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Defining transparency

What does it mean to be a transparent brand?

The route to sustainability is undoubtedly long and complicated. Being a sustainable brand in a market-driven by growth is continuously challenging, not only because the word ‘sustainable’ in terms of a brand quality is expansive and ambiguous.

On the one hand, sustainability means producing clothes with a more positive impact on the planet and everyone on it. This includes both animals and humans, meaning fairer practices for factory workers and less harm to biodiversity. On the other hand, sustainable fashion is about eliminating waste, both during production and putting a stop to mass finished products go straight to landfill.

This broad and expansive definition businesses are striving for therefore moves sustainability away from being a concrete goal and towards a continuous process with increasingly more boxes to tick. For many brands, becoming more sustainable means first and foremost, the right mindset, and a core prioritisation in brand values to constantly do better.

‘This broad and expansive definition businesses are striving for therefore moves sustainability away from being a concrete goal and towards a continuous process with increasingly more boxes to tick.’

But this means very little without transparency to consumers.

So, what does transparency mean?

In short, it’s about being honest, open and communicative with customers. It’s about opening up the doors to the metaphoric back office and having nothing to hide. No distorting figures, stretching the truth, or “greenwashing”. But beyond metaphors, how do we actually make this happen?

Different brands are working to be more transparent in various ways. For brands like People Tree, transparency is not only a core value but part of their larger image. Their practices can be found on multiple pages across their site, covering everything from fabrics to labour.

Another industry leader both in sustainability and transparency are Patagonia, with their expansive activism efforts – from fighting oil drilling to cleaning the most polluted neighbourhood in LA – and company processes easily accessible via a link on their homepage.  Not only are their efforts transparent, but they actively encourage consumers globally to get involved.

But of course, you don’t have to be an industry leader in sustainability to practice transparency well. Transparency is about sharing your current position in the process in an available and accessible format, highlighted by H&M displaying a wide-ranging report on their website.

‘Transparency is about sharing your current position in the process in an available and accessible format.’

Beyond delivering a fixed report, brands can also offer transparency via active updates on social media or through messages from senior leadership. For Ace & Tate, this meant delivering a full article from Founder and CEO, Mark de Lange via Medium, to deliver their up-to-date admittance on their downfalls and future intents as a brand. In a definition of true transparency, the text states “We’re on a mission to make the eyewear industry more sustainable. On Medium, we’re letting our walls down and taking you on our journey, wrong turns and all.”

Ace & Tate’s preservation of consumer trust highlights that it is not necessarily failures in sustainability that lose consumer loyalty, but rather failures in transparency. Rather, it is cases of covered up failures and distorted truths that really displace consumer trust. Recent examples of Boohoo’s unethical payment of worker’s in the UK, as well as Reformation’s failures with inclusivity practices, highlight the damaging potential of a lack of transparency before the consumer finds the facts elsewhere.

Regardless of what fashion brands do or don’t have to hide, transparency is becoming a brand asset in its own right. Fundamentally, businesses like Ace & Tate highlight that a brand’s sustainability, inclusivity or overall image doesn’t have to be immaculate to start getting transparency right.

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