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How radical transparency is transforming the fashion industry

Photography By @arnsdorf, @melbfashionfestival @australianmadecampaign, Lois Hazel
Published 08.06.22

Accountability within the fashion industry is on the rise.

Through initiatives like #WhoMadeMyClothes, ethical rating reports, global sustainability indexes and certification processes, brands have started imparting more information about how their clothes are made, and what they’re made of.  

More recently, independent designers have been pushing the dial even further, championing a new form of openness known as radical transparency. 

Embracing the kind of accountability much of the industry has tried to avoid for so long, radical transparency builds on the growing sustainability movement by shining a light onto every step of the design process. From tracing the origin of fabrics, listing suppliers and manufacturers and breaking down every price step of a garment, this new movement explains the fashion industry to individuals in a way that allows for more informed and considered purchasing decisions. 

For Melbourne-based labels like Lois Hazel and Arnsdorf, radical transparency has been a core tenet from the outset and something to build from rather than incorporate in as an afterthought. 

“Radical transparency holds you accountable and means you can’t get away with things,” Lois McGruer-Fraser, the founder and designer behind Lois Hazel says.  

Her decision to provide so much information initially came from “wanting to start a conversation” with consumers about the steps involved in making their clothes. “It can be hard to know how this industry works when you’re on the outside. A lot of people don’t realise that there’s a huge list of people involved in making a garment,” Lois says. 

Michael Comninus for RIISE

A transparent framework overcomes this, allowing people to easily access that information and get a real sense of who and what is involved in making a garment, from the fabric and finish choices, to the seamstresses and manufacturers.  

Transparency also bridges the price gap, showing buyers just how many people their money reaches with each purchase and why items of clothing, especially those that are sustainably made, cost what they do. “Transparency is information and education that leads to informed decision making on the part of the customer. Generally, doing things in an ethical and sustainable way does cost more so we are really interested in educating people about what these costs actually look like,” Jade Sarita Arnott, the founder of Arnsdorf, says. 

Arnsdorf’s ethos is centred around three core pillars: transparency, ethical manufacturing and sustainability. For Jade, balancing design with responsible industry practices is a fundamental part of the label’s identity. “Each feeds into the other and makes up the whole,” she says.  

Creating a business model at odds with fast fashion isn’t without its difficulties though. Where some major labels debut new collections every month using the cheapest fabrics and labour available, the work of creating relationships and designing considered clothing is a longer, and sometimes harder process. 

“It can be really tempting to think about how much cheaper you could make a garment and how much more money you could make if you used more affordable fabrics that aren’t as sustainable and don’t tick the boxes,” Lois says.  

“But for me, it always comes back to the question of: am I going to be proud of that? I know that information is going to be on my website, so am I willing to do that?” 

While sharing information on the kind of inner workings that make a label so unique – namely its production methods, sourcing and suppliers – does come with risk, Jade believes collaboration and the bigger picture potential that radical transparency brings is worth it.

“In a way, we’re showing our full ingredient list. However, at Arnsdorf, we don’t subscribe to that competitive mindset, we believe in success via collaboration. We believe we can build a stronger, more conscious and considered fashion industry by sharing and promoting resources that are kinder to the planet and its people.

“I think when there is nothing to hide, transparency is easy.” 

Michael Comninus for RIISE

For Jade and Lois, radical transparency – or at least some iteration of it – is the future of fashion. 

“In other industries like the food industry, companies have to legally disclose what is in their products and this has helped phase out some harmful ingredients, which I’d like to see happen more with the chemicals and practices used in garment production,” Jade says.  

“I think as we become more aware as consumers and citizens of the world, we will demand more transparency around the products we buy being made to ethical standards.”

Lois agrees. “I think if more businesses were held accountable it would change the way they run things. If every detail of your business is available for public viewing, someone is going to come and ask questions.” 

Food sticks as a good analogy for what buying from a more transparent fashion industry will be like. Think about your weekly grocery shop: you’re probably used to picking up products and seeing information on the packaging about the ingredients used and where it was made. One day, this level of information might be available when you pick up a shirt or pair of pants from a clothing rack or browse clothing online.

In fact, Arnsdorf is already doing it. Next to each garment on its website is information on the fabric used and its origins, a breakdown of costs, and the names of every individual within the production team who contributed to the garment’s production.  

“Having such an in-depth level of transparency in our business allows us to have an open and honest relationship with our clients, one where they know exactly what they are getting and the conditions and specifics that make up the garment,” Jade says. 

Lois agrees that the positivity of engaging with radical transparency is two-way. “As a designer, once you start experiencing that feel-good feeling of knowing you’re putting something into the world that you can proudly stand behind, it makes it a lot easier. And as a consumer, asking questions and having more information and awareness is really powerful and it shows bigger brands and labels that there is demand and desire for things to be done differently.” 

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