Transformers Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded by 12 players in the denim supply chain, representing cotton growers, mills, laundries, chemical companies, and beyond, provides denim suppliers with a platform to share their expertise and opinion on industry threats and solutions in the fashion and denim industry.
The foundation has recently released "Fashion’s Certification Complex: Needlessly Complicated, Woefully Ineffective," a report by Alden Wicker, an industry expert and independent journalist, on how fashion’s chemical auditing is failing us and what actions industry and policy could make to fix it.
Today, November 10 at 3pm CET/9am ET, through Transformers Foundation’s own Zoom channels, is presenting the study trying to set up a road for rebuilding chemical management by explaining what brands and retailers can do to ensure the best standards, what legislators can do to accelerate change and what chemical companies can do to simplify this unnecessarily complicated landscape.
The interviewed insiders include Roberto Camera (Nearchinica), Davide Righi (Kevin Group), Anna Le Ali Abdullah (Diamond Denim by Sapphire), Scott Echols (ZDHC Foundation), Alberto De Conti (Rudolf Group), Silvia Pariti (Blu Win Limited), Zaki Saleemi (Crescent Bahumann), Andrea Venier (Officina +39) and Thomas Aplas (CHT) among others.
Many of the organisations mentioned in the paper explained how offer almost identical services, and yet the supply chain must adopt all of them, and front the cost. Many brands and retailers have even created their own suite of restricted substance lists (RSLs) and testing protocol on top of the third party auditing they require.
This system puts consumers and garment workers at risk, while consumer advocacy groups continue to test clothes and accessories and find heavy metals, hormone disrupting chemicals, carcinogens, and banned dyes.
Moreover, the study ascertained that the science of textile toxicology is under-researched and there is uncertainty about how many types of chemicals are currently used in the fashion industry or global commerce.
There is also a significant debate around which chemicals are hazardous, how much of a hazardous chemical can be present on a fashion product, routes of exposure, the accuracy of testing methods, and more.
Many large brands have joined ZDHC, the industry group dedicated to ensuring factory effluent is free of hazardous chemicals. While this has aligned some of the fashion industry around safer standards, there still is not enough alignment around a single set of rules and chemical management remains largely voluntary. Moreover, certification and auditing schemes are expensive, hard to scale up, and easily circumvented by those who wish to cut corners.
Though private certification and testing schemes may not have delivered an alternative solution could be building on them to make a more efficient, more innovative, fairer, and more effective global chemical management program. It is possible to make fashion products safe—for everyone. But to do so, brands, governments, and chemical suppliers must collaborate and align on a single set of standards as outlined in this report.
The SPIN OFF selected some quotes from the survey stated by insiders of the business.
“In the late ’90s and early 2000s, apparel brands and retailers started to wonder, Oh my God, what’s being used on our products? We need to be in control, we need to know more. And that is all incredibly fair and correct. What has happened, though, is that instead of forming overarching bodies that were in charge of understanding and regulating the issue, there has been a proliferation of individual approaches from brands and retailers,” Alberto De Conti, Rudolf Group.
“I tell you, frankly speaking, the product that I sell is the same, but if I don’t have Bluesign, ZDHC or GOTS I will lose almost 50% of the business. You are the supplier, and you do what the customer wants,” Roberto Camera, Nearchimica.
“You have an industry marking their own homework. A conflict of interest issue where you have certification schemes and a revolving door, potentially, between the people writing the rules and people who are making money out of that same business model. If you don’t make it mandatory for companies to act in a certain way, what we’ve seen is that action is not going to happen fast enough just with the kind of goodwill of industry. But all that said, we’ve specifically highlighted ZDHC in our policy paper—we can build on what’s been done and these voluntary initiatives,” Emily Macintosh, European Environmental Bureau.
“You have to build trustworthy relationships with the biggest chemical suppliers because we cannot just trust the certification, It’s really easy to fake documentation. Each company today is capable of getting the certification for the products that actually they cannot get a certification for,” Kaan Şen, formerly Ereks Blue-Matters.
“If the creatives allowed a minimum deviation, there are possibilities for much more sustainable replacements. And, if you combine this state-of-the- art chemistry with modern machine technology, there’s a lot that could be done with less water and less energy. But all these innovations require more flexibility from designers in terms how a garment looks,” Thomas Aplas, CHT.
“This is slowly killing us. Customers are asking you for registration, of course, but they don’t want to pay the cost. So, everything must be given free of charge. Just to give you an idea, our company has a turnover of around €15 or 16 million. Just REACH’s cost,” the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, “has been over one million euros. Every year we spend for certification—including the analysis that we have to do for Inditex because they want the product analyzed two times a year—we spend more or less €150,000 for different certifications, including the cost of the people managing this,” Roberto Camera, Nearchimica.
“Sometimes we spend too much time looking at chemicals that either exist in minute amounts or are not necessarily hazardous, when we should be focusing on the bigger polluting issues,” Amanda Cattermole, textile chemistry consultant.
“I’m more concerned about those cheap jeans coming from the fast fashion industry, those are the ones that you really have to go after,” Franky Vangaever, denim textile consultant.
“It’s not just about putting the responsibility on consumers to change. It is about creating the kind of critical mass of pressure on companies that says: ‘We see you, we see what’s happening - and we don’t want to take part in such a system when we buy something for ourselves or a loved one’,” Emily Macintosh, European Environmental Bureau.