Last week, some new guidance from Norway and the Netherlands shed light on the arduous but necessary process of ensuring fashion’s sustainability claims are backed up by data. Ahead, a few thoughts on greenwashing, as well as quick looks at Thom Browne’s appointment to the CFDA and the international expansion of Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Glossy Podcast and the Glossy Beauty Podcast for more insight on fashion and beauty. – Danny Parisi, sr. fashion reporter
The greenwashing temptation
Back in June, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, a tool used by brands like H&M to show sustainability data about their products to consumers, was paused after watchdog groups questioned its validity and potential to misinform.
Regulators in both Norway and the Netherlands publicly called into question the accuracy of the claims made by the brands using the tool, and Quartz ran a subsequent investigation showing that H&M’s use of the tool was regularly incorrect. H&M halted the use of the tool, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which created the Higg MSI, said it would pause its use until more research was done on its accuracy. After several months of discussion, both Norwegian and Dutch regulators put out official guidance on the Higg MSI that adds a number of caveats.
The way H&M used the Higg MSI before was as a scorecard comparing its products to a vague “average.” The new and more stringent, albeit not legally binding, guidelines from regulators say that brands using the Higg MSI need to make four things clear:
- The label is only an average indicator of sustainability for the material used, not of the manufacturing of the specific product.
- The label is not a comprehensive impact analysis and only covers a few factors like energy and water consumption.
- It only compares the material to other materials of the same type, so a Higg MSI label on a cotton shirt is comparing it to other types of cotton, not to other materials like polyester.
- All data is backed and verified by a third party not affiliated with the brand.
With all these caveats in place, the Higg MSI becomes a lot less appealing to brands looking for a quick and easy sustainability stamp of approval. And that’s as it should be. Reconfiguring the fashion industry to be better for the environment and reversing the decades of ill effects it’s caused will be neither quick nor easy.
Greenwashing is a major problem in fashion and imperfect tools like the Higg MSI can lead to more confusion and dilution of the term “sustainable” than already exists. Regulation and watchdogs are important tools to keep greenwashing in check, but the temptation to look for easier solutions is always there.
Thom Browne is the new head of the CFDA
On the Glossy Week in Review podcast this week, Glossy’s editor-in-chief Jill Manoff and I discussed Thom Browne’s appointment as chairman of the CFDA, a move that Jill predicted way back in June when former chairman Tom Ford announced he was stepping down after a three-year run
Typically, the role is meant to be a short-term position. But Diane von Furstenburg was an outlier, with a 13-year tenure.
If Browne follows Ford’s lead, we may see a new head take over every few years, which would allow for some much-needed diversity in CFDA leadership.
Fast times at Fast Retailing
Fast Retailing, the Japanese parent company of Uniqlo, GU and Theory, has been busy. The company saw record profits, close to $2 billion in the fiscal year ending in August, it reported last week. That’s driven primarily by Uniqlo’s success outside of Japan, growing 20% year-over-year internationally. And the company’s expansion in the U.S. is continuing. Uniqlo launched a new collaboration with Jonathan Anderson last week, and GU opened its first store in the U.S. the week before that.