“We need to move faster”: Mulberry CEO on traceability and transparency

“There is an obligation to audit ourselves, and judge whether we are making progress in this department. We always try to put transparency first, and be honest about the progress or lack thereof,” he stressed.

Reffstrup believes companies should be upfront about their sustainability targets and not backpedal when it comes to this issue.

“In terms of transparency, we have a full-time person who is mapping out the journey and we are currently at Tier 3 supplier-led transparency initiatives, and we hope to get Tier 4 soon,” he added.

According to Reffstrup, getting information on raw materials and other data from Tier 4 is incredibly difficult as the market is very opaque in this regard. This is challenging to ascertain where the raw materials are coming from.

“In some cases, we only know if the fibres are organic or not. This is where the real work starts. We have an obligation to use the tools we have to improve workers’ rights, workers’ conditions and reduce our carbon footprint too,” he said.

Digital IDs at Mulberry 

Thierry Andretta, Mulberry CEO, echoed these thoughts, stating that sustainability has always been the focal point for the brand. A commitment towards sustainability, transparency and circularity was something that was reaffirmed during its 50th anniversary in 2021.

“Forty per cent of the company’s leather is now coming from regenerative farming in Europe, specifically Denmark, and the system is now very open and transparent,” he added. 

Interestingly, Andretta mentioned that customers in China and Korea are very much attuned to sustainability messages, based on their purchasing habits and browsing behaviours on their international websites.

According to Andretta, the company is part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative, a private sector coalition that was launched by Prince Charles in 2020 to promote circularity and regenerative agriculture.

A highlight of the initiative was the launch of digital IDs in 2021, which are attached to each product and embed details about the products’ manufacturing and sustainability credentials. Customers are able to view this information by tapping onto the NFC-enabled tags using their smartphones. They can also read details about exclusive services from Mulberry including authentication, repair and resale. By 2025, the technology will be rolled out across all products at Mulberry.

“We take great pride in creating objects that are made to last, to be loved and passed onto the next generation. Through the digital ID, Mulberry can offer customers increased transparency into the unique journeys of our products, deliver services such as lifetime repair, buy-back and resale, and ensure that every bag can have multiple lives,” said Andretta.

Natasha Franck, CEO and founder of tech platform Eon, which worked with Mulberry on the project, is excited about the future of digital IDs.

“We are seeing brands move to implementing digital ID on their whole portfolios, and they are embedding intelligence, integrity, authenticity and circularity within their products through digitization.”

Franck likened the digital ID to a barcode that can provide information on each stage of the product life cycle, which may have huge implications for all the stakeholders involved.

“Through digital IDs, brands can steward these products through resale, it’s a great monetisation tool, and it builds a longer lasting relationship with the consumer,” she noted.

Power to the people

Janet Mensink, executive director of The Social & Labour Convergence Program, discussed the importance of transparency for protecting people who work within the supply chain at brands.

“Transparency is one of the levers that we can use to address issues such as workers’ conditions, labour rights, wages, but only if it’s based on actionable and credible data,” she noted.

Mensink stated that currently 8000 factories in the fashion industry are using the organisation’s ‘Converged Assessment Framework’. 

It may only be a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of factories in the ecosystem, but it’s a start.

“Visibility in the actual supply chain on factory conditions needs to be front and centre, so that we can have more data to benchmark and improve the lives of workers, through better workers rights, wage and working conditions,” she noted.

Maeve Galvin, global policy & campaign director at Fashion Revolution, revealed that since 2017, the Fashion Transparency Index has covered 100 brands where only 32 brands disclosed first tier supplier lists, but now in 2022, out of 250 brands, at least half are now disclosing these credentials.

“We still have a long way to go, while there has been progress on disclosures and policies, there is still a way to go in terms of impacts and outcomes,” she stated. 

While 41 percent of fashion brands have policies around freedom of association and the right to organise, only 10 percent reveal how many of their workers are being represented by collective bargaining agreements. 

Galvin feels this massive disconnect is still an issue that needs to be addressed going forward.

“There have been some good developments like the Fabric Act in the US, and corporate sustainable due diligence directives in Europe, but there are still broader supply chain issues that need to be looked into, the onus is on all of us to make a difference and create a more tangible outcome.”

Galvin also mentioned that brands need to collaborate with each other to address living wages legislation and brands need to do their due diligence on this issue as well. 

Franck chimed in by saying the nature of collaboration within the industry can impact digitization in a good way towards solving these complex underlying issues.

In conclusion, most panellists agreed that collaboration and alliances within the fashion industry are crucial towards making the fashion industry an agent of change. As Andretta summed it up, “It’s all about timing, we need to move faster.”

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