Production volumes: Why don’t we know how many clothes fashion produces every year?


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How can fashion tackle its waste problem if no one knows how much clothing is produced in the first place?

This is the question The Or Foundation is posing with its Speak Volumes campaign, which launched last month and calls on fashion brands — large and small, fast and slow, old and new — to publish their 2022 production volumes. “If we are going to clean up fashion’s waste crisis, develop data-driven policies and transition from a linear to a circular economy, we need to know how many garments are produced every year,” the campaign’s website says. “But this data is currently unavailable.”

The Or has gotten some response: Collina Strada reported producing 20,000 pieces in 2022, while Asket said it produced 231,383 pieces, Finisterre 450,643 and Lucy & Yak 760,951.

The major brands and retailers that dominate the fashion cycle have been far quieter. For Liz Ricketts, co-founder and executive director of The Or Foundation, what that says is that the industry is scared to disclose the information being asked of it. “There are many reasons for brands to be afraid of publishing this information, but one reason is how legible it is to the public,” she says. “The average person might not understand an LCA [lifecycle analysis report] or supply chain data, but any person can understand production volume numbers. It’s scary to put information out there that’s so transparently legible.”

If the campaign sounds gimmicky, it’s not because the call for production volume transparency is trivial but because the industry is so far from providing that transparency that it can seem unrealistic to even ask for it. That’s operating on the industry’s terms, though, and not those of the planet or the communities most affected by the fashion system. “The whole point is to point out how ridiculous it is that we can’t be honest about a data point that every company has,” says Ricketts. At a time when policymakers stepping in with regulatory efforts and brands are making promises about circularity and reducing their carbon and waste footprints, experts question how successful those endeavours can be without a full grasp of what is being made to begin with.

“We can’t get an honest idea about what the future of fashion should look like without measuring scale,” says author Aja Barber, who supports the Speak Volumes campaign and explains that we need brand-specific information in order to know what kind of change, and accountability, to demand from each brand, since their operations vary so widely. ”Some brands’ impact is a drop in the bucket, and some brands are the entire bucket. It’s important to understand whose volume has the impact to harm others.”


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