On the Line | Information: Fashionable for any Season

by Caleb Bushner

I have a new favorite fashion accessory: my smartphone. Truth be told, I’ve begun to find myself getting itchy and uncomfortable when I’m more than about 10 feet from it, and I don’t think I’m the only one who has this problem. It’s probably unhealthy, I know, but I think it’s also indicative of how useful (and ubiquitous) these things have become. One of my favorite uses: accessing the web to resolve any nagging questions that might come up in conversation (in what year did Marcus Lepidus begin his cursus honorum? Quick, to Wikipedia! How do you circumvent the United Airlines phone menu system? Ask Get Human!) But, what does this fashion accessory have to do with sustainable fashion? It provides a powerful means of connecting the dots – or fabric pieces, as the case may be – associated with conscious consumption. Thanks to the following sites, we are now entering into an age in which we can learn, down to remarkably fine detail, just what we’re really buying.

Good Guide puts a new (and positive) twist on the term “TMI” (Too Much Information). It is a burgeoning digital compendium of products that line the shelves of grocery stores, allowing you to take a deep (and edifying) dive into the ingredients list, the manufacturing information, corporate ownership and, most usefully, ratings and comparisons that allow you to turn the information overload into a valuable apples-to-apples evaluation to better inform your shopping decision. Currently, it’s primed for food and personal care products (it turns out that, as easy as it is to make fun of dudes who wear Axe, their Brut-wearing counterparts are much worse off). But, Good Guide has put together a framework for information-gathering, product comparison and social proofing that should carry over very nicely to the world of apparel. And, as I started this by professing my love for smartphones, it’s also worth noting that “there is an app for that”, too. Don’t have a smartphone? You can even access Good Guide information via text message!

Does Good Guide leave you wanting more? Global supply chains make you dizzy? Put down the dramamine and check out Source Map. A robust tool for cataloging, calculating and visualizing the global undertaking required for all the little odds and ends that make up the things we buy. Just look at the complexity surrounding my precious smartphone! One of the neatest things about Source Map is the fact that you can make your own. This means that any one of us can sit down and plot out the circuitous path that our favorite jacket took to get to us. So put on your nit-picking gloves and get to it!

Excitingly, this sort of information oversharing is already winding its way to your closet. Icebreaker, a New Zealand-based manufacturer of merino wool garments, has introduced their “baacode” system of expressing product origin information in a simple, sleek and comprehensible manner. While they don’t yet have hard lifecycle data on the site, I’d not be surprised if the information came to be rolled out in due time. Every Icebreaker piece has a unique code that can be typed into the system and you then learn about the back-story of the individual ranches that produced the wool that makes up your purchase. You can then click around and learn about the standards and manufacturing processes that ultimately came to convert the raw wool into the fine piece of clothing in your wardrobe.

We all long for the day when the veracity of a business’ claims are unimpeachable and their supply chains are clean and clear. But, until then, we could do a lot worse than collaborative, dynamic and accessible tools such as these.

About the author:

Caleb Bushner is a consultant, writer and speaker on all things sustainability, branding, marketing and social media. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the “premier Green MBA programs in the country.” He lives in Portland, OR.