Waiting for perfection will mean we won’t do anything.
There’s tension in the transparency space around when is the right time to become a transparent business. It’s a delicate and often quite risky move to open up and be honest, knowing that highlighting the product or process that you’re championing could mean lots more questions around another aspect of your business.
And while we at Provenance are unwavering in our commitment to transparency, we recognise that it’s very much a journey.
As such, we want to empower brands to know that sharing your work-in-progress around sustainability and impact is a good thing. It’s time to have that conversation.
Last month, we partnered up with Common Objective for a webinar around driving success through transparency in the fashion industry.
Along with Qiulae Wong, Head of Product & Marketing at Common Objective, our Head of Enterprise, Louise Garvin, spoke about the challenges faced on the journey to a mapped-supply chain and a transparent business model.
One of the highlights for me came in at the very end – with a question we have to answer regularly at Provenance. As such, I thought I’d share with you some bits of the last few minutes of the webinar when Louise and Qiulae articulated this very common concern.
Is transparency an issue when your supply chain isn’t perfect?
“I think we probably meet a business every other week who goes, ‘We're terrified; we're not perfect. So, let's not do this.’ But the way the consumer demand is going today – that’s just not an option.” – Louise, Head of Enterprise at Provenance
From a business perspective, we often have to take a “warts and all” approach, as Louise puts it, and start trying to just do something.
When you look at the businesses who are leading in this space – the activist types, the sustainability successes, the ‘Patagonias’ – they are all excited to talk about what they’re doing and eager to advocate for the change they’re trying to build towards.
A good example of this is in the fashion industry is Mother of Pearl, a luxury brand that overhauled their business when they tried to actively change their practices and source more sustainable materials, all the while being more transparent about those decisions.
“They were terrified, as are most luxury brands, because they don’t want to get crucified in the media…. Even if they’re doing 80% right – the media or consumers might focus on the 20% that you’re doing wrong,” Qiulae from Common Objective explains.
So, the result? “Mother of Pearl just absolutely took over the fashion media for six months following the launch of that collection, because everybody wanted to know the story.”
And that’s the crux of it. Mother of Pearl were open and honest about the challenges that they faced, including about the time (3 years) it took to get to where they wanted to be.
“I think if people are honest about those challenges, then that’s all you can ask for,” says Qiulae.
A challenge, indeed, as transparency is a job that’s never done. As the Eileen Fisher quote states – it is a constant unraveling so that we can build better products.
“This isn’t something that next Tuesday someone will have completed. You have not completed transparency. When you think you have, you won’t,” acknowledges Louise.
To do this, you have to start somewhere with transparency. Anywhere, really, is a step in the right direction.
She continues, “You might not want to reveal all of your strategic suppliers and all of your strategic materials, but even starting to reveal countries and areas and regions – that level of detail starts to build a better risk picture of what you’ve got.”
As a business, you’ve already probably got your eye on certain issues that you know you’ll want to take seriously, but as a start, it’s really about:
Laying out your supply chain
Understanding where your risk factors might be
Making a plan and commitments to improve your impact from that starting point