It was just under a year ago when Highsnobiety joined ASKET on a globetrotting journey that sought to uncover the opaque world of clothing production. Today marks a bold new chapter in the Swedish label’s quest for full transparency with the launch of The Impact Receipt, an initiative that aims to help customers better understand the inherent value and meaningfulness of each item they purchase.
From the off, ASKET has provided a full price breakdown for all of its garments, covering the cost of the raw material, fabric production, labor, and mark-up. In 2018, it introduced the Full Sustainability Standard, which disclosed every step of their manufacturing process — from the cotton seed to the final garment. Good intentions aside, the duds speak for themselves, with the reasonably priced "meaningful essentials" line, in particular, finding favor among guys who want quality that won't lose shape after a few washes.
Rather than mere product price, The Impact Receipt fronts up on information such as CO2, water-use, and energy consumption. It’s ASKET’s hope that by equipping customers with the knowledge of exactly what goes into their clothes and the overall impact of what they’re buying, they will keep them longer and, ultimately, buy less in the long run.
While The Impact Receipt may sound ostensibly simple, there's a lot more to it than one might think. Keen to find out more, we caught up with ASKET’s co-founder August Bard-Bringéus for an exclusive chat.
How long has The Impact Receipt been an ambition for ASKET?
The idea has been brewing since early 2018. We’d just launched our Traceability Standard, with the goal of uncovering our entire supply chain. We wanted to not only be accountable for our practices, but to also share that knowledge with our customers so they could make informed decisions about the garments they bought.
At the same time, we started to see more and more brands touting their sustainability efforts. But for every neat initiative that was introduced, there were tenfold others that paid mere lip-service. Many initiatives are designed not to educate customers, but convince them to shop guilt-free.
The reality is that every garment produced creates an environmental debt, so we wanted to come up with a way to separate the facts from the fiction. That’s when it dawned on us that the degree of visibility we had across our supply chain would allow us to dig deeper and uncover the true environmental impact of our garments.
Can you tell us some of the main challenges faced when trying to implement The Impact Receipt?
Global supply chains are complex, vast, near impossible to quantify, and riddled with untraceable statistics. One of the biggest challenges is getting hold of the data that reflects our supply chain. For 35 garments, we have over 400 processes and locations to get to grips with. Fortunately, we have already laid a lot of groundwork with our Full Traceability Standard, which has seen us uncover 84 percent of our supply chain already.
For aspects of the supply chain that we can’t uncover, or where we can't obtain data, the challenge then becomes the trade-off in chasing primary impact data, versus settling for secondary data. We’re adamant in attempting to understand our own supply chain’s impact but at certain points — for instance, for raw materials — farms won’t have the resources to get us that data. At that stage, we rely on secondary statistics, which still allow us to obtain representative results.
Tracing suppliers is one thing, but convincing them to share their energy bills, water consumption, and emission statistics is a whole other topic. We want our suppliers to see it as an opportunity rather than a burden, so we took care of screening their resource consumption and emissions to provide them with data on improvement areas which normally are win-win for the planet and budgets.
Can you provide a layman’s guide to how it exactly works?
For every garment, you’ll find a neat module on asket.com with all this information (price, origin, impact) and once we’ve completed the impact calculations for the permanent collection, everything will be shared on a digital receipt. We’re firm in the belief that if everyone has a better understanding and appreciation for clothing, they will take better care of it and keep hold of it for longer — it aims to cement the understanding that every garment, no matter how well made it is, has an impact, and that we can’t shop our way out of the problem. The best thing we can do for our planet is make informed decisions, buy less, and keep what we already own (rather than replace it). We’re trying to orchestrate a mindset shift.
Why is uncovering the supply chain so difficult?
One of the biggest challenges begins at the raw material stage. The trouble is that, in order to meet quantity and quality demands, the materials are commonly mixed and sold together at auction, with it erasing the source and making it near impossible to trace. Trims are also notoriously hard; something as simple as a thread or a label has an entirely dedicated supply chain covering countless manufacturing steps across different countries.
While we’ve overshot our ambition to reach 100 percent traceability by the end of 2019, we’re making good progress and will definitely reach 99 percent by the end of 2021. And we are starting to see progress; Increasingly, there is a change in mindset, with fabric mills and suppliers investing in traceability as consumers and brands start putting pressure on opening up the supply chain.
Where we saw a bit of resistance from some of our suppliers to begin with, they’re now excited to collaborate. And of course, we’re taking a different approach to sourcing our factories too - seeking the most progressive partners that pioneer better milling and manufacturing practices.
The Impact Receipt will initially be rolled out across your four bestsellers — the T-shirt, Oxford, chino, and all Merino knitwear — but how feasible would it be to do it across the board, going forward?
We’ve uncovered the impact for four of our most popular products, which has helped us uncover a lot of valuable data. Based on this, we’re working with RISE to finalize a tool that will be able to calculate the impact on the remaining garments with additional data inputs. So by the middle of 2021, our customers will have full transparency across cost, origin, and impact for the entire permanent collection.
How do you think the pandemic might impact upon the consumer's wardrobe and their consumption habits going forward?
The pandemic has further laid bare the serious failings of the global fashion system, with entire seasonal collections going to waste and cancelled orders leaving an already vulnerable supply chain workforce in dire straits. It’s certainly sparked a lot of discussion around a shift in shoppers' mindsets towards more ethical and less environmentally destructive practices in the fashion industry, especially amongst millennials and Gen Z.
While their mindset might be there, at the same time, we’re also seeing sales for fast-fashion brands booming. It’s an oxymoron. Despite good intentions, it shows that price still trumps consumer conscience. The reality is, as long as cheap and fast alternatives are still available, it’s too easy to buy garments that are pitched as some cheap fun, when in reality the cumulative damage to the planet and individuals in the supply chain is colossal. To counter this, we need legislation to accelerate the conversion towards lower impact business models and more accountability. Essentially, it should not pay for companies to cut corners when it comes to material choice, supply chain practices, short fashion cycles, and lack of accountability.
The tipping point will come when an increase in general consumer awareness coincides with harsher legislation on brand responsibility — at that point, the commercial viability of the old way of doing business (at the expense of people and planet) will evaporate, and responsible business will become the only financially sound alternative.