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30 Digital Champions: The business on a mission to make sustainable fashion common practice

Alongside Microsoft, Real Business has trekked the business landscape and swatted away tech-based startups to discover the often unsung community of small enterprises leveraging digital means to compete with bigger players – and MADE-BY is our latest find.
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Although not the brainchild of Allanna McAspurn, an expert on sustainability benchmarking in the fashion and textile industry, the CEO is taking monumental steps to turning the sector upside down in terms of transparency.

However, she revealed to Real Business that a heavy dose of technology was needed to make it happen as we continue our Microsoft 30 Digital Champions campaign.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

MADE-BY is an award-winning European not-for-profit organisation, acting to improve environmental and social conditions within the fashion industry.

Launched in 2004, we work with fashion brands and retail bosses to develop and implement sustainability strategies that improve the environmental and social conditions across their operations and entire supply chains.

We have worked with over 150 brands and retailers of all sizes (including G-Star, Ted Baker, Tommy Hilfiger, John Lewis and Primark). We operate globally and have offices in Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and London.

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?

Significant milestones have included the launch of two new services, firstly MODE Tracker which represents an evolution of our previous scorecard system. For ten years we have transparently communicated our partner brands step by step progress to integrate more sustainable fibres and labour standard certifications.

Our new tool, MODE Tracker is much more holistic in scope, covering all the key sustainability issues for the fashion industry. It enables fashion brands and retailers to develop a roadmap to engage on a broad range of sustainability issues, demonstrate improvements and communicate these actions publicly. It is a first for the industry and has the potential to drive real change.

Recognising that brands and retailers are increasingly looking for technological tools for support when it comes to mapping and identifying social and environmental risks within the supply base, we partnered with Global Traceability Solutions (GTS).

GTS has six years of experience driving forward cloud-based chain of custody management systems. We have been able to build off its existing platform to develop transparency tools for the fashion industry including supply chain mapping, gathering information on supplier activities and their social and environmental engagement.

Using this data in an online platform format, means that it is also quick and easy to visually illustrate real-time supply chain relationships, to conduct due diligence and root cause analysis.

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(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?

I am inspired by the creativity of fashion and the pioneering attitude of my team and many of my colleagues in the industry. At work I am most inspired and motivated when I have the autonomy and means to create teams of passionate people to solve problems, innovate and have large scale impact. I’m known for getting things done.

This is demonstrated well at MADE-BY, despite being a small team we have won awards for our impact and we work with some of the biggest and most well-known brands in the world. Our tools including MODE-Tracker and our wet processing tool are also firsts for the industry.

(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise

Sustainability in fashion has been a hard sell from the get-go, it was very difficult to get brands to engage in sustainability projects beyond basic compliance in the early days, particularly when the recession hit.

We therefore had to segregate the market, engaging with the leaders who recognised the value and also source public funding to run large scale projects to get the rest of the industry aware of the issues and engaged.

Once they get engaged there is still a tension as large companies need to be able to demonstrate short term results, which is a difficult thing to do when longer term sustainability and resilient supply chains means investment in the shorter term – and in some cases engaging in pioneering projects that have no guarantee of success.

(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

Technology has played a big part in our work at MADE-BY and has helped us to create new tools and services. As fashion is a global business, working with partners such as GTS means that we can connect suppliers and fashion brands, in a way that is simple and quick. Ultimately this makes sharing sustainability information easier and ultimately improves practices.

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(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

We are a small organisation with offices in three countries across Europe but our work is increasingly taking us to new continents. We are now working more and more in Asia and the US, not only on supply chain improvement projects but also running strategy workshops at headquarters.

In order to make this cost-effective, we use a combination of in person visits with video conferencing platforms to run meetings and workshops, often with people in multi-site locations. You have to be mindful of time differences and plan the activities well in advance to ensure they can be carried out in each setting and that ideas from all the participants can be shared effectively; preparation and simplicity are key.

(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this

We offer flexible working hours and the ability for our staff to work from home. We are a small team with our main offices in Amsterdam and London so to make this flexible approach work, email and access to a cloud based file sharing system is essential.

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(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

Video conferencing and cloud-based programmes.

(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

I think all of the above along with consultancy know how, help us compete with rivals but combining the MADE-BY GTS, traceability platform with big data systems that can analyse impact at supplier level would be very powerful.

(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

I am stepping down from my role at MADE-BY but I see further expansion in Asia and the US and further tools and add-ons to our existing tools to ensure we continue to drive impact.

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

Real Business