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Supply Chain
'Low-Carb' Clothing, a T-Shirt Vending Machine and a Nordic Action Plan for Sustainable Fashion

The past week saw continued momentum in the global push for a more sustainable fashion industry, some from some surprising sources.

On Monday, the day after John Oliver’s blistering takedown of fast fashion on “Last Week Tonight,” leaders from Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Finland presented an action plan to establish their region as a driver of sustainable design, production and consumption by creating a circular economy for garments and textiles no later than 2050.

"Sustainability must not be an accessory," said Kirsten Brosbøl, Denmark's minister of the environment, in her opening remarks. "It has to be straight to the core, and it should be in every fiber."

Brosbøl pointed out that the textile industry is one of the most resource-consuming sectors in the world, noting that a Nordic citizen’s annual consumption of textiles uses more water than a family of three over the course of a year and produces the carbon dioxide equivalent of a 2,000-kilometre car journey. 80 percent of a garment’s environmental impact stems from choices made during the design phase, creating a huge opportunity for designers to minimize the footprint of its textiles.

The plan consists of a four-pronged approach:

  • Fostering sustainable designers through joint education programs across the Nordic region.
  • Mitigating environmental pollution through a common supply-chain standard, while pressuring the EU to enhance chemical regulations.
  • Cultivating a bigger market for sustainable fashion through responsible procurement and eco-labels.
  • And shifting the market toward greater recycling and reuse of materials.

“This is not going to be a quick change, it is a complete makeover — it is for the
long haul,” Brosbøl said. “And we cannot do it alone. That is why we invite industry, civil society, and political actors across the Nordic region to come together, to work together and to change together.”

The Copenhagen event also featured presentations from companies such as Atlantic Leather, H&M, Pure Waste, and With & Wessel, as well as a “Nordic bazaar” of ethically minded brands in the region.

One such ethically minded brand in the U.S., Reformation, celebrated Earth month in its own fashion by debuting RefScale, an eco-gauge that appears on all of Reformation’s product pages with details informing customers about their purchase’s environmental impact. The visual compares Reformation garments’ impact on water and CO2 with that of traditional manufacturing methods for every piece of clothing on the brand’s site. The comparison also calculates the total amount of water and CO2 saved by purchasing Reformation garments. The brand has also purchased carbon offsets for the total amount created in manufacturing to support environmental regeneration.

“[RefScale] helps us keep our true costs in mind when we make design and business decisions, and motivates us to create better solutions. More importantly, it shows people the total cost of fashion and empowers them to make their own choices,” explains CEO and founder Yael Alfalo.

Reformation says RefScale will include information on waste, toxicity and fair labor in the coming months as well, and the brand will publish an end-of-year report with totals of all resources used, saved, and invested in production and manufacturing.

“In running a company, I learned pretty quickly that when you spend money, you need to know it’s an investment and there will be more on the way. The same goes for the environment,” Alfalo says. “Better isn’t sustainable, it’s just better. We need to invest in programs that actually replace what we have spent.”

As part of the RefScale launch, Reformation debuted its “Low Carb” Collection, which features garments produced with the lowest carbon footprint possible.

Meanwhile, back in Europe — as fashionistas around the world were standing up for cleaner fashion on the second annual Fashion Revolution Day (April 24), a pop-up vending machine selling €2 t-shirts appeared in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. However, instead of merely dispensing the cheap shirts, the machine displayed shocking images of the production conditions that went into creating them.

The social experiment sought to raise awareness of the safety standards of the workers behind the production of the clothes we all wear, highlighting the conditions that people work to produce one of the cheap t-shirts.

As soon as shoppers inserted their money, the machine preceded with normal questions such as size, but then showed a movie full of shocking pictures from textile factories, mainly based in Bangladesh, where women and children work to produce clothes for 16 hours, many for as little as 9p an hour, without a break.

People want fashion at a bargain but would they still buy it if they knew how it was made?” reads the video. “Meet Manisha, one of millions making our cheap clothing for as little as 13 cents an hour each day for 16 hours.”

The video appears to have its intended effect: After the final question flashed on the screen, “Do you still want to buy this €2 t-shirt?”, nine of 10 shoppers chose to donate the money instead of buying the cheap white tee.