Gap’s Latest Release

Spoiler alert: we’re not talking about their Fall collection.

Oh no, this is much better. Gap just released its global factory list, detailing every supplier that produces clothing for the Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, and Intermix brands.screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-10-46-57-pmExcuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

This is huge. For a company of this size to make such a bold move toward transparency gives me renewed hope for the future of this industry. It’s one thing to say you’re committed to improving factory conditions, it’s a completely different ball game when you back that claim up with 47 pages of factory names and addresses for the whole world to see.

Publishing this list acts as a way to hold Gap accountable and encourages them to foster relationships with their factory partners in order to bring about real and lasting change. It’s impossible to make an impact when your supplier list is constantly in flux, so Gap has streamlined its approved list of factories to help hone in on those partnerships where continued operations will bring about the most benefit for everyone involved.

Which begs the question: why wouldn’t a clothing company share its factory list?

Two main reasons stand out in my mind, and you can boil them both down to a single word: fear. Fear of how the consumer will react, and fear of how competitors will use this information to their advantage. Releasing a factory list, opening up a conversation about your supply chain, or making any proclamation in the name of transparency is like sticking your neck out – it is a move that lands your company in an extremely vulnerable place. Consumers can spot a marketing ploy from miles away; it’s safe to assume that any claim about your company’s operations – especially one that enhances your brand image – will incite a thorough investigation. Odds are, there are people combing through Gap’s factory list right now, seeking out examples of where they fall short of their public commitments to sustainability.

On top of this, companies worry they’ll lose their advantage in the marketplace if all of their competitors can see where they source their goods. This is absolutely a valid fear: if I’ve scoured the globe for a supplier with very specific skills, or one who can provide the services I need at a price I can afford, the last thing I want is for my direct competitor to discover my secret. But it’s also important to be honest with ourselves about what we’ve been describing as “competitive advantages” in this industry: factories on the other side of the world with wages and operations that can’t be tracked, fickle business relationships that require factories to bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of powerful brands, and supply chains that lack both accountability and verifiable adherence to labor standards. Protecting these practices is unethical: any company that knowingly accepts the benefits of these scenarios, yet claims to abide by its code of conduct, cannot be trusted.

With all of this in mind, the fact that Gap (or anyone else) would release their factory list and voluntarily submit to this kind of scrutinization is impressive. It is very possible that, using this information, a third party will uncover some instance where Gap’s standards are not being honored or upheld. With 892 factories I would not be surprised to see this happen. The thing to remember is this: Gap expects people to do this. They published this list for exactly that reason: so people like you and me could investigate. They’re inviting us behind the curtain, into a part of the fashion industry normally hidden behind glossy ad campaigns and bright catwalks.

“Brands have been nervous about exposing themselves as working toward sustainability because if they’re not totally there, they think it makes them look bad. But customers now are willing to go on a journey with a brand, provide feedback and see what changes.” –Glossy

Gap may not be perfect, but this is pretty cool. We aren’t going to fix this industry in a day – all we can do is take steps in the right direction.

This was a good step indeed.

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