Can product-level change solve fashion’s sustainability issue?

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Product development is not the only new service on the agenda, however. “If we only do one-on-one product development, the progress for the entire industry is limited,” says Catharina Martinez-Pardo, a partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which is focusing on big picture plans and cross-industry coalitions, including the Fashion Pact and Policy Hub. “When we look at sustainability, bottlenecks are one of the key hurdles for innovations.”

Sustainability consultancy Eco-Age is steering clients towards the Future Fit framework as a combination of both blue-sky thinking and detail-oriented goals. Salterbaxter, a consultancy owned by ad agency Publicis Groupe, is dividing its time between big picture and niche projects. “There is a real need for more open-sourcing, and honest conversations between companies and industries about what isn’t working and what is holding up progress,” says Salterbaxter managing director Kathleen Enright.

As the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties approaches in November, the number of big-picture sustainability commitments and promises is growing, ranging from net-zero carbon emissions to fair wages. Consumers are wondering how businesses will deliver them, however, and that in turn creates a new role for consultants, Enright believes. “Proof of progress is the new currency, not promises,” she says. “Consumers, employees and investors alike want positive change, but businesses need roadmaps and employee buy-in to achieve that, which only happens with exciting strategies.”

New ways to engage with consultants

How can brands choose the right consultancy for them, and what sort of project briefs should they be setting?

“There are two markets for consultancy,” says Tamsin Lejeune, founder of the Ethical Fashion Forum and sustainable fashion network Common Objective, which consults for Roland Mouret and Vivienne Westwood, among others. “Established brands with money – an increasingly limited market – and SMEs that desperately want and need consultancy but can’t afford it.”

To help the latter market, Common Objective acts as a matchmaker between consultants and clients, creating constructive content for members who can’t afford personalised help. This started with an online directory of sustainable suppliers and has since grown to include training and thought leadership. The directory now has more than 45,000 members contributing advice through Circles, its peer-led forum answering questions on-demand. The company will also launch a live event this year to broaden the reach of its expert-led masterclasses.

“To remain competitive, consultants need to look at ways to democratise what they’re doing and offer solutions without it needing to be bespoke,” says Lejeune, pointing to the rise in downloadable guides and worksheets created by consultants.

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