Sustainability Conversations

Product Integrity is at the Core of All Sustainable Actions

Mentor

Manu Kapur

President & CEO - Home Textiles at GHCL Ltd.

1. The critical need for fashion sustainability is lifecycle traceability and management. Can knowing the source help in sustainability transformation?

Absolutely.  Product integrity has to necessarily be at the core of all sustainable actions. There need to be systems and solutions in place to secure total control and complete transparency across activities such as sourcing, production and distribution. Without a seamless and established traceability mechanism, the element of trust towards the authenticity of all sustainability-related claims gets compromised. Information about product source, the path through its lifecycle, Tier 2 and Tier 3 production fraud and risk mitigation related to social and environmental compliance, where social and environmental compliance may be compromised, is paramount importance 

Provenance is imperative in establishing confidence and is key to sustainability transformation. Deep insight into the source, for example of raw material such as cotton, authenticates conditions of cultivation and the impact on the environment and people involved. Tracking the origin of the fibre and establishing it unambiguously, is hence imperative for the sustainability journey of the product

2. What in your view are the primary reasons for adopting product security ( or other ) in fashion?

The primary reason for adopting product security in fashion is to ensure that the integrity of the product remains unblemished, insulated from efforts to create fakes, to substitute sustainable and other.

Adopting product security in fashion is of crucial importance for four reasons, in my opinion:

  • First, to secure that relocation and outsourcing of textile manufacturing to destinations with less stringent laws and rampant availability of cheap labour, does not result in any anomalies related to wages, overtime payments, effluent treatment and discharge etc.
  • Second, to guard against rampant counterfeiting, especially in the case of high-end luxury brands, as anyone who has encountered Shanghai’s innumerable ‘fake markets’ or street peddlers would know.
  • Third, to authenticate claims about the provenance and presence across the supply chain of sustainable or other raw materials that offer unique attributes, such as Lyocell or Egyptian Cotton, which are invariably more expensive than and often not as easy to procure as their conventional counterparts.
  • Fourth, with supply chains getting more and more complex, entailing sourcing of inputs from various geographies and largely decentralised production, there is a heightened degree of movement, transportation and warehousing at different locations.  It renders the supply chain susceptible to inconsistencies and establishes the need for integrating the entire product cycle information.

3. How can sustainability solutions in fashion benefit from product security features in fibres, filaments and textiles?

There really can be no sustainability without traceability. Manufacturers, retailers and brands need to be able to stand behind claims of sustainable nature of their product, the environmental impact of production and related impact on the people involved in manufacturing. The consumer today, especially the millennial consumer, is not just inquisitive about the sustainability aspect of a product but is demanding in terms of wanting proof for these claims and is unforgiving in case there is a deviation or discrepancy between the promise and the actual reality.

Security features in fibres, yarns, fabrics and ready goods are crucial in establishing provenance and securing seamless tracking across the entire value chain. It is the most reliable and trustworthy way of upkeeping the integrity of a product and safeguarding it from irregularities that inadvertently creep up or from callousness or mal intent, given that the price and ease of procurement of sustainable fibres can be a bit of a challenge.

4. What is your advice to sustainability professionals exploring product and digital transformation?

The fashion industry has continuously contributed to the degradation of life on our planet. The industry has to conscientiously and unambiguously work towards furthering sustainability, no longer treating it as a ‘tick in a box’ or as something fashionable to talk about or even as a competitive advantage, but as a ‘life or death’ issue, because that is precisely what it is now.

Traceability alone offers proof of the veracity of these actions and gives consumers an unparalleled degree of trust along with a feeling of contributing towards saving the planet.

My advice to sustainability professionals is to hence take traceability very seriously and to work collaboratively with establishments offering foolproof solutions in terms of either paper trail certification like the Global Recycled Standard or digital transformation through enterprise software solutions or blockchain technologies or scientific solutions such as isotopic, optical or forensic traceability, which clearly is the pinnacle of trust.

5. What are the key industry standards to plan for?

I feel the essential industry standards to plan for would be :

  • One – for the industry to recognise that sustainable management of value chain is vital, for that improving transparency and traceability has to be a crucial priority. Conscientiously working towards this end, while steering collaborations amongst stakeholders, is the way forward to stay ahead of potential risks and irregularities and to benefit from a reputation of being an ethical player.
  • Two – to connect lifecycle management with the Internet of Things and secure the recognition and validation of sustainable products, which can, for instance, be ‘recycled, reused or repaired’, and will hasten the transformation to a regenerative circular economy model. The Ellen McArthur Foundation in 2016 stated that product traceability accorded by blockchain can facilitate keeping materials in closed-loop systems, avoiding landfills and incineration.
  • Three – to consciously look at adapting scientific provenance and supply chain traceability solutions that have had a proven track record in sophisticated areas such as human forensics, food, currency bills, pharmaceuticals and petroleum products.