How a label can change the way we look at our clothes and shoes

Nashville-based shoe brand Nisolo has been making shoes and accessories for the past decade with the goal of making the fashion industry more equitable and inclusive. At this time, founder Patrick Woodyard has seen the emergence of a slew of testimonials – all designed to make businesses more accountable and consumers more aware of what they stand for with their money.

However, it is confusing with more than twenty such evaluations: some focus on a specific substance (for example, leather); Others look only at working conditions; While others analyze the operational side of the business. Woodyard wanted to put all of these issues under one umbrella. Plus, with buzzwords like “sustainability” being used so generously, it’s hard to say what’s truly sustainable, he says.

So in 2019, Woodyard, along with fellow Nisolo Matt Stockamp, ​​who serves as Head of Sustainability and Impact, set out to create a single image that can be on all of its packaging — and it will clearly communicate the ethics behind their products. It will essentially condense all of this certification and introduce some forgotten areas like gender equality and health care benefits for workers — a profile of the company and its supply chain.

“While the food industry has long had this food label on its back and ingredient list, the fashion industry doesn’t really have anything like that—something that explains what goes into making your clothes and shoes,” Woodyard says.

And so, after years of research, and given more than 200 impact data points, Nisolo is ready to release the Sustainability Facts label this winter. Each of their products will have a letter grade rating provided, followed by a breakdown of the individual categories (each scaled at 100 percent). While some of their products have done well with A’s, Woodyard says not all are perfect.

“We have products that also got lower scores, even Cs. We try to be as transparent as possible and that means giving ourselves lower scores, if that is the case.”

For customers looking to take a deeper dive, there is a QR code that can provide more details about what each of the categories entails.

But Woodyard is well aware that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all or perfect solution: “We’d like to get feedback from the industry on how we can improve this label and the metrics used for it. It’s definitely practical, and we’re not saying we have a perfect solution. This is just the beginning.”

Although there is stress to get certified – in the industry and by consumers – Woodyard hopes this easier-to-digest version will be different from the usual logo. It will be more comprehensive however, it will also be product specific.

“This way a brand cannot make a broad blanket statement. Because each of these brands is specific to the product they are working on,” he adds.

With green washing in abundance these days, Woodyard hopes this will lead companies to be transparent about various aspects of their business. “I feel like trust between brands and consumers is low all the time these days.”

Thus, brands committed to sharing more in-depth information about their operations will embrace the label, Woodyard believes. He argues that it will help distinguish companies that are honest in their efforts from those that make only marketing claims.

Woodyard admits that Nisolo isn’t perfect in and of itself: For example, they aim to have all of their leather certified by the Working Leather Group. But they haven’t gotten there yet. This will be reflected on the labels of certain items.

Because Nisolo wants to help create change in the industry, the Sustainability Facts label has an open source format. “We share years of work and research at no cost to any brand you want to adopt. We hope this will engage people.”

However, the naming relies on existing metrics – whether it’s through certifications or other third-party audits – to collect the basic data needed. This means that companies will have to ethically self-report, especially if they are not using an existing certification such as Fair Trade, B Corp or Climate Neutral. Nisolo, as a brand, has been very close to its supply chain, making routine visits and allowing third-party audits. But other companies, especially the larger ones, may have a different approach.

That’s why this is only the first release of the label, Woodyard points out, and he hopes it will only get better in the coming months as they gather all the feedback from the industry.

All in all though he wants it to push the industry to finally be transparent about what’s going on behind the scenes.

“That way, better choices can be made, consumer demand can be reshaped, and supply chains can change for the better,” Woodyard says.


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