August 5, 2021

The Trends: Clear Fashion: An App against greenwashing

5 min read

The French smartphone app Clear Fashion wants to educate about greenwashing by means of a sustainability score for brands and products. And provide users with the information they need to consume more sustainably.

Consume less and consume better. This has become a new credo for many consumers today. “A study by the consultancy Xynteo shows that 90% of consumers want to do something about climate change. But only 3% know what they have to do. Our goal starts right here: We want to educate.” Laura Gay is a spokesperson for the start-up Clear Fashion. She is one of those mid-twentysomethings who actively wants to make a difference. So do her two bosses Marguerite Dorangeon and Rym Trabelsi and the other dozen employees of this still fairly young app, which describes itself as a “tool against greenwashing.” With information about production and composition of fashion products, consumers are to be educated so that they can shop more sustainably.

The beginning of this new digital offering from France had very little to do with fashion: Dorangeon and Trabelsi met at the College of Agricultural Engineers, where they looked behind the scenes of the food industry. They asked themselves: And what about the fashion we buy? How can we be sure it is ecological here? The two industry newcomers first set up a Facebook group, then a website. In September 2019, their app went online. Today, more than 200,000 people interested in fashion have already downloaded Clear Fashion onto their smartphones and 370 brands are currently classified there according to a very elaborate rating system.

Marguerite Dorangeon (l.) and Rym Trabelsi, founders, Clear Fashion

Marguerite Dorangeon (l.) and Rym Trabelsi, founders, Clear Fashion

How does Clear Fashion work? The app is intended to provide information before a purchase, as well as to check the sustainability of one’s own wardrobe. First you enter the brand name of the product you want to have assessed, then the material composition and the type of garment. The app calculates a score, whereby a maximum of 100 points can be achieved. A product that scores over 60 points is considered “eco-responsible.” Anything below that is to be assessed critically. The points are calculated according to 150 criteria and then broken down into four segments: environmental impact, social responsibility, health and animal welfare. What’s new is that for some products you no longer have to enter the data by hand, but simply scan the barcode of a garment. With almost 90,000 products from 19 brands, including Sessun, Balzac Paris, Picture Organic Clothing, 1083, SKVN and  La Gentle Factory, you can get to the sustainability balance with just one click.

Dorangeon explains: “Let’s say I’m standing in a shop and want to buy a jumper. Our app shows an overall score of 76/100, and even 100/100 for the social rating, because the brand complies with all the working conditions. The other jumper only scores 12/100 overall because it is made of a cotton-polyamide blend and therefore has a poor eco-balance. Then I know which jumper to buy.” This theory is confirmed in practice: two-thirds of users give the feedback of using the app to compare different brands for their sustainability. More than half of users (55%) say that they no longer buy certain brands because of Clear Fashion.

Using the Clear Fashion app

Using the Clear Fashion app

In the run-up to the launch, Clear Fashion relied heavily on a cooperation with its users. A list of priorities was compiled from their wishes, which is now being worked through week by week. Every single brand is contacted and sent questionnaires that should be answered within a month. Gay explains: “If the brand fills out the questionnaire and also sends us documents that prove their commitment, they show transparency and we mark that in the app. About half of the enterprises do so. If a company doesn’t answer, we start a research and use the publicly available data on their eco-responsibility.” That the initiative for the check comes from the brand itself is ruled out. At Clear Fashion, only the consumers decide which brand is worth to be listed.

“We are completely independent. The assessment costs the company nothing, so there is no conflict of interest if the result is bad. That is important to us,” Gay points out. The makers of Clear Fashion firmly believe that every brand can improve in its sustainable efforts. Their own study showed that 69% of brands have rethought their production process after a bad review. However, Clear Fashion wants to limit itself to its role as an informant and not be a corporate consultancy for companies. The app sees itself as a representative of users, not brands.

The assessment methodology is impressively detailed and thoughtful. There is also an external team of experts, consisting of connoisseurs of the industry, specialists in materials and sourcing, who are in regular exchange with Clear Fashion. Nevertheless, the app has some weaknesses, such as a failure to consider the microplastic issue or the biodegradability of certain materials. Also, the classification of brands that do not respond to the query sometimes shows a wrong picture. Gay says, “This is definitely a problem. However, we believe that transparency to the consumer is one of the most important building blocks for eco-responsible production. It has to become the norm that we know where our clothes come from. This has long been the case with food.”

The team is also aware of the difficulty of reflecting the complex fashion industry in all its facets and details in 150 examination criteria. The methodology is therefore constantly being expanded and adapted. Since May 2021, the quality of the end product and its durability have also been included in the calculation. Once again, Clear Fashion works closely with its users, who can give their opinion on certain products and brands, just like on the travel review portal Tripadvisor. Questions about pilling, washability and product life-circle will then further enrich the overall result.

How is the app financed? A group of investors has provided the start-up funding. Clear Fashion does not want to charge money for the app itself. “That would run counter to our DNA. We want to raise awareness and educate as much as possible.,” says Gay. “If the app were to cost something, we would exclude certain consumer groups from the information. We definitely don’t want that.” Certain revenue comes from brands that want to use the Clear Fashion score for their own marketing purposes. These then have to pay a contribution for the copyright. At the moment, the start-up is only active in France, but would like to expand internationally. Gay says, “Only a few consumers worldwide know how to consume fashion responsibly, this proves that Clear Fashion has a real raison d’être.”

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