Jaana Quaintance James
Jaana is the Ethical Sourcing Manager at iconic Australian retailer, David Jones.
Tell us about your role as the Ethical Sourcing Manager at David Jones. What are you trying to achieve with the implementation of the Ethical Sourcing Program, and how are you navigating the complexities of multi-brand retail?
The strategic intent of the David Jones Ethical Sourcing Program is to have a positive impact on social, environmental and ethical standards in our supply chain. We don’t just want to manage risk, we want to leave things better off than when we started. In practice this means a lot of different things: from engaging the multiple tiers of our supply chain to understand and impact standards; bringing our brands along on the journey and building their capacity to understand the issues; to undertaking consumer facing initiatives that make us the ethical choice for the consumer.
Indeed there are many complexities because of the multi-brand nature of our business. Usually these types of programs focus only on the own-brand products, but over and above contemporary best practice our program includes everyone. This certainly makes the job a lot tougher—we share the supply chain risk, but brands see supply chain details as proprietary and are reluctant to share them. We’ve therefore adopted an approach where we engage brands to understand the extent to which they are managing the issues and, where gaps are identified, build their capacity to implement a similar program. The pilot training program on ethical sourcing that we ran for brands late last year was very well received and we intend on running it again in a few months’ time.
How have your personal values shaped your work?
I have always had a strong interest in social justice. I was the eight year old trying to stuff a raspberry bun in an envelope for Ethiopia, and wondering whether the companies whose brand was on the rubbish in the gutter were responsible for it being there. This means that workers and their needs are placed at the heart of everything we do in the David Jones Ethical Sourcing Program. My role involves trying to find the sweet spot that achieves what the company needs while also delivering the best social and environmental outcomes for the people in our supply chain.
Has your attitude towards fashion changed as you’ve aged?
I am no fashionista. I’m interested in wearing things for a long time not a fashionable time, and to be honest that’s probably always been the way. This doesn’t mean to say I am always buying expensive designer items—I regularly wear a singlet I bought at Country Road fifteen years ago!
Jaana Quaintance James
"The strategic intent of the David Jones Ethical Sourcing Program is to have a positive impact on social, environmental and ethical standards in our supply chain."
Considering there are many issues facing the fashion industry, how can we avoid people thinking the solution is as simple as buying something that is made from organic cotton?
Buying organic cotton is a pretty good start! My mantra is progress not perfection. I think when you are in a role like mine, responding to the deep complexities presented by sustainability and ethical sourcing, you can understand (and celebrate!) when consumers take a small step like buying organic. I’d probably go mad otherwise because there is still so much to do. And you know, those who are buying organic will come to their next step sometime soon. It’s the ones who still don’t know or choose not to care that we need to worry about…
Which areas of the world do you see as being leaders in the ‘ethical fashion’ space and why?
UK and Europe has the strongest industry. Not only are UK and European retailers applying the most significant resources to managing ethical sourcing, a dedicated ethical fashion business has the market to thrive. There is also an infrastructure supporting innovation in the ethical fashion industry in terms of academic institutions and collaborative networks, which is a very powerful and necessary part of the movement. There is an absence of that still in Australia.
In Australia, we’re lucky that we have laws in place that protect garment workers in the TCF industry, as well as an accreditation body (Ethical Clothing Australia) that annually audits local supply chains. It becomes more complicated overseas in countries that lack legal frameworks, what are your thoughts on this?
The lack of legal frameworks (or the failure to implement what is there), and the absence of strong unions and collective bargaining structures, is the fundamental reason companies like David Jones need to have these types of systems and processes in place. Long-term sustainable change will be brought about by addressing these gaps and enabling workers to themselves access what they are entitled to. Companies have a responsibility to do what they can because of the relationships they have, but standards imposed from the outside by someone who’s not there all the time is not the whole answer.
Where do you hope to see David Jones’s Ethical Sourcing Program in five years from now?
Leading the way in supply chain social impact. We have an incredibly ambitious plan in place and when implemented I think it will be something that we can be really proud of, because we will be achieving positive change in our supply chain community.
Jaana Quaintance James
"My mantra is progress not perfection. I think when you are in a role like mine, responding to the deep complexities presented by sustainability and ethical sourcing, you can understand (and celebrate!) when consumers take a small step like buying organic. I’d probably go mad otherwise because there is still so much to do."
As for the retail sector in general, what do you see as being the biggest challenges going forward in the industry’s journey towards greater supply chain traceability?
I have real concerns about the social auditing industry that has sprung up in the last fifteen or so years, and its ability for the audits to be a platform for change. A tick and flick approach to auditing, and an environment where audits are now just a part of the machine—just tick that box—can mean the real issues aren’t being found, or resolved. Auditing is such an important part of our program, but we have to work really hard to make sure we are getting the quality that we need to achieve change.
I also don’t think we as an industry are inspiring the change in factory managers that is really needed. Factory managers that see the business value in providing decent jobs to workers, and who are supported in doing so by their customers must be the future!
And finally, as I mentioned above, we really need to consider whether this is the right model to achieve long-term sustainable change and how we engage and support for the change to be owned at the local level.
What excites you about the future of the fashion industry?
Change seems to be in the air, which is exciting, and if the industry wants to innovate then it certainly can do so well. I am just waiting for the tipping point where wholesale industry change is inevitable, but I am not sure we are there just yet.
Photography: Claire Summers
Production: Sigrid McCarthy
Learn more about the David Jones Ethical Sourcing Program