As Covid-19 has turned life upside down and laid bare the already-existing inequalities in the fashion system, there's been much talk from sustainability advocates about the idea of "building back better." The idea is that this moment of upheaval could be used to transform the industry in positive ways, since it's so clearly going to have to change one way or another.
But what would that actually look like? A just-released open-source resource from the New Standard Institute (NSI) — a think tank started by Maxine Bedat, originally known as the founder of Zady — is trying to help answer that question. Reviewed by scientists, labor experts and intersectionality advocates (Leah Thomas was on the Independent Review Committee), the roadmap is meant to address fashion in a holistic way.
NSI's new resource, entitled "Roadmap for the Rebuild," breaks down the path to positive change for three different kinds of stakeholders: citizens (Bedat prefers that term rather than "consumers," she notes on a Zoom call), media and brands. While some of the advice outlined will sound like things sustainability nerds have heard before, other pieces are more unique.
The roadmap offers different guidelines for large brands than for small ones, recognizing that a bigger brand might have a more significant influence over the supply chain, while smaller ones might have more of an impact on the world through their messaging. The roadmap also breaks down fashion certifications and what they mean and provides fashion media with useful tools for thinking about how to cover the environmental impacts of fashion more responsibly.
Part of doing that, implies the report, involves fashion media professionals learning to think more critically about the sustainability claims that are often thrown their way in the form of press releases riddled with unsubstantiated claims or "cherry-picked" sustainability facts. Sure, the brand in question might be using recycled plastic this season, but are they measuring and being transparent about the greenhouse gases that production of their collection emitted? This is just one example of the kinds of questions fashion journalists need to ask.
"One bold and overarching aim is to pull away at the loose thread of 'sustainable fashion,' [which is] safe but vague — to the point of meaningless — language, and level a more precise eye at the industry as a whole, focusing instead on meaningful disclosures to create the conditions for measurably reduced negative impact," wrote NSI in a release.
In the interest of disseminating its findings more thoroughly, NSI also plans to release a publicly available Master Class to help any interested stakeholders, from citizens to CEOs, learn more.