Robert Bergmann on Taking Sustainability from Fad to Force

It’s been three years since the wake-up call that was the deadly Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, and supply chain sustainability is still a hot-button issue.

Among those striving to ensure that such an accident never happens again is Robert Bergmann, the founder of Responsibility in Fashion, a nonprofit working to inspire greater accountability across the industry through open-sourcing, centralization and simplification of information, innovative initiatives and international collaboration.

After spending almost 25 years in fashion as an advertising and editorial creative director, it wasn’t until 2013 when the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) hired his agency work on design and marketing materials for its sustainability committee that Bergmann realized there was a lot of cleaning up to do.

“I quickly learned that the industry—that I’d always seen as glamorous and creative—had a less than glamorous side, and as someone who’s always been interested in ecology and human rights, and as a Tibetan Buddhist, I started to see the urgency of what I was learning and how the sustainability efforts of the nonprofits and consultants working in this area could really use a healthy dose of powerful creative direction and marketing,” Bergmann explained, adding, “I had to do my part in helping to fix the problems in the global fashion industry.”

Thus, Responsibility in Fashion was born.

To name a few of its esteemed industry thought leaders: Burak Cakmak, the dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design; Lewis Perkins, president of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute; and LaRhea Pepper, director of the Textile Exchange. The organization also has the ongoing support of the CFDA.

“Our website contains the first comprehensive responsibility starting point for small and medium sized brands and a resource and information source that’s accessible to all,” Bergmann said.

Further, the nonprofit has identified key areas that it feels have the potential to create the greatest seismic change in the fashion industry, including a “central hub for responsible sourcing that’s accessible to all and easy to navigate” is one.

“The majority of designers and brands around the world lack the financial resources, time and patience to navigate the current state of responsible sourcing,” he said, adding, “A centralized hub has the global potential to bring down material costs, stimulate worldwide responsible innovation and competition and build a more responsible fashion industry.”

Something else that needs to change: what the terms “sustainable fashion” and “eco fashion” mean. According to Bergmann, the industry needs to start making responsibility cool. He also pointed out that consumers need to a simple and universally recognizable logo. “[One] that instantly says to them that garments are responsibly made, to guide and empower responsible shopping,” he noted.

For basic starter information and steps on how to build responsible sourcing into the design process, designers can check out responsibilityinfashion.org.