GCU New York’s Fair Fashion Center has already helped one company save nearly $1 million.
GCU’s research centres are used to thinking outside the box – but GCU New York’s Fair Fashion Center is helping reinvent it.
Launched by Chancellor Professor Muhammad Yunus in May to examine the business case for sustainability in the fashion industry, the centre has already inspired one of its partners to re-examine the materials, size and components of its shoe packaging, saving the company nearly one million dollars a year.
It’s one of the centre’s innovative responses to transforming the $2.5 trillion fashion industry. The world’s second biggest consumer of water and second biggest polluter, it employs one in six people around the world, with women making up 80 per cent of the supply chain.
“Systemic change in the fashion industry requires an approach that is aligned to its disciplines,” says Vice-President of GCU New York Cara Smyth. “Efforts at revaluing ecosystems and promoting economic and social wellbeing require market-based solutions, reconciled to the bottom line.”
Collaborating with industry, the United Nations, and cross-sector thought leaders, the Fair Fashion Center is structured to aggregate and research the best and most scalable practices, source new opportunities for engagement, and research emerging tactics and technologies in supply-chain sustainability, social responsibility, ecology and environmental impact reduction.
“While the industry’s enormous scale and global integration propel fashion to a top rank on any impact index, it is its nature of constant reinvention that also becomes its opportunity for rapid re-evaluation and transformation. To facilitate this process, the centre acts as a translator between the private and public sectors, turning sustainable development goals into actionable business practices.”
The centre has identified eight “action areas”, including end-of-use, efficiencies, finance, governance,
marketing, packaging, transportation and social/labour – reflecting challenges and opportunities – and aggregates examples of best practice across the industry.
“The centre disseminates efficient, actionable practices, delivered in modules that easily embed into a company’s existing structure,” says Cara. “Its first project focused on packaging in men’s dress shirts. Upon reviewing the number of components, countries of manufacture, costs, and consumer feedback, it was apparent that inefficiencies existed.
The centre introduced opportunities to eliminate pieces and presented industrial design solutions to recreate packaging patterns. The changes resulted in ecological impact reductions across water, CO2, and forestry through efficiencies in sourcing, transportation and production, while improving margins.
“Those initial findings inspired a footwear company that partners with the centre to make improvements to their shoeboxes that are now saving it nearly a million dollars annually.”
The centre has also researched actions for operating facilities more efficiently, calling upon cross-sector experts and reviewing proven practices, and has launched fairfashioncenter.org, a reference of associations, conferences, non-profit organisations, government agencies, and for-profit establishments with expertise in social and environmental initiatives.
The searchable database makes it easy for fashion professionals to look for organisations working in categories including climate, water, finance, governance, labour, materials, transportation, recycling, technology, awards and strategy. The site will become a real-time portal for case studies and eventual repository for the work of the centre.
“GCU is thrilled about the centre because there is tremendous opportunity to challenge the industry,” says Cara. “Fashion has traditionally been left out of the social responsibility movement, despite its presence as a job creator and industry that spans demographics. There is an opportunity for this sector to work pre-competitively and build an effective network that offers its input and human capital to generate real change.”