Is ARKET’s push for transparency enough?

08 : 09 : 2017 Fashion : Digital : Retail
Arket store, London Arket store, London

For all the transparency that ARKET offers, is it really that useful and empowering for consumers?

Josh Walker, journalist, LS:N Global

Last month, H&M’s new label ARKET opened its physical and digital doors to the masses. While the opening of the first physical ARKET store has been widely covered in the press, it’s the brand’s stance on transparency that’s more intriguing.

Visitors to the ARKET website can click on a ‘Made In’ tab that features on each product to reveal a map detailing its place of origin and the name of the supplier and factory involved in its production. The brand’s push for transparency even carries through to its social media channels. ‘Foshan Huilong Knitting & Apparel, with 250 employees, is based in the Guangdong province of southern China and manufactures cotton jersey knits for ARKET men’s and women’s collections,’ reads a post on the brand’s Instagram feed, which accompanies a slick video of the factory at work. As far as high street fashion is concerned, this degree of transparency is rarely seen.

But for all the transparency that ARKET offers, is it really that useful and empowering for consumers, or just another example of a brand providing more information in a bid to place a tick in the transparency box?

Some brands in the fashion industry, especially in the high street fashion industry, are far from ethical when it comes to the treatment of their factory workers. Just last week the Los Angeles Times released a report that reveals how brands such as Forever 21 exploit legal loopholes to underpay their factory workers. In March, The Guardian claimed that a labour protest demanding better conditions and benefits for workers at H&M’s Chinese-owned Myanmar factory was one of ‘the most violent labour disputes in the country in years’.

So consumers can now put a name to a factory and see its location on a map, but are we really any further forward regarding how workers within that factory are being treated? Does a factory’s name shine any light on the working conditions inside?

At a time when transparency is one of the most important attributes by which a brand is judged, investing in it is a very worthwhile endeavour.

With frequent exposés on poor working conditions in the fashion industry and a growing awareness that fast fashion suppliers have been subcontracting to other factories without telling buyers, does naming factories make any difference?

Although viable solutions might seem impossible, there is room for innovation. Fashion designer Martine Jarlgaard uses blockchain technology to track raw materials on their journey through the supply chain. By gathering location data, content and timestamps, and presenting this information in a way that consumers can understand, the technology is improving transparency and traceability within the fashion industry.

‘The connection you create with the end consumer is really valuable because you tell the story and also give credit to all of the people involved in this process,’ says Jarlgaard. ‘You forget about that journey. It’s just a final product and everybody before that is forgotten.’

At a time when transparency is one of the most important attributes by which a brand is judged, investing in it is a very worthwhile endeavour. According to the Fashion Transparency Index 2017, none of the 100 largest global fashion brands scored above 50% in regards to their transparency efforts.

So while ARKET’s stance is progressive, particularly for a high street fashion brand, there is still a long way to go before brands can truly claim to be using transparency to empower consumers.

For more on how brands should embrace transparency as a key part of their long-term offer, read our macrotrend The Immortal Brand.