Are you a socially responsible business?

Over the last couple of years there has been huge interest in socially responsible brands – the origins of the products we buy and the connection between cheap mass production and the conditions of those people working in factories abroad. Brands like Primark may have been firmly in the firing line and forced to address their supply issues but the problem scaled many brand products in many pricing brackets.

We have almost no textiles industry left in the UK now, so unless you are sourcing from an independent boutique or designer making their own products the chances are what you buy will have been made abroad. Quite simply it is still cheaper for large stores to manufacture overseas for less and make their profits over here. We have failed as a country to nurture what was once one of our most precious commodities – our industry.

The Government may be making pledges to do something about it but it’s only now that the cost gap between us and Asia is narrowing.  

Primark sales madness

For now the products are still the same and just as cheap if not cheaper. Do you think companies have improved the ethical qualities of their processes or has little changed?

Information about third world labour isn’t hard to find but perhaps not surprisingly it’s extremely difficult to source statistics on the costs of production for any brand. I did manage to find one for a man’s shirt on an American website. It’s quite shocking – $3 for fabric, $2 manufacture costs – that’s about £1.25 to make one shirt. Of course it wasn’t made in the USA. And who can compete with those cost outlays?

Have you thought about what goes into the clothes you purchase? Do you actually care? If you buy a dress or a pair of trousers for £25 do you know what the breakdown of that final price is – the fabric, import costs, labour charges, tax, VAT, shop mark up?

Concerns over ethical production have gone quiet in the press and customers are back buying the brands that caused it all in the first place. But with the advent of the 99p dress, I’ve started to wonder again and hopefully some of you have as well.

Are customers still passive buyers? Are they as informed and proactive as we hoped and do they really boycott labels they don’t believe are acting responsibly? The ethical trading of banks and energy companies, both products that hit us hard in our pockets, have been under close scrutiny but that was to get prices down not put them up. Turning their back on cheap clothing means customers will ultimately be paying more. Buying ethically is one thing, but if you can’t afford it, then quite simply you’re not going to change your shopping habits anytime soon.

Independent boutiques struggle to stay in business

So what has changed about the way clothing is made abroad and how can small independent labels sourcing in their home countries be socially responsible and still remain competitive? Is it even possible? If companies are making dresses for 99p they MUST be profiting and how on earth does anyone compete with that?

Customers do complain about sub-standard manufacture, poor sizing and looking like everyone else but they are not opting to have more expensive clothing made. What’s the solution? Customers have to vote with their feet. It’s the only way. But they have to get up and do it and understand what a valuable statement this is.

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