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Zady Wants To Slow Down Fast Fashion With A New Sustainability Standard

Your cotton T-shirt required more than 2,700 liters of water to produce–and new industry standards would make sure you knew that.

Zady, the sustainability-focused fashion company known for its ethically sourced clothes and accessories, wants to help other fashion brands become transparent in their sourcing, too.

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Zady just launched The New Standard–a roadmap to the pain points of the textile industry and an open-sourced set of guidelines for fashion labels to up their antes in sustainability and human rights. While there is no shortage of research about the damage the apparel industry does to the environment and populations in developing countries (where most of the world’s clothes are manufactured), the Zady team realized it wasn’t all in one place.

“We were uncovering all of these issues related to fashion and climate, and fashion and pollution, and fashion in our water, and fashion in our oceans, and fashion and our forests,” says Zady cofounder Maxine Bédat. “But there wasn’t one central place that we could go to to find all of this. It was this disparate information, so nobody could paint a whole picture as to what one piece of clothing’s impact was on all of the different elements.”

So after talking to researchers from places like the Natural Resources Defense Council and compiling facts and figures on the problematic ripple effects of fashion, Zady created a roadmap for where clothes come from for shoppers that launches today, and an industry-facing tool kit for fashion producers that will launch next month.

The New Standard

Zady itself has been applauded for its transparency when it comes to fashion production.

Last year we included the company on our Most Innovative Companies in Retail list for the smaller sustainably and ethically sourced fashion brands it sold. Late last year, Zady launched its own original line, too.

“When you’re creating a T-shirt or jeans, or a lot of non-artisanal things, it’s a multistep process,” Bédat says.

Zady launched its own sustainably sourced fashion line in late 2014. The guidelines in The New Standard are meant to help other fashion brands do the same.

So Zady decided to make its new standard function like a map. Fashion consumers and producers alike can follow a T-shirt’s production from cotton farming to dyeing to sewing.

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“You can draw the world and show how the different things are interconnected and in that way to really show to the consumer for the first time the impact that they have,” Bédat says.

According to the Institute of Sustainable Communication, a single cotton T-shirt uses 2,700 liters of water and a third of a pound of chemicals to produce. Globally, cotton production is responsible for 25% of all pesticide use, and 20% of industrial water pollution comes from the treatment and dyeing of textiles.

Add to that the clothes that we waste (every American throws away about 70 pounds of clothes a year) and the human labor-rights crises inside shadow factories like Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which was the site of a 2013 building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people–and fashion abuses are on par with the crises of automobile and agriculture production. In fact, the textile industry is second only to agriculture in contributions to global water pollution, according to the Institute of Sustainable Communication.

But still, the conversation around solutions for textile industry pollution aren’t as robust as those around agriculture and automobiles, Bédat says.

The New Standard from Zady is meant to help consumers and designers alike understand where their clothing comes from.

In addition to laying out the stats and issues associated with every step of the process in its “map,” The New Standard provides extra context for each pain point with a click-through narrative that takes the user from an alpaca to textile-inflicted soil pollution. And its industry tool kit will include guidelines for everything from acceptable water treatment practices (90% of wastewater in developing countries flows untreated into water bodies used for drinking water), to which dyes to use for organic certification, to suggestions for mobile technology that allows factory workers to anonymously report abuses.

“That final stage of the production is where most of the ethical and social issues come into place, because that still takes a human hand to sew something,” Bédat says.

Changing Behaviors

While this early iteration of the standard aims to draw attention to the root causes of the textile industry’s impact on environment and populations, it’s still in early phases. Eventually, Bédat hopes to give fashion its own LEED-like criteria and resources for improving fashion from farm to design to shopper. There is no government agency or board of 20,000 professionals approving The New Standard’s measures or issuing certifications. It’s all free and open-sourced.

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Bédat says she hopes it’s a step towards getting more fashion brands thinking about how they can improve their part of the apparel ecosystem–and for them to chime in on what needs to be done to further The New Standard’s reach.

“Just like Tesla, they’re open-sourced. You can make a Tesla car if you want to. That, to us, is the future. We’re not competing on sustainability. That’s silly–it’s a disservice,” she says.

And just as important is getting shoppers engaged with the fashion map, because most of the industry’s impetuses for change start with the consumer.

“People want to be informed. That’s what I think is exciting about our generation, in particular. There’s a lot of data around us, and we want to know about it. We want to be smart and sophisticated about it. I’m just excited to have that information out there, because it’s ultimately consumers that have the most impact,” Bédat says. “We could have this beautiful thing and beautiful, sustainable clothing–but if nobody wants to support it, and if nobody’s asking brands for that information, nothing’s going to change.”

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