The Executive MBA (Fashion) was designed for global management and entrepreneurial professionals, to develop their business leadership skills. As the course comes to a close after 8 years, to make way for the development of a new disruptive course to follow, we caught up with EMBA alumni Blu Label to hear about how the course was a launchpad for their business as an interactive climate label focused on measuring products' carbon footprint, helping consumers to understand the global impact of their garments.
Tell us about Blu Label. What do you do?
Blu Label is an interactive climate label. We verify brands’ sustainability claims and track products’ greenhouse gas emissions. We're all about measuring a product’s carbon footprint so we track them as much as we can, from the store, all the way back to the farm where the raw material has come from. If there's material mix, we look at the majority fabric - so if it's a cotton t-shirt, we're going to trace the cotton. We don't measure the carbon footprint of items made from nylons, or synthetics or plastics, as these items are made from crude oil and fossil fuel usage as a raw material is not something that we endorse at all at Blu Label.
We measure a product's carbon footprint using UK conversion factors, and our own methodology, which is aligned with relevant standards - Carbon Disclosure Project - the product standard that they have there. We’ve had to adapt and create our own method to enable us to work within the realities of clothing manufacturing. We give this information to customers at the point of sale with a scannable label, which is the ‘Blu Label’. Customers can scan the label with their own phones, and get access to the product page, which has a lot of environmental information.
We look at the greenhouse gas emissions created in the production and the cultivation and we put in a water footprint where possible too. We add in videos of how the item was made because we believe that customers need access to ways of verifying brands’ claims. There's no point saying a jumper is organic, when you have no way of actually proving that it is - customers today deserve a lot more information on the environmental impact of the production of the garment, as there are some brilliant brands out there doing incredible things and these hero products need to be really visible to customers. That's the purpose of the company - it's a smart, interactive climate label.
So, to take it back to basics in order for you to be able to provide this service, it's generally about the supply chain and how that works for a brand. For people that are new to the idea of the supply chain within fashion, could you explain what it is and at what stages do carbon emissions typically occur?
That’s a really interesting question. In general supply chains refer to logistics, and how you get the right quantity, of the right item, in the right place at the right time. With most industries, they're manufacturing their own items so the supply chain deals with getting the right components and the raw materials from their downstream suppliers into the factory, then making and packaging the goods, and sending them to the warehouse before shipping those items out to the customers directly or to their stores.
However, many brands have a really small scope of operations limited to the design, marketing and selling of their clothing, because they outsource a lot of their core responsibilities such as finishing, packaging, storage, distribution, construction, dyeing, textile making, yarn, spinning, raw material production, etc. This is where a lot of the problems are set in with sustainability in the fashion industry. Most of the brands do not know where their fabrics are made because they don't actually buy the fabrics, the factory does. Even with pure brands that are familiar with how the textiles have been made, or where they have been made, it's incredibly difficult to actually verify how a roll of fabric has been made.
To break this down, let's say you have the simplest operation, and you're a student buying fabric for your end of year collection from the shop local to you. You just look at the fabric and check the price, and that's it. For brands, it's really very much the same thing - the designer creates the designs, sends them to the factory with a spec sheet, the factory sources, the materials and the components. The brand has no visibility of any activity beyond the first interaction stage. Which is why in the fashion industry, we say that our supply chains are opaque. It's very difficult to see, actually, what goes on further down the line.