08.04.19

Can Australian Fashion Brand THE ICONIC Be Socially & Environmentally Responsible?

Olivia Burton

The business of online fashion has skyrocketed over the last few years, with the prediction that by 2020 1 in 10 items will be purchased online.

Sydney-based, Australian online fashion and activewear leaders THE ICONIC has soared in popularity amongst shoppers, with 2018 being “the biggest and best year yet” for the company.

With over 60,000 products from global retailers, fast delivery and one-stop shopping experience, it’s no wonder that THE ICONIC has developed such a huge audience.

The Iconic Ethical

But, with a growing audience comes a responsibility for ethical and sustainable consumption, which is why in late 2017 Jaana Quaintance-James came on board as THE ICONIC’s Head of Sustainability & Ethical Sourcing.

Jaana has a wealth of knowledge, passion, and experience in responsible supply chains and change leadership. She gave us her insights into her work at THE ICONIC and the challenges that come with navigating complex supply chains and operations.   

‘In the last 12-months, Australian and New Zealand shoppers have reportedly spent a combined total of 28 years browsing The ICONIC’s website – the equivalent of 10,400 days, 15 million minutes or almost one billion seconds’ Power Retailer, THE ICONIC Reveals 2018 Stats

How did you end up in Ethical Sourcing & Sustainability in fashion & why THE ICONIC?

I’ve been interested in social and environmental justice from an early age, and while I didn’t understand the role I could play at the time, there were early signs of my desire to drive company accountability.  Growing up in NZ, I remember seeing rubbish in the gutter and wonder whether the company whose logo was on it was somewhat responsible for it being there.

Later in life – both in NZ and London – I studied politics, social policy and organisational change for social purpose. From there I carved out a career in supply chain ethics, working across many sectors, product types and countries. I came to THE ICONIC from David Jones in late 2017, drawn by the new generation culture of this business, the support of our Executive team for sustainability and the potential for change that it has the power to create.

What has been implemented at THE ICONIC towards more socially and environmentally responsible practices?

In the 15 months since I joined THE ICONIC, we have made meaningful strides towards mitigating the social and environmental impacts of both our own operations and that of our supply chain. Some of these initiatives have included:

  • Implementing a program to ensure decent working conditions in the international factories that produce our private label brands and delivering training for our factories on key issues such as health and safety, social insurance and working hours
  • Conducting our first whole of business carbon footprint baseline and energy audit
  • Developing a community framework to structure and better coordinate the ways in which, as a company, we give back to our community
  • We know we still have work to do, but we’re proud of our progress to date and excited for a number of initiatives we will implement in the near future (and ongoingly) as we continue on our journey.

What’s been the major challenges you’ve had trying to implement these initiatives?

The key to driving the success of our program to date has been the positive and genuine attitude of the people, including our Executive team, at THE ICONIC. What we’re doing wouldn’t be possible without the collective passion of our people to help create actionable change and making a difference to the world we live in.

There are always challenges when implementing change. Much of the work my team does involves implementing new programs for the first time, which means that we have to build systems, bring people along on the journey and often adapt as we go to navigate through uncharted territory.

Additionally, the size and volume of THE ICONIC mean that incremental change is key. We focus on continuous improvement, always learning and reacting; progress, not immediate perfection is our motto, and we’re fortunate to work with an incredible company that supports everything we do.

What kind of steps do you take with your brands that have no concept of ethical and environmental practices?

Bringing our brands on our sustainability journey with us is very important to the success of our program and the scope of the positive impact we can achieve. One of the ways we engage brands is by running regular webinars about sustainability. This also acts as a forum for brands to raise queries with us and learn from each other.

Our teams are also very involved in promoting sustainability with brands. Our buyers are always looking to acquire brands with sustainability credentials (and we have internal targets on this) support and encouraging existing brands to expand their ranges to include sustainability credentials in future seasons.

The Iconic has such a powerful influence with a huge consumer base – how do you communicate important messages on responsible fashion to people looking for cheap purchases?

Many of our customers are extremely passionate about sustainability and often reach out through social media or via our Customer Service team to find out more on our sustainability initiatives. To support this, we recently updated the sustainability section of our website to help communicate transparently with our customers, and other stakeholders, about our sustainability journey. This has been received incredibly well to date, and we will continue to regularly update information to ensure all stakeholders and customers are fully informed about our activity.

THE ICONIC Edition also helps educate our customers and stakeholders about our sustainability progress through informative journalistic-style content about what sustainability and ethical sourcing actually means. It’s a great platform to help us tell the many stories that sustainability and ethical sourcing encompasses.

The most exciting initiative is yet to come as we are set to launch a new way for customers to shop by their personal sustainability values – watch this space!

Can you talk us through the steps you took to publish your Tier 1 suppliers & why it’s important?

We published our Tier 1 factory list in January 2019, 13 months after our ethical sourcing program began in earnest. Transparency about our suppliers is incredibly important to us because it demonstrates our willingness to be held accountable for the conditions in those locations. We have done a lot of work to ensure decent working conditions in our factories and although we recognise there’s still more to do, we want to show customers – not just tell them – that we recognise we have a role to play and are committed to this journey.

What’s your personal take on implementing dramatic change in the fashion/retail industry – what needs to happen and why?

As an industry, we all need to recognise there is still a lot of work to do to reduce our impact on society and the environment. From the working conditions in our supply chain to the environmental impacts of our logistics, our industry responsibility is multifaceted and frankly, hugely significant.

Sustainable fashion is definitely having a moment and change is underway in many areas which is super exciting, however, in my opinion, it’s about time! Long may to continue – we have no time to waste.

Lastly, what are your main goals with THE ICONIc for the next few years in terms of ethical and sustainable change?

We are incredibly excited for the many future opportunities to create positive change and although we’ve made good progress to date, we have so much to do!

This year, amongst other things, we are doing a lot of work on packaging, energy, and carbon including exploring the feasibility installation of solar panels on the roof of our fulfillment centre. We are working on getting better traceability of our materials, engaging suppliers and factories through training and sharing the stories of the people who make our private label products, which is in line with a broader communications focus on consumer education.

We will also evolve our 2020 Sustainability and Ethical Sourcing strategy towards the end of this year, which will look at 2025 targets and beyond, and encompass further work to ensure traceability, factory training programs, sustainable materials, and customer activations.

Check out THE ICONIC’s Ethical & Responsible Fashion page here, more importantly, remember the most sustainable fashion is to buy quality and less – so think before you buy!

Olivia Burton

Olivia is an eco-writer, producer, science graduate & ocean enthusiast. After moving from London to Sydney, she found her love for the outdoors and recycled textiles, which led her to start writing about science and sustainable fashion. Olivia is really passionate about brands using fashion for good and innovation in the industry. She now splits her time between several not-for-profit organisations in communication roles. Olivia is also a Centre for Sustainability Leadership alumni and sits on the Fashion Revolution committee for Australia & New Zealand.