In a recent issue of Dance Gazette, Sue Bacchus, Head of Trading at the RAD gave her views on ensuring sustainability in the supply chain.

Over the last few years, the textile industry has come under increasing scrutiny for its vast footprint on global pollution and landfill, as well as for malpractices in its supply chains – and changes, though slow, are afoot. ‘You may have noticed high street retailers beginning to promote recycling,’ says Sue Bacchus, previously senior buyer at Selfridges and now Head of Trading at the RAD, ‘or fitnesswear brands that highlight sustainability criteria. And if fitnesswear can do it, so can dancewear.’ 

 The RAD holds licence agreements with its key suppliers, so Bacchus has no direct say in manufacture, materials or supply chain. What can she do from within the RAD? ‘It’s a conversation,’ says Bacchus. ‘You can’t force change upon licensees, but we can talk about the kind of fabrics, the dyeing, the recycling. You work with your licensees, and identify what capabilities they have. What’s important at the end is that the customer has a choice, so they can say: I don’t like this, I like that, but it’s still an RAD recommended product.’

Yet for consumer choice to drive sustainable dancewear, don’t we need some kind of recognised labelling system? ‘We do need to be more vocal about where a product is coming from,’ admits Bacchus, ‘while at the same time being respectful to suppliers who aren’t able to change or to move as quickly.’ Some suppliers are already working in this direction – the Little Ballerina brand, for example, which flags its compliance with the Okeo-Text® Standard 100, one of the world’s best-known labels for textiles tested for harmful chemicals.

This is encouraging, but I wonder: is sustainability a deciding issue for consumers? Bacchus worries that it isn’t and points out that other factors are also pressing – affordability, for example. While avoiding the ‘fast fashion’ ethos of cheap disposability, Bacchus is nevertheless concerned not to price out people on lower incomes. Once again, questions of sustainability intersect with those of inequality – which means we need to take steps in which those forces are pulling in the same direction.