Transparency within the fashion industry has become incredibly important as consumers adopt more moral habits and an increasing number of brands sign up to the fight against climate change. But in the midst of creating ethical supply chains for the production of clothing, brands often overlook the role of packaging in achieving their sustainability objectives.

I believe that transparency within the industry must transcend clothing alone and provide a complete view of a brand’s efforts to tackle global warming.

Increasingly, brands are being held accountable for the sourcing and production of their products, which has prompted the need for greater transparency. Those that do not share supply chain information openly are distrusted and those found to have unethical processes are often on the receiving end of slander and criticism from both the media and consumers.

Of course, this can cause significant reputational damage and, with greater choice of brands, there is very little motivation for customers to remain loyal to the ones whose unethical practices have been uncovered. This only demonstrates how important sustainability is for consumers and brands today.

It is no longer viable for brands to claim they are unable to control every aspect of their supply chain. Rather than hiding behind the finger, they are expected to take greater care to ensure that they can.

With that in mind, brands should not view tackling climate change as simply a reputation-building activity, but rather reversing the effects of global warming should be a core business function. And this can only be done if a brand’s packaging production is subject to the same level of transparency as its product manufacturing line.

Creating a sustainable supply chain

A supply chain begins with the sourcing of raw materials. As with fabric sourcing for clothing and accessories, packaging materials must also be sourced ethically for a brand’s products to truly be sustainable. Where possible, the use of recycled supplies should be encouraged, so fewer raw materials are required and a circular economy is created.

In cases where this is not possible, greater transparency within the fashion industry could see the formation of brand partnership deals whereby raw materials are sourced, shipped, and stored in collaboration with others operating in the area, creating lower costs for each company, less waste, and a smaller carbon footprint as a result.

The exploitation of workers is another issue brands face, with many luxury fashion houses now taking greater care in choosing and developing relationships with factories who promote better working conditions and fair wages. Although, considerations are usually exclusive to products and little thought is given to the production of packaging when, in fact, the same conditions brands condemn are the very ones in which their boxes, bags, and other exterior elements are manufactured.

While there are laws, such as the modern slavery act and its respective reporting requirements to combat this issue, we still far too often find brands searching for loopholes or breaking the rules.

Of course, the government can be more stringent with its enforcement but, ultimately, brands need to take action into their own hands and hold themselves to greater ethical standards if the industry is to truly move towards a sustainable future.

Similarly, the transportation of goods and materials, from one point in the supply chain to another, should be a key consideration for both the product and packaging production lines, if brands are to create a truly sustainable business model. Travel is one of the most significant factors of global warming and, in fashion, air miles are a particular cause for concern. Therefore, efforts to reduce the distance that any aspect of a brand’s product travels is a welcomed remedy.

For example, if materials are sourced and products manufactured in one country, but the packaging in which it will be shipped in is imported from the other side of the world, the item is not as sustainable as it may claim to be. Again, this calls for more open and honest information from brands if the issue is to be tackled effectively.

Therefore, greater transparency of fashion’s packaging processes will help to uncover aspects of a supply chain that are often overlooked.

Communicating to customers

What comes with this is the need for brands to communicate to customers the true cost of their purchase on the environment.

In turn, consumers will be able to make better-informed decisions, which will work in the favor of brands that already ethically source and manufacture products and packaging. And, for brands who are yet to delve deeper into their packaging processes, being held accountable by consumers can help the industry as a whole to reach its sustainability goals much sooner.

To do this, brands can get creative, so long as efforts do not contribute to the issue they are attempting to tackle. For example, notes explaining the total effect of the journey of a product included in a package would create more waste, whereas a digital infographic is a more sustainable option.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle

Transparency at the end of a product or packaging item’s life is just as important as it is in its production. One of the most important, and perhaps the easiest to get right for this stage of the product lifecycle is creating recyclable packaging. Paper bags and cardboard boxes should always be the preferred medium, and innovations have even allowed them to become weather-proof and longer-lasting, which have typically been their pitfalls.

But transparency is required to make customers aware of how widely recyclable a package is. For example, many luxury brands use cardboard boxes that often have magnetic closure systems for secure fastening and increased sturdiness. But what often goes unknown, is that although the box itself can be recycled, the magnet cannot.

As an example, we overcame this issue with the creation of an easy to remove magnet for a brand’s iconic marble-design boxes. Customers are shown how the mechanism can be taken out of the box before it is flattened and then recycled.

For the brand, this wasn’t just an attempt at gaining a competitive edge or generating profits but rather a real effort towards reducing fashion’s environmental impact, which is also a part of their core message.

Reducing the amount of packaging can also have a positive environmental impact, as less material will be produced and thrown away. But what’s better than reducing what ends up in landfill, is eradicating the need for it to be put there in the first place. And luxury fashion is the perfect industry for this.

Designer packaging is no longer seen as simply a protective shell for an expensive purchase. Instead, the mere presence of a designer name printed across a modest black box is enough to warrant it a decorative item that can be proudly displayed in the homes of consumers. This attitude has only been reinforced by the prominence of image-sharing, social media platforms, such as Instagram, as packaging has become just as sharable as the products themselves.

In this sense, consumers have found a second life for packaging themselves but there are certain things brands can do to take this further. For instance, investment in the quality of boxes or bags will make them more durable and feel more luxurious, allowing them to be displayed for longer. Or, brands can offer creative ideas on how a package can be reused as a charity hamper or a planter for example, which will encourage upcycling.

Similarly, as the second-hand market grows in popularity and an increasing number of consumers buy luxury goods with plans to resell them in the future, brands need to educate customers on how items with original packaging typically sell for more. This transparency will encourage more people to hold onto boxes and bags rather than throw them away once they receive their purchase.

Ultimately, whilst it is evident that luxury fashion understands the urgency to increase efforts to become more sustainable, the industry is falling short where packaging is concerned. No matter what claims they make about being ethical, it is only when a brand’s packaging processes become more transparent that these can be upheld and accepted.