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LONDON – Sustainability claims being made by global apparel brands are meaningless due to their almost exclusive dependence on ‘cradle-to-factory gate’ fibre data – this is one of the conclusions of a new essay by Veronica Bates Kassatly for the forthcoming edition of Apparel Insider.

In a timely piece on the meaning of sustainability in fashion, Kassatly argues that, as we head into the post-Covid world, this much over-used concept needs to be seriously examined.

And she says the industry’s widespread adoption of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index tools to support sustainability claims risks taking the industry backwards – and will likely result in a huge misallocation of resources.

More worrying still is that the SAC is now lobbying for its tools to be adopted at EU level, with the support of Global Fashion Agenda, through their joint initiative with the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry  – The Policy Hub.

The Higg MSI is pushing global apparel brands away from natural fibres and towards polyester, and the natural fibre industries are under attack as never before. Fibres such as alpaca, wool and silk all have a very poor rating on Higg and these scores are now being used to back up the arguments of organisations such as PETA, but as Kassatly demonstrates many of the ‘scores’ for natural fibres on Higg do not withstand close scrutiny.

The paper goes on to argue:

– Global apparel supply chains, including farmers, must agree on a definition of sustainability to be used in the apparel industry 

– They must also agree on a system of measurement for sustainability and a robust method of oversight

– If brands choose to make comparative fibre sustainability claims, they must cover cradle to grave – which the Higg MSI does not

 – Sustainability must incorporate socio-economic as well as environmental issues – for instance, the organic cotton lobby has never addressed the issue that many farmers who switch to organic production end up with higher debt and lower incomes, and so switch back to conventional production within a short time-frame

– All studies, including LCAs, must use exactly the same methodology and boundaries – or you can’t compare them

“Think of financial accounting – you cannot produce company accounts any old way you please,” Kassatly says. “If companies wish to claim to be more sustainable, to parade their B-corp status and their Green Bonds with “science-based targets,” they must first show us the science.

“Without this, absolutely all of it is just marketing.”

Our next issue is out in early August. For subscriptions see: https://apparelinsider.com/subscribe/online-subscription/

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