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Response to New York Times article on ‘vegan leather’ and materials

Note: This article predates our launch as Worldly.


As a public benefit corporation, we encourage scrutiny of industry efforts on sustainability. However, we are concerned by the approach in a recent New York Times article that raises questions about the methodology behind the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), a materials database we host.


While sources cited in the article seek to discredit some of the peer-reviewed data that Higg hosts, we are most concerned with how the New York Times questioned the MSI. Rather than highlighting lifecycle scholars or how the tool is actually used by product designers, the piece elevates those promoting one side of an industry’s vigorous debate (who are not users of this database). This theoretical debate about “more versus less sustainable” is fundamentally disconnected from how product designers across the world regularly use this dataset: as an input to their materials choices when designing for specific product use cases, in order to reduce their impact faster.


Unfortunately, this means the article missed the real story in apparel, which is that there are urgent data gaps that need to be filled by material and fiber producers. To its credit, The Times’s article concludes with this point by Gregory Norris of the Harvard School of Public Health: “(The Higg Index is) a very valuable body of work… They could have waited, but to their credit, they dug in and they built something with today’s data. (But) there’s a data scarcity problem that really needs to be solved.” We couldn’t agree more, and – as a software platform – we’re acutely focused on solving this data scarcity issue.


We provide the best available data to our users and are proud to host methodologies and datasets from a range of partners. Today, the MSI is the most comprehensive database of third-party reviewed and verified materials impact data. The MSI remains trusted and widely used by boutique apparel brands, eco-conscious upstarts, and long-established global leaders alike. Any and all materials providers are welcome to submit their data to the MSI, which is essential if the relevance and applicability of this dataset is to remain current.


In regards to disagreements between various stakeholders within fibers industries, we strive to follow the latest science and work with trusted partners on methodology. Higg’s mission is to enable brands, manufacturers, and retailers to rapidly improve their environmental and social performance with powerful software tools. We encourage all stakeholders to move faster to verify the impacts of their industries as – whether natural or synthetic – all industrial scale fiber production has tremendous environmental impacts. We’re actively incorporating new methodologies and datasets as alternatives become available.


Climate change is bigger than any of us and we cannot wait. Only by working together can our industry effectively drive impact through harmonized solutions designed for global scale.


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