Episode 74: Why businesses are rethinking certifications
Importance of giving ideas time and space to grow
Discussion on certifications and their usage in the fashion industry
Common types of certifications
Reasons why brands use certifications
Challenges and weaknesses associated with relying on certification
Cost implications of obtaining and maintaining certifications
Certifications focusing on specific parts of the manufacturing process, lacking comprehensive assessment of sustainability performance
Encouragement to consider the supply chain and seek a holistic view of certifications used
Acknowledgment that many brands are navigating these challenges together
The unlikelihood of standardization in the near future
Hello and welcome to episode 74 of the Fashion Unearthed Podcast. My name's Belinda and I hope everyone is well out there. It's been starting to get so cold in Melbourne, so I've been pulling out the winding gear and hibernating a little bit, spending some time finishing off some design projects and also just thinking about ideas, some ideas I've had for the business for a while, and I've really taken to trust in the process and not forcing an idea, but giving it the time and space for it to percolate for a while. And I guess revisiting it and taking some notes and ideas as they pop up. I think winter is the perfect time to think about those little ideas and give them some space and room to grow. Yeah, stay tuned. My fortnightly newsletter usually goes into more detail on these things, but I've got some interesting new things cooking.
In the meantime, today I wanted to talk about certifications and some of the struggles that brands are facing and they're really being forced to rethink their roles and how they're using the certifications.
But where are certifications used? Well, it seems like there's a certification for everything these days, but the most common ones are where the raw materials have come from, the testing for chemicals in final products and also the use of fair labour practices. And why do brands use them? There are a few common reasons sometimes to make sure they're complying with legislation, sometimes to validate sources if they don't have people on the ground. And sometimes to signal to the consumer by using a logo that the product has been produced more responsibly. I think as supply chains have gotten longer and more opaque, the need for validation or verification has certainly grown. But it's not just a case of ticking the box and moving on. There are certain problems and I guess weaknesses with just relying on certifications. There are three main issues that brands are struggling to navigate at the moment.
Firstly, there's no standardization. This is from one standard to another, for example, BCI versus organic cotton versus recycled etc. And it's also from the side of the brands, particularly within chemicals. One brand can have completely different requirements from another, which adds more work to the factory. There can also be overlapping or conflicting requirements between certifications, which adds to the complexity and fragmentation. And if that's not problematic enough, you can add in there the ever-evolving knowledge and research within sustainability, which then forces brands to update requirements, which then forces manufacturers to learn more standards and testing requirements, and I guess shoulder the cost, but we'll get into that a bit later. An example of this is OEKO-TEX responding to the demand for brands wanting to test for PFA’s, per and poly flu alcohol substances, I can never say that properly. They have created their Eco Passport, but that adds yet another test to the list of things to do.
The second common issue is the cost. Obtaining and maintaining certifications can be expensive and often this cost is shouldered by the manufacturer and you know it's really only financially viable for manufacturers or farms at a certain size. You can see if the consumer is pushing for a particular standard or assurance that a product has been made responsibly. But the farm that's in use is a boutique small holding farm in India, which they often are, they're not gonna be able to shoulder a lot of the cost of new certifications, which might result in a brand not wanting to work with that farm or manufacturer. Or even if they do like they go to the farm directly and work with the farmer, they could be at a disadvantage compared to other brands because the consumer might not take their word for it.
And finally, there are a lot of certifications that only focus on a specific part of the manufacturing process, whether that is materials or factory standards or fair labour practices. And whilst these are all important individually, they don't provide a comprehensive or holistic assessment of a brand's overall sustainability performance.
Now these three things are probably the main ones that I see popping up a lot recently in industry magazines and just conversations on LinkedIn and those sorts of forums. But then if you add on to that some other issues such as recent discoveries of fraud within recycled polyester and organic cotton farmers talking about the limited even lacking evidence of organic cotton, in particular, having improved their lives through high prices and the supposed increased profits and the fact that some brands are using some certifications to present themselves as more responsible or greenwash. You can see there are a lot of issues coming to light and it's becoming a really complex area.
Something else to consider is that industry consultants or advisors can influence a preference for a particular certification as well, which results in the manufacturer feeling pressured into another certification process and the associated costs. Brands are very impatient and they want everything certified and done quickly. It adds an extra layer of pressure. And when it comes to auditing a factory using a third party, this can also have issues. Often there are too many things for an auditor to cover in too little time. The interviews with employees are only done on-site and they have a lot of pre-warning to prepare and present themselves and the best possible light in that meeting.
I hope that's given you a bit more of a bigger picture about what's happening within certifications and maybe a more nuanced view of the different angles and people involved in the whole process.
But unfortunately, this isn't one of those podcast episodes that ends with a nice little conclusion all wrapped up in a bow. I don't have the perfect answer, but I wanted to bring it up today to highlight how it is complicated and it's not as simple as just getting a certification set and forgetting, ticking the box and I guess invite you to think about this within your own supply chain and how you can get closer to your supply chain and how you can get a more holistic view of the certifications that you're using. But rest assured you aren't alone. There are many brands in this same space trying to figure it out. And while standardization would be welcomed, I think in this area, I don't see it happening anytime soon.
I hope you enjoyed today's episode, and if you did, I would love it if you shared it with a friend or on Instagram. And if you are looking to work with me on a coaching or a design project, you can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Instagram at @BelindaHumphrey_. And like always, you'll find the show notes and any links on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.