Allbirds, a New Zealand-American footwear brand, is urging other fashion companies to be more transparent about their negative environmental impacts.
Launched in 2016, Allbirds specialise in comfortable, eco-friendly footwear. They operate with a direct-to-consumer model, meaning that labour isn’t outsourced, so Allbirds oversee both manufacturing and retail processes.
Earlier this year, Allbirds wrote a public email to 16 of the world’s top fashion brands, directing them to FreeTheFootprint.com where they were invited to incorporate Allbirds’ carbon footprint calculator into their practices. The companies were urged to print the carbon footprint of each garment directly onto the label to show consumers the environmental impact of their purchase.
“Allbirds pollutes the planet. And we put that dirty little secret on a label for all to see”, the opening line of the email claims. “If anyone can make people care about a new label, it’s the fashion industry.” The email was even printed in newspapers to reach an international audience.
Support from eco-loving Instagram commenters includes “It’s so refreshing to see such honesty. We need more of this, thank you” – @greensalonconsultancy – and “A great way to set an example for the industry. I know that Allbirds has imposed their own carbon tax, but does Allbirds support any active legislation?” – @katwels1.
Of course, the fashion industry has further to go, but transparency gives consumers a look behind the curtain. Brands should be held accountable for their environmental damage, giving the lie to the illusion that consumers are solely responsible.
Whilst the email was met with inaction and labels remained clear of carbon footprints, Adidas decided to collaborate with Allbirds. Earlier this year, ”Futurecraft.Footprint” was created, a shoe sporting the lowest carbon footprint of any other on the market at just 2.94kg of CO2. The running shoes are made of natural rubber, recycled polyester, and wood pulp, and remain undyed to minimise pollution, energy and water usage. The project showed the mainstream market that quality sports pieces can be environmentally conscious, an approach that perfectly blends the companies’ expertise. As the email states, “if competition got us into this mess, perhaps collaboration can get us out.”
The whole fashion industry has a duty to be transparent about its unethical practices, including pollution. Keeping consumers in the dark about how their expenditure produces and maintains harmful manufacturing processes is negligent, and Allbirds hopes to eradicate it.
On 24th April 2013, over 3,000 people arrived for work at the eight-story Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The building housed ready-made garments factories, which account for almost 80% of Bangladesh’s exports. That morning, a power-cut triggered four emergency generators, sending powerful vibrations through the building’s weak structure. Fifteen minutes later, the building collapsed. After 17 days of search-and-rescue, the death toll exceeded 1,100 and countless others were left with life-long injuries.
The Rana Plaza disaster signified a shift in fast-fashion discourse; people realised they knew little about where their clothes actually came from.
Fashion consumption in the UK has a very high turnover, with the highest purchasing rate of any other European country and over 1 billion tonnes thrown away each year. The idea of “emissions” around clothing may be heavily associated with shipping, but this accounts for only 4%. 50% of emissions come from the sizing, printing, and dyeing processes. 2.4kg of CO2 can be produced from one cotton t-shirt alone. In fact, clothing produces more CO2 than international flights and shipping combined. Allbirds is aiming to make the public more aware of this dark underbelly of the fashion industry.
Micro-trends through platforms like TikTok and Instagram change what’s considered “in” on a week-to-week basis. But, this technology has the potential to positively influence the sustainability of the industry too. “The key to innovative and sustainable fashion apparel rests at the intersection of technology with biology (natural materials)”, says Laurenti Arnault, co-founder and CEO of the fashion innovation platform WTVOX. Arnault believes that emerging generations can use their knowledge of technology for innovation and research to transform the fashion industry.
The website Good On You further demonstrates fashion’s intersection with technology. Until fast fashion reaches the level of sustainability envisioned by Arnault, Good On You rates clothing brands’ ethics based on how they impact the environment, humans, and animals. Following the same path as Allbirds, they believe in transparency and informing consumer choice, which is actually good for business in return.
Research shows that 60% of consumers under the age of 24 (which are the target audience of fast-fashion empires such as Nasty Gal, Missguided, Pretty Little Thing) favour clothing companies that actively try to reduce their environmental impact.
Allbirds have more of an incentive to reduce their carbon footprint when the evidence is stamped on every label – and consumers thank them for it. Ultimately, public surveillance of emissions is capable of improving both the environment and (as the fashion world may argue, most crucially) sales.