Founder’s Letter: False Facts

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I have an interesting 85-year-old uncle in Hungary who spent his professional life directing theater and television. He was born just before the start of the second World War and developed his professional and family life in Budapest during Soviet times. I never saw him as much as I would have liked, but we still communicate by email. During those dark Eastern Bloc years, he longed for access to the Western press hoping to read “real news” because his available news was untrustworthy.  

When anyone in my family went to visit him, they always carried Time Magazine, The New York Times and other publications for him to get real news.

When Al Gore “invented” the internet (1994 national misunderstanding), I optimistically wrote my uncle how this new revolutionary technology called the Internet could be a medium for individuals and their computers without regard for geographic location. It could and would turn the world into a single TV station where the real truth could “finally” be broadcast to every corner of the earth.

And here we are today, not really anywhere near where I imagined. According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump lied 30,573 times as President of the United States of America. None of us know if that statistic is right or wrong, but one truth Donald Trump repeatedly shared with all of us (apparently more than 2000 times according to the was that the media spews fake news. Trump was the first politician in memory to say it and definitely the first one to go crazy on it—and I believe for good reason. Who can ever forget when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 based on what seemed to have been fabricated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction? Or how the New York Times and Washington Post blasted the so-called evidence in a way that wound up even the most liberal Patriots.

In response to that problem, fact finder sources like Politifact developed because misinformation was not going away any time soon.

“Fact-checking journalism is the heart of PolitiFact. Our core principles are independence, transparency, fairness, thorough reporting and clear writing. The reason we publish is to give citizens the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy.”

Our industry is also full of fake news, fake stories, fake claims and fake data and each day more is spat out mostly by well-intentioned bright people who either fail to verify their information or those who copy and paste information they did not verify but believe is true. Then there is news brought to us by those who intentionally and knowingly obfuscate by bringing data and claims they know is “sort of correct.”   

I find fake news and fake facts diabolically disturbing. It disrupts our ability to green up the apparel industry. It’s time for our industry to stop fake news and data. As a starting point, we need to admit it is going on and celebrate the idea of fact checking in the apparel world.

Maxine Bédat is the Founder and director of the New Standard Institute, a non-profit entity that works with scientists and citizens to make the fashion industry more sustainable, ethical and equitable.  And more excitingly and seriously pertinent, she is working on bringing all of us an enormously wonderful present in the fall.  Her “Information Platform” on the NSI site will be a community site focused on facts. 

We desperately need that. The sooner the better.

Just for fun, I Googled “sustainable claims jeans industry” and quickly found the website “Good on You,” which had a page titled “Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Jeans and Ethical Denim

Before we even get to their suggestions of what jeans consumers should buy, in the first section there is a 249-word introduction where misinformation appears by the second paragraph, “Cotton is known to be a particularly thirsty crop⁠—by some estimates, it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton.

Not only is this not true, there is nothing to back up to this statement. If anyone doubts the veracity of what I’m saying, I am happy to introduce them to the International Cotton Advisory Committee, which has been collecting cotton data since it was founded in 1939. I suggest doubters take 240 seconds and watch this film ICAC prepared for World Cotton Day in October 2020 to refute this exact claim.

Continuing on my Google search, I found The Eco Hub, which certainly sounds ecological.

Their story states “China’s Xintang province alone produces one in every three pairs of jeans sold globally.” There is no proof to back up this statement. For the record, Xintang is not a province and it is peculiar they wrote that it is. Who would say St. Louis is a state in the U.S.A.?   Regarding the one in three jeans in the world part, The Eco Hub backed up every other statement in the rest of their story but not this one, proving they know the right and wrong way to state facts.  They knowingly threw that in sans backup.  I should add that I know how much denim is produced in China and each other country and it is deeply unlikely that China let alone one city in China produces 1/3 of the world’s jeans.

Google then led me to read the China Dialogue as I searched on Xintang which states:.

Xintang is the denim capital of the world. One in three pairs of jeans sold globally is made in this industrial town, in Guangdong province. At first sight its production statistics are impressive: the factories there produce 300 million denim articles a year, employing 220,000 people. Around two-thirds of the denim clothing made in China is produced in Xintang.”

And finally I found “The True Cost of Denim,” the motherload of inaccurate information.

Courageously they state “Over 5 billion pairs of denim jeans are produced every year. The world’s jean capital, Xintang, China, produces over 300 million pairs of jeans every day.”

Clearly their ability is not with numbers because 300 million jeans a day would be $2.1 billion jeans a week or almost eight billion in a month or 96 billion in a year while they start the sentence saying only five billion jeans are produced in a year.

Readers can spend endless time online finding false information. On the contrary, it’s actually terribly difficult to find real information. Would it not be wonderful if there was a third-party impartial, peer-reviewed and reputable fact-checker group/watchdog/taskforce on fashion and textile claims? How wonderful would it be if you needed to know something and there was one voice you could trust?

And that is the present Maxine Bédat is gifting us this fall. Her site will be a community location for people to submit scientific and reliable information so we can trust data. Information will be logically placed in categories and there will a grading system. Red text will be used to call out unreliable and unfounded sourced information. Orange text will designate highly contested “do not use” data, while yellow text will signal “questionably reliable” information. And then green text will tell you the data is reliable and robust with correct methodology. Gold text will be peer-approved and the ultimate in facts.

I am thrilled this site is on its way and our Transformers Foundation will cooperate as much as possible with New Standard Institute’s work on facts. I encourage experts in our industry, NGOs or anyone with science and knowledge to participate in this community gift.

The Internet worsened our ability to find truth and our ability to know what’s really going on by allowing anyone to say anything. But fact finding is on the way to rescue those that care to hear and find the real story. Stay tuned.

Andrew Olah

PS.  Please read Maxine’s book. It’s well worth your time.

“Unraveled” Available on Kingpins Shop

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