WASHINGTON – The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) and the Transformers Foundation have released a ground-breaking new report calling on the whole fashion industry to rally around better, clearer data to enable responsible, credible sustainability claims.
The report uses cotton as a case study, given the wealth of misinformation which has been published about this much-loved fibre over recent decades.
The 135-page report offers practical guidance to equip fashion professionals with “the tools they need to build critical data consumption in fashion and eradicate misleading claims.”
Transformers Foundation is a non-profit organization which provides suppliers with a platform to share their expertise and opinion on industry threats and solutions, while ICAC is the figurehead for the global cotton industry and has been around for more than 75 years.
The premise of the report is that fashion has a “serious and growing misinformation problem,” with “inaccurate and outdated figures widely shared,” and data being used, “without any context.”
“While the industry doesn’t need to agree on one-size-fits-all solutions to fashion’s problems, we need to agree on the facts or progress will fade from view,” the report states.
It suggests that, in the cotton space, “virtually every common claim about the sector is false or misleading, including that it requires 20,000 litres of water to make a T-shirt and a pair of jeans or that cotton uses a quarter of all insecticides. Even the notion that cotton is water-thirsty is misleading enough that we discourage its usage.”
The report also debunks the oft-repeated claim that organic cotton production uses 91 per cent less water than conventional cotton. This claim originated from Textile Exchange and continues to adorn the websites of many leading global fashion brands. Notably, Textile Exchange has now told the publishers of this new report that it has removed the claim from its website.
As well as being a welcome development [well done Textile Exchange] this is actually very significant given that the LCA data originally used to make this claim also underpins the data for organic cotton being used by the Higg Index and its ‘Sustainability Profiles’. These are now being rolled out by fashion brands including H&M, Tommy Hilfiger and Amazon. Can brands now credibly make this claim about organic cotton to end consumers when the source of the claim has now distanced itself from it? Watch this space.
The new report argues that teaching citizens and institutions to become critical consumers of data and information is the missing ingredient in halting the spread of misinformation.
It is authored by Elizabeth L. Cline, expert and advocate in fashion sustainability and labour rights, and Marzia Lanfranchi, the Foundation’s intelligence director and co-founder of Cotton Diaries.
It draws on current leading research and dozens of interviews with industry experts to form in-depth case studies debunking the most widely used cotton statistics.
“Transparency and traceability prove authenticity. We envision a future where farmers tabulate the amount of pesticides they use, the amount of water they use, all of the different inputs to compare this with their yield and continue retrieving the stream of data to a product’s end of life,” said Andrew Olah, founder of Transformers Foundation. “We have been eager to launch this report to provide readers with tools to enable data transparency that will ultimately inform best practice and viable solutions for the health of the planet, the people, and our industry.”
Transformers Foundation is hosting a two-panel series hosted by the report’s co-authors, with special guests Allison Deger, independent fact-checker; Cecilia Parker Aranha, project director, Competition and Markets Authority; Hilary Jochmans, founder of Politically in Fashion; Lavinia Muth, CSR at Armedangels; Mathieu Jahnich, responsible marketing expert; Terry Townsend, former executive director of ICAC and cotton statistician.
The panellists will discuss the report’s highlights and offer lessons for using data responsibly and what accountable marketing looks like.
Full details below:
October 13th: Debunking myths, fact-checking and how to use data responsibly
October 18th: Anti-greenwashing legislations, responsible marketing and citizenship