Amendi’s solution is a simple one: by keeping their supply chain tight, offering an edited range of core products, and knowing the people who make their stuff, they can actually control and verify every part of the manufacturing process. “Within a three hour drive from Istanbul, we can make an entire collection of clothing, including raw materials,” Spencer said. A simple “Fabrication Facts” tag is included with every Amendi product, formatted like a nutrition label on the back of a box of cereal, so you know exactly what’s in each pair.
Other companies are focusing on the effects of making a product by going beyond their supply chain to calculate their environmental impact. Stockholm-based Asket is a traceability leader that began its life in 2015 as yet another transparent, minimalist, direct-to-consumer brand. Founded by Jakob Dworsky and Augustus Bard Bringéus, Asket (which means “ascetic” in Swedish) was created with the now-common aim of delivering premium basics at a lower price. This concept meant they needed to prove to customers that their 30 euro T-shirts were actually just as good as luxury, 80 euro versions. Showing off their factories was an obvious first step, which led them to the mills where the fabric was woven, which in turn began to raise questions about the environmental impact of what they were making and selling.
“We can talk about not just what it costs, but also what it costs the planet,” said Dworsky. “So that you understand that what you buy is not going to come out of thin air.”
This information is available to consumers in an “Impact Receipt” that details the CO2, water, and energy usage of Asket’s most popular products. To calculate these figures, suppliers have to answer a lot of questions: What are their energy bills? How much water is consumed in the dyeing process? Exactly which salts and sulfates do they use to keep the fabric colorfast? These questions produce an insane amount of information, which is why most companies throw up their hands and just use generic, industry-wide data—e.g. the “average” energy consumption of knitting a cotton T-shirt. But knitting a T-shirt in China, where about half the energy grid is powered by coal, produces a lot more CO2 than knitting one somewhere like Portugal. Asket is committed to capturing those fine-grained distinctions.
“It’s a huge project,” Bringéus admitted, and one they will always struggle to completely implement, even with their collaboration with Research Institutes of Sweden. “It is nearly impossible to get our Australian sheep farm to give us information on energy and water consumption,” he explained. “They don’t know—they’re shepherds, basically.”
Some shepherds, however, have already started measuring this data, and Sheep Inc. is betting that their carbon negative, fully traceable merino wool sweaters will change the knitwear game. Founders Edzard Van Der Wyck and Michael Wessely run the company from London, while the sheep are raised on the other side of the world on regenerative farms in New Zealand. (Climatology professor Mark Maslin audits their biodiversity investment strategy.) “Regenerative” is a term increasingly used to describe cutting-edge agriculture practices that go way beyond organic, using crop rotations, carbon sequestering, and other techniques to actually put more into the planet than what they take out. After the sheep are humanely sheared, the merino fibers are spun in Italy, and ultimately knit into sweaters in Spain on 3D knitting machines.
What makes Sheep Inc.’s traceability efforts truly unique is that each sweater comes with a removable tracking tag in the hem. When you scan the QR code on the back of the tag, the brand’s software leads you to a page about your very own sheep whose wool helped make your sweater. “People’s eyes glaze over the second you start to regurgitate facts about where stuff has come from,” Van Der Wyck told me. “People are interested in storytelling.”