The social and sustainability report for the financial year, covering January 2018 – December 2018.
Summary: goals & achievements 2017…………………………..….4
1. Sourcing strategy……………………………………………….9
1.1. Sourcing strategy & pricing……………………………………10
1.2. The organisation of the sourcing department……………………10
1.3. Production cycle………………………………………………..11
1.4. Supplier relations……………………………………………….11
1.5. Integration monitoring activities and sourcing decisions…..12
2. Coherent system for monitoring and remediation………….13
2.1 Country Portugal…………………………………………………………14
2.2 Country India……………………………………………………………..16
2.3. External production……………………………………………12
3. Complaints handling…………………………………………..16
4. Training and capacity building………………………………..17
4.1. Activities to inform staff members……………………………17
4.2. Activities to inform agents…………………………………….18
4.3. Activities to inform manufacturers and workers…………….19
5. Information Management……………………………………..19
6. Transparency & communication………………………………20
7. Stakeholder Engagement………………………………..……21
8. Corporate Social Responsibility……………………..……….22
Summary: goals & achievements 2018
In 2018 we made a huge step to further implement our brand mission; “to produce ladies fashion with respect for people and planet” as well inside as outside the company. We focus on giving a great deal of attention to the SER-covenant, CSR and Slow Fashion. We are delighted to find more and more sustainable, environmental fabrics available. Here we can make a difference. We notice that more and more customers are interested in the sustainable sources and stories of our products. This implies that (inside the company) our staff even got deeper involved in the various aspects of environmentally friendly fabrics and production methods, as well as the social responsibility of our production. Education & information are key!
We think it is very important to reach the end consumer and raising consumer awareness, we are emphasizing our brand mission during every contact with our customers. We are working towards total transparency.
To further use our influence and to raise awareness we put a lot of time, effort and energy into our network. Retailers, press, bloggers, agents, and influencers like Dutch actresses and TV personalities. We find a match with these strong women, who are just like us dedicated to the good cause. We are grateful for their active support.
From our panel discussion last year we learned that we have to change the consumer attitude towards fashion bottom up. Therefore we made extra information hangtags for our garments explaining the sustainable process and advantages of various yarns and fibers. On top of that, we completely rewrote our website, made it bi-lingual. Now it is more an ‘encyclopedia’ of who we are, what we stand for and the fabrics we work with. In the showroom we put a map of the world indicating our production facilities, our partners, our yarn sources with photos of our contact persons. The same and interactive map for our website is being constructed. Our aim is total transparency.
We are very happy with the initiative of the Dutch Economic Council (SER) for a Covenant for Sustainable Clothing and Textiles. We are a signatory to this great plan that will have a European effect and collaboration as well. It is an answer to the questions of our seminar last year in which there was a fierce full demand for the legislation, from the governmental side, to push developments comparable to the food sector.
As always we have a student internship, doing her final thesis and now her assignment is, in collaboration with Modint, to monitor and give directions of how the different stakeholders in the Covenant can work together, create transparency and find solutions for the fashion industry. As a final question; Will this Covenant change the attitude of and have an influence on the behavior towards fashion of the consumer?
Collaboration and Minimum Wage Analysis
It is very good to experience that through these closer collaborations also new initiatives arise between brands. It is so beautiful that when we used to be competitors that now we can work together and can join forces with some mutually inspired brands on various subjects.
Our commitment to sustainability extends into the shop itself: our garments come in biodegradable packaging, so right through to the end of the supply chain we minimize the impact on the environment as much as we can. And we supply our clients with Organic Cotton carrier bags.
At our visits to and meetings with our suppliers, factories, and agents we continue to emphasize our SER membership. For every factory, we have a factory visit (wish) list. We explain that we are very proud of SER membership and therefore want to take this one step further.
When sourcing a new production possibility, the first thing we request is if the factory has been audited. Our agents are very much involved and only source new factories that are within our audit demands. We check the existing audit reports by QAT(Quality Assessment Tool) and take it from there. It is so inspiring to learn that more and more factories are pro-active in sustainable issues. Our factories have BSCI, Smeta and or GOTS Certificates, we even performed a Minimum Wage Analysis in the low-risk country Portugal.
Last year we visited the factories in Portugal two times. We do of course have contact with all our agents, suppliers and manufacturers almost every day. It feels more like a family than working relations. And with all the new communication possibilities one feels so close. We stopped working with Turkey, due to all obvious circumstances. As a replacement for these product groups, we found a Dutch production company that works with a BSCI Certified factory in Macedonia.
With the two main factories we discussed the CoLP (Code of Labour Practise) thoroughly, we do the Health & Safety check within the factory. In all factories, we posted the Worker Information Sheet. The factory owners and / or our contact person were proud to have their photo taken at this event.
We reduce CO2 emission by a unique collaboration between our Portuguese factories; they are in contact and combine their shipments to us. The other way around, when we have to send something to 2 or 3 factories, we send it to one address and this factory sees that the others receive their parcel.
We introduced a small info guide for our sustainable materials. On our website, on the garments, in POS materials, on Social Media, and in our Magazine, we explain & try to educate about the benefits of using and wearing sustainable materials like Organic Cotton, Tencel, Linen, and Recycled Denim.
1. Sourcing strategy
1.1. Sourcing & Pricing
Approximately 70% of our collection is produced in Portugal. Our Portuguese agent is well aware of our demands when she introduces new factories. When meeting new manufacturers or agents in other countries our first question is if they have been audited.
In Portugal, we have been working for 12 years now with our Portuguese agent. We visit her and the factories twice each year. We have contact through mail and or telephone daily, even on the weekends! Our relationship has grown like we are all one big company and we treat each other as colleagues. During our visit, we feel that they have a very cooperative attitude and are very well aware.
We started working with an agent in the Netherlands who works with audited Indian (New Delhi) factories. These Indian manufacturers function as a completion to our collection since they are very good at a more handicraft product (embroideries, applications, etc.), which are impossible to do in Portugal. We visited this agent and the factories last November 2017. We investigated their way of working and introduced and discussed our SER membership and philosophy.
Working with and visiting India for over 30 years now I can see a major change for the good in working conditions, this is impressive. And of course, New Delhi is a completely different story compared to the south and east of India in terms of modern developments. There is a pro-active attitude toward sustainability. Also, the agent visits us frequently and we are in daily contact with her and our contacts at the Delhi office. We were very pleased that the Agency in Delhi even has initiated its charity program for their Senior Citizens.
Pricing is done based on costs of fabrics, per weight or measure, production/labor time, costs of accessories and on Minimum Wage and transport.
We know how much time in minutes is needed for the production of every specific garment. We know the consumption and price of every yarn or fabric or accessory per garment. The production capacity of our factories. We know which other brands our factories produce so we can compare and judge the prices quoted. We know the transport time. The awareness of each countries Minimum Wage is a key element. Also sharing info with sister brands and knowing their price points give useful information.
We personally are involved in every step and selection in the sourcing and production process. Which is, as we have learned through the contacts at SER and SER, a quite unique situation. We select every single yarn and fabric, we visit all agents and factories and all are judged by their sustainable and social elements and contribution to our mission.
In India, but also in Portugal, we have the experience; when suggesting a factory audit, the factories prefer BSCI. The good thing is that factories see the (commercial) benefits of audits. More and more International brands demand audited factories. Most of ‘our’ factories prefer BSCI. The latter is wider spread and known and more requested by international operating brands.
1.2. The organization of the sourcing department
Sourcing is done by our founder Caroline Mewe.
1.3. Production cycle
Alchemist produces two carefully created collections a year, always making sure the designs can easily be combined with those from previous collections. Our quality standards are high because what is well-made lasts a long time. That, too, is sustainability.
To avoid excessive overtime/working hours, an important investigation/improvement action out of our BPC, we take emphasize that we have a minimum of 90 days of production lead-time. Our buying and production planning work along with this calendar. We count back from delivery into the shops towards setting up the collection and take every step into account concerning the time it takes (yarn dyeing, ordering fabrics, capacity booking, production time (even the amount of garments per production line/run), packing and transport, etc.). This way, we develop a total Production lead-time/work plan sheet to be able to know when decisions need to be made without influencing the production lead-time in a negative way. This way, we prevent production over-time, in the factories, from happening. We discuss our product developments and (realistic) lead-times in mutual understanding with our suppliers.
1.4. Supplier relations
We have a long and steady partnership with the majority of our suppliers for many years. We are a family-based organization and we find that our best results and contacts are with similar companies. Small scale, family-owned and operated factories. We speak each other’s language. Contact with factories is with the owners directly or with our designated label manager, daily and/or even on weekends. Birthdays and family matters are shared. It is a friendly partnership based on mutual respect.
New factories and suppliers are chosen from a mutual point of interest. Does the factory meet our brand mission and, also very important, are we as a brand interesting enough for the factory quantity-wise. We work with our Portuguese agent for over 10 years. She is our stable business relation. Factories sometimes stop or an employee starts their own factory. Through our agent and long-lasting contacts, we are sure of a continuous process.
We set up a due diligence process (selection process) for new suppliers. This was also indicated as an improvement action out of the BPC. We discuss and check upon:
1. The product itself (commerciality, price/quality ratio, transparency, fabric/yarns used, production possibilities, etc.) and
2. Our brand mission (social and environmental responsibility: existing audit reports, fabrics/yarn used, country studies, BPC-improvements & BPC-actions (Brand Performance Check)
3. The SER goals to focalize per country on low & high-risk aspects via the factory checklists and eventually monitoring all these different aspects. The final decision upon a new supplier is a joint force between the production- and the design team.
Small scale versus leverage
Alchemist is not a mass production brand. In the factories, we only have small leverage. But due to our very personal, consistent, secure and elaborate sourcing we are sure our factories meet up to our sustainable mission.
1.5. Integration monitoring activities and sourcing decisions
See our sourcing strategy (1.1) & supplier relations (1.4)
2. Coherent system for monitoring and remediation
See our sourcing strategy (1.1)
We made a monitoring system for our suppliers, by evaluating them according to all the aspects and implications belonging to our brand mission and SER membership (a distracted improvement action from our BPC). From now on we will also monitor them by the SER / Covenant for Sustainable Clothing and Textiles standards.
For European factories, according to SER classified as ‘the low-risk countries’, we have to rely on the audits that have already been done and on the European labor legislation. As mentioned above we performed, together with two affiliated SER members, a ‘Wage analysis’ audit for a mutual Portuguese factory. We started this initiative in 2015 on our account.
Furthermore, we are monitoring through time the different factories by:
- factory visits,
- continuous contact with our different agents,
- explaining our brand mission,
- checking regularly the BPC-actions & BPC-improvements,
- informing, discussing and explaining the ‘Worker info sheet’ and the ‘CoLP’,
- sending out, receiving back and interpreting the signed ‘Questionnaire’,
- doing a self-assessment through a ‘Health & Safety check’ during our visits,
- for India, we would have liked to introduce the ‘Workplan Education Program’ (WEP), but during our factory visit, it seemed to be too early for that.
- Finding ways to work together and join forces with sister brands.
At every factory and agent visit, we have discussed our brand mission regarding our choice of sustainable fabrics and the SER covenant.
We visit all our Portuguese factories and agent 2 times per year. Last year we initiated extra effort in two of our Portuguese factories during our agent visits. We have a factory (wish) list and discussed all the SER demands with them. We realize it is a step-by-step process. This integrated checklist was an improvement action out of our BPC (Brand Performance Check).
We explain and elaborate on the ‘Worker info sheet’. We discuss the CoLP (Code of Labour Practise).
In cooperation with two affiliated FWF members, we initiated an audit concerning ‘Living Wages’ for mutual Portuguese factory. We are convinced it is a very relevant aspect of SER’s CoLP (which is also emphasized as an improvement action in our BPC) and therefore we think it is worthwhile to invest in this issue. We have investigated the possibilities, the costs and the parties with whom it can be executed.
It has been a long wish to be able to join forces with affiliated SER members and we were sorry to learn that SER was not willing to co-invest or support us as in this joint audit. Because a Living Wage should apply to all factories that we are working with, not only in high-risk countries, that it is actually sending a strange message. There is more urgency to deal with the problem if it is in your ’backyard’ (that means countries in the EU). You can’t tell someone to ’behave’ properly if you are not showing a good example yourself.
In November 2018 we visited our agent in Delhi, India, and the Indian factories ourselves. We started by introducing the agent with our SER membership and the different implications. Next to the fact that the factories we work with already have been audited (BSCI and Smeta 2016) , we explain our mission (CoLP, Health & Safety Check, Questionnaire, etc.) to them in order to introduce and discuss them separately during our factory visit (all improvement points distracted from our BPC). Since our quantities are still rather small, it still is a step forward to find out if we’re interesting partners for each other. Again we realize it is and will be a step-by-step process, therefor we acknowledged that it would be too early to introduce the WEP (Worker Education Program), although it was an improvement point out of our BPC.
Indian factory management seems very considerate and shows a very cooperative attitude. And as mentioned before they operate pro-active concerning sustainability. We were very pleased by seeing the proper state of the factories, the way everything was organized and the high social- and quality standard of the factories. The Agency even has initiated its charity program for its Senior Citizens (locally) (See appendix). We have received the latest audit reports from the factories and already discussed some focus points with our SCR from the agency for follow up in the CAP (Corrective Action Plan) .which is also a formulated improvement action out of our BPC.
2.3 External production
3. Complaints handling
Last year we did not encounter complaints. We discussed and left the Worker Information & – cards in all the factories as we visited the production departments. Also, the factories posted the Worker Information Sheets.
During our Portuguese factory visit, we discussed the ‘Worker info sheet’ with the information of the local complaint handler with our agent and with the factory manager/owner. These factories work very strict and are well organized. All corridors between the machines and working places are well indicated and left empty. It is very clean and when necessary, protective working gear is used. There is fresh air, enough light and all security measures are applied. Working hours and breaks are strictly regulated (indicated as an improvement point in our BPC). Also, our Minimum Wage Analysis in Portugal did not bring up any misconduct or irregularities, that was a pleasant confirmation.
During our India factory visit, we also discussed the ‘Worker info sheet’, with the information of the local complaint handler, and the ‘Worker info cards’, with our agent and with the factory manager/owner. These factories are very well organized. In this Agency in India, the female employees are not allowed to work too late, because of the danger of sexual harassment outside the factory, when going home too late.
4. Training and capacity building
Due to the small size scale of our company our communication lines are very short. We work in a vertical organization. Every member of staff, sales, design, production, has his or her special expertise and responsibility, next to their day to day businesses. Every morning we meet at the ‘coffee table’ and discuss the latest developments and things to come. Our team is very capable of and willing to inform external contacts, clients or PR related accounts about our SER activities. They play a crucial role during the events we organise.
This year we made an extra effort to share more information and knowledge through our website and Social Media. With the support of a branding agency, we worked for a few months to fine-tune our brand identity, focus, and communication. The results are being incorporated step by step. One of the first visible actions is that we are aiming for total transparency. In our showroom, we placed a huge map of the world with our production locations. This map will be interactive and online on our website too.
We are very happy with the Dutch Covenant for Sustainable Clothing and Textiles. We applaud this initiative and do hope it will lead to Dutch and European focus and attention from brands and governments alike.
Although slowly, we are glad to find out that awareness of sustainable fashion is growing. We do find that more and more customers and retailers are interested in the story behind our brand. That implicates that staff members also get new questions. We welcome these questions. We have to find answers and or solutions that will only improve our mission. Answers we find at SER stakeholders or through our customers, suppliers, and manufacturers.
The different fashion fairs we attend are always a good place to learn about new developments concerning fabrics, techniques, social performances, etc.. Since our agents, mills, and manufacturers know what we are looking for they prepare the most updated info for us
See our sourcing strategy (1.1).
Our agents are informed about our sustainable brand mission before we start working together. The agents are pro-active in sourcing audited factories. There has never been any misunderstanding about our mission between us and our agents. If the factories cannot comply with our standards we will not work with them, period. The agents we currently work with are based in the Netherlands, Portugal, and India, and we’re in touch with them every day. They are very cooperative and committed to our brand’s mission, to CSR and to the SER way of working. We take every opportunity to discuss the different aspects and implications of our SER membership, most of the time face to face.
Furthermore, our agents can play a pro-active role since they know our needs through our long term relationship with each other. They do a lot of fieldwork for us, in order to have well prepared and worthwhile one-on-one meetings. They make a pre-selection of factories and even fabrics, that might be interesting to us.
4.3. Activities to inform manufacturers and workers
See our sourcing strategy (1.1)
We inform our manufacturers via our agents and more so, during our factory visits, face to face. During our factory visits, we take the opportunity to discuss the different aspects and implications of our SER membership with them personally.
Furthermore, we do come across BSCI audits when visiting the different manufacturers. We feel that it would help us a lot if SER would be able to enforce its Global publicity and carry out its active global policy.
5. Information management
See our sourcing strategy (1.1) and supplier relations (1.4).
We update our supplier information system each year.
Since our company is very small the CSR and the sourcing department consist of the same people.
We started by setting up a monitoring system for all the information we gather from our suppliers (CoLP, Questionnaires, Health & Safety checks, audits, CAP, etc.). This was also indicated as an improvement action out of the BPC. We will be checking and evaluating them according to all the aspects and implications belonging to our brand mission and SER membership and will organize it in a structured way. Always with the latest, most actual, audits.
In the Portuguese factories, we always try to check the production planning so we can interpret it, and check if it’s logical and no overtime is needed in production for reaching our desired lead times. Subcontracting is not an issue since our scale of orders and the factories’ capacities match. In our mid-to-high-end of the market, the production lines are handled in house. We discuss this at our meetings with the factories. When visiting the work floor we actually see our garments, fabrics, etc. in progress.
6. Transparency & communication
In all our external communication – our Magazine, PR, Social Media, and website, etc. – we emphasize our brand’s mission. We elaborate and inform people about our cooperation with SER. In our Magazine and on our Website a large section is dedicated to our firm conviction of the importance of CSR, sustainability and the SER membership. It has been personalized with testimonials of our different staff members, and even an SER employee is represented in it with her own quote.
To inform and educate our final customer, we added hangtags to garments made from sustainable materials as recycled fabrics or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic cotton. For this group, we would like to add an SER logo to give the consumer the correct information while making their buying decision. We believe that this transparency will strongly raise consumer awareness and willingness to make a change.
To inform our staff and sales team, we meet every morning at the coffee table to discuss the latest developments, progress, and trends. Our staff is very capable of, and willing to inform external contacts, clients or PR related accounts about our SER activities. They play a crucial role during the events we organise.
We believe it would be very helpful for the general consumer awareness and the sustainable pull out of the market, if the SER covenant would have a logo that would represent more brand value/power and brand awareness, so it is more valuable and recognizable in the market for our end consumers that SER members are actively involved in making the world a better place. If the SER logo is recognizable for the end consumer they are more aware and willing to ask for these specific sustainable products, which could create a pull effect towards sustainable products.
Many interviews have been published about our brand’s mission and cooperation with SER. Nearly all Dutch glossy magazines, online magazines, leading bloggers and stylists, and also various international sites have brought attention to Alchemist. We are proud to have a growing group of Dutch inspiring women, actresses, television personalities, models who are proud to be our brand ambassadors.
As a follow up to our dinner event concerning the subject: ‘Sustainability within the fashion industry and the true cost of producing garments’, we also organized some in-house events. We invited press, bloggers, retailers, our agents, and stylists.
Of course, we have a group of Dutch primary and high school children that contact us frequently for information for a lecture, presentation or thesis they are writing. We always reply to their questions and help them the best we can. Every 6 months we hire an HBO or University intern to work with us and write their bachelor thesis about our company. On top of that, we are committed to the HVA mentorship on the minor in VR and Sustainability.
We have committed ourselves to create transparency through all our practices, including our website, because we realized that we don’t communicate enough to our customers. For instance, we want to communicate everything we do to be a company with responsible production and focus on sustainability. Furthermore, we want to expose our SER membership concerning sustainability and how we approach it.
Therefore, we critically checked the information on our website and completed it with more background information, stories and links to the sustainable and social aspects of Alchemist.
7. Stakeholder engagement
See our sourcing (1.1) and monitoring strategy (2).
Stakeholder groups we encounter in Europe and in producing countries are; GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), BSCI and Workers/Trade Unions (via our manufacturers & workers although currently not actively).
Promising collaborations with other SER signatories are currently in progress. Not only in our Minimum Wage Analysis, but also with two other sister brands, we are discussing how to approach a mutual leather supplier (operative in 2019) and guide them along the CSR path. Because what we learn from all these contacts is that we all are not alone, that we encounter the same obstacles and also the same opportunities. Therefore we all realize that we can achieve improvement by joining forces.
Even the www.candafoundation.org provides more inside in how others approach sustainability.
As a signatory to the SER / Covenant for Sustainable Clothing and Textiles, there are now new contacts and information sharing & experience exchanges with i.a. Solidaridad, Unicef (in same VR sustainability minor at HvA), Stichting wakker dier, Stichting stop kinderarbeid, FNV, Modint, Dutch Ministries of Home and Foreign affairs.
The willingness and enthusiasm to work together is heartwarming and gives a shot of energy.
This is what touches our Alchemist motto deeply; ‘chemistry only starts when different elements interact’.
8. Corporate Social Responsibility
Our brand mission consists of two parts; social and environmental responsibility.
Our goal is to use sustainable and environmentally friendly fabrics and to have the production done mainly in ‘European low-risk countries’, who follow the European legislation.
Our mission is to combine high fashion with an ethical lifestyle, which is why we commit ourselves to design and to create with the greatest possible respect for people and the environment. For our children and generations to come.
This also involves an educational aspect; raising consumer awareness for Slow Fashion and sustainability!