the abuse of labor policies or deliberate deception regarding sustainability are much more serious issues than a simple “mess up,” what’s important is how brands hold themselves accountable to these mistakes and how they move on from crises. A transparent fashion brand will, before anything, have initiatives and spaces set in place so that anyone who recognises a serious issue will be able to air their grievances. Once these grievances go public, however, a transparent brand’s duty is to inform their customers of what and why something happened, and clearly set a path towards improvement. It goes without saying that the brand also must commit to these new initiatives to gain back the trust of their customers and workers as well.