As retail companies respond to the demand to provide consumers with more, cheaper, and faster products, many leading fashion companies have gained reputations for being polluters, human rights abusers, or outliers in the movement toward social responsibility.
In April, the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business explored these trends during a discussion on “Is Fast Fashion Sustainable?”
Vishal Agrawal, assistant professor of operations, moderated a discussion with a panel of industry experts who looked at how companies of all sizes can play a role in reforming how consumers buy, wear, and dispose of their clothes.
“Big brands are using their marketing dollars to get consumers to think about their products’ implications on the world, whereas small brands don't necessarily get that level of attention,” said Shivika Sinha, director of digital marketing of Alex & Ani. “However, in the age of social media … the brands that will succeed are the ones that align with their consumers’ wallets and social values.”
“The point is that corporate social responsibility issues are tough issues for all companies,” said Bennett Freeman, senior advisor of Know the Chain. “The transparency and the size of it is painful. Winning the war will take decades."
The panelists also discussed sourcing and supply chain issues facing the fashion industry.
“The status quo in the fashion industry is never sustainable,” said Pietra Rivoli, professor of finance and international business and author of Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy. “There has been a long, historical narrative around supply chain issues, dating as far back as the Industrial Revolution. We must take a high-level perspective of looking at how to make things better among broad categories of issues that do not change over time, such as environmental laws, labor rights, child protection rights, or innovative business practices.”
“Nothing is easy in the fashion industry,” added Lisa Thompson (EML'15), founder and CEO of Ivy Citizens. “There is a large push from consumers to understand where their goods come from and who is supplying them.”