Culture, Trends & Stories

Anna Rönngard on Transparency, Traceability and the Future of Manufacturing

Anna Rönngard is the Director and Founder of AMRA — a supply chain consultancy specialising in sustainability established in March 2020, where she helps suppliers take ownership of the apparel industry.

March 2, 2021
Written by
Tanya Balwani

Before this, Anna spilt her time between Sweden, China and Hong Kong, working closely with H&M for 12 years. Her years at H&M shaped her values and convictions surrounding the sustainability space. She has recently published a guide on how brands and manufacturers can source materials safely and traceably. Read on to learn more.

Anna's Journey at H&M

Anna's interest in China began after moving there with her family 10+ years ago. She graduated with a major in the Chinese language and lived in Beijing and Shanghai for six years. In China, she got the opportunity to leverage her language and cultural skills to work for H&M as a Code of Conduct auditor.

During her time with H&M, she travelled and witnessed China's factory conditions, getting insight into how the compliance system works. After working at H&M China for a couple of years, she decided to move back to Sweden to improve H&M's self-governance supply chains. In Sweden, she led the development of a new supplier assessment method, which encourages the shift from a traditional compliance framework to a supplier ownership model. This opportunity also eventually led her to move to Hong Kong for a couple of years to oversee the framework's implementation process.

After deciding to leave H&M in March 2020, Anna moved back to Sweden and launched her sustainability consultancy — AMRA. Anna strongly believes that the core mission of AMRA is to advocate for sharing ownership on sustainability progress. It is when that ownership is valued and rewarded that stakeholders can transform the apparel supply chain.

What's the difference between transparency and traceability?

Anna recently published "A Practical Guide to Get Visibility in Your Supply Chain", where she outlines practical insights into the five most common materials brands and supplier source — Cotton, Wool, Recycled Polyester, Viscose and Leather. The guide's motivation lies in answering the questions and frustrations brands face when trying to achieve a transparent supply chain.

Since supply chains nowadays are cross-national, you may source raw materials in one country, have the spinning mill in another, and so forth. Involves multiple steps and stakeholders, which complicates the verification process that oversees this chain of custody. That's why it's become increasingly important to understand your supply chain.

In short, transparency understands the full supply chain along with everyone that's involved. Traceability is about making sure that brands and suppliers have a bird's eye view of every step involved in creating a product line.

How can manufacturers better communicate their offerings to brands and consumers?

Anna points out that most brands will have their sustainability goals and targets made available online. A great place to start is understanding what a brand's ambitions are, such as becoming circular on climate neutrality or reducing water consumption. By consolidating your target brand's aspirations, you can better connect it to what you can offer and outline activities you can provide to hit those targets, which will help you stand out.

Anna also reminds manufacturers that they need to learn how to identify the right people driving forces behind developing sustainability goals and figuring out who the key decision-makers and influencers are, whether that is a dedicated department or led by top management.

A common mistake that manufacturers make is that they speak to people in sourcing, merchandising and buyers, which is not as effective, as they would not be familiar with the brand's goals.

Manufacturers can take on an educator's role, present decision-makers with the details acquired from research, and pitch what support they can provide to help brands reach their goals.

Anna points out that manufacturers have a tremendous opportunity to become transparent since no one has captured the value in this space yet. In terms of sustainability, only a few manufacturers are leading in reducing water and energy consumption and social initiatives to take care of their workers. However, when it comes to mapping out their supply chain and understanding their essential role in advocating for transparency, there aren't that many that have caught on.

Taking the lead on traceability and transparency is a crucial strategy for manufacturers to consider when differentiating themselves.

What does being "sustainably-sourced" mean?

There are several challenges in building a universally applicable sustainability standard across the entire textiles and apparel industry due to the many parameters to consider when reaching a standard definition. Defining what is "sustainably-sourced" is the century's question and is a huge nut to crack.

As a brand, it is best to communicate facts and give consumers the information they need to make informed purchase decisions. For example, if your target buyer values human rights and workers' well-being, the brand needs to show how your workers are paid and treated fairly.

Ultimately, the information you provide to your consumers should be transparent and based on objective truths.

What lies in the future of the textile and garment industry?

She sees tools like QR codes will allow consumers to follow the life cycle of the products they purchase. She sees brands using QR codes to show the entire lifecycle of their products from farm to fabric to a garment to the afterlife of that garment in recycling.

Anna emphasises that the only way to achieve traceability in a scalable manner will be through technology. When all the industry players recognise their role in pushing traceability and effective communication, the beginning of the supply chain transformation will begin.

Anna believes brands and manufacturers will prioritise being transparent and traceable because their consumer base is becoming increasingly aware of the implications.

Follow along Anna's journey to bringing visibility to supply chains on LinkedIn, here (https://www.linkedin.com/in/annaamra/)