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SAN FRANCISCO – The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is developing an online tool to help end consumers understand the Higg Index. The goal is to ultimately help brands in communicating their Higg Index performance in a meaningful way with the public. The SAC’s Higg Index is a standardised suite of tools that measures environmental and social labour impacts across apparel supply chains. While adoption is wide, the missing link is end-consumers, and it is hoped this centralised portal will enable SAC members and Higg Index customers to transparently communicate about their sustainability work.

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The online tool comes on the back of newly published research by the SAC which worked with GlobeScan to investigate how the apparel, footwear, and textile industry can offer more meaningful transparency to consumers. As part of the research, the SAC hosted 12 consumer focus groups in six cities across China, Germany, the UK and the US.

The research aimed to unearth how the global apparel industry is currently perceived, how this is reflected in consumer sentiment towards transparency, and what people want in terms of sector transparency.

The report – well worth a read – notes a wealth of findings among consumers. These include:

  • This push and pull of positive and negative information has created a tension for some consumers in what to believe and who to trust. On the one hand, they are keen to see brands taking action, but on the other they question the extent, authenticity, and transparency of the actions taking place. At the moment, people are left with too many questions and not enough concrete answers.
  • In relation to clothing, consumers care most about the quality of the materials and the products they purchase. Consumers connect quality with personal benefits of safety (avoiding chemicals), clothing that is pleasant to wear, and longevity, as well as the societal benefits of durability, lower waste, and an association with more natural production (e.g. organic cotton).
  • Workers’ rights and conditions also matter to a large number in Europe and in New york. Currently, this topic isn’t as prominent in China.
  • Currently, most consumers know less about the wider impacts of the apparel, footwear, and textile industry associated with energy, water, and climate, although these too are starting to gain media attention and concern is spreading.
  • The opportunity (and risk) is growing. Rising awareness and expectations mean brands can increasingly stand out through demonstrating sustainability. Brands that don’t take action risk losing relevance with consumers.
  • Rebuilding trust is vital. For brands to get full credit for the actions and initiatives underway, the trust deficit needs to be addressed. To fight against the media narrative, there needs to be a stronger story of change from the industry.
  • Holistic action is needed at an industry level to shift perceptions. It is clear from consumer feedback that negative perceptions are associated with the industry collectively, making it hard for individual brands (especially global ones) to set themselves apart. A more open approach is needed to prove that the industry acknowledges the issues, collective change is underway, and brands are not “hiding” the true story.
  • Raw transparency on its own will not engage consumers. Pursuit of transparency as a goal in itself, transparency for transparency’s sake, will not help empower consumers to make sustainable choices. Transparency must facilitate the sharing of meaningful and relevant information in order to engage consumers effectively.

Read the full report here:

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