If I go to any fashion brand’s website, I can find a section which justifies their manufacturing ethics and their supply chain. They will bombard you with information about how they check the health and safety of their factories, that their pay grades are in keeping with international law and that they are doing everything they can to change the way clothing is manufactured abroad.
But as we know, supply chains aren’t always that honest or that obvious. I think the majority of us would agree that most fashion brands deny using unethical working practices in order to keep their shops full at customer acceptable prices whilst stocking thousands of new styles every week.
Do you believe it?
The problem is that there is nowhere you can ask the right questions should you wish to and no guarantee that the answers you get will be the truth.
Right down the line from factory to shop, brands are sweeping under the carpet how they get their stock and turning a blind eye to possible breaks in their ethical practices. It’s about turn around and profit margins in the Western World.
From TKMaxx’s ‘designer stock‘ which is actually own brand under a multitude of pseudonyms to the reality that Rana Plaza was not a one off event and it will happen again and your favourite labels will probably be amongst the rubble.
Fashion Revolution is going some way to address this and get companies to stand up and be counted. But with such a complicated worldwide supply chain is it even possible to know the life cycle of your clothing bar the label in the back? And this is the problem with fast fashion and relying on imports. You (and that includes the brands themselves) have no way of tracking the full story. And it’s just not good enough.
For instance, if you come to me and ask me what the life cycle is of a dress in one of my collections I can tell you that I honestly don’t know the history of the base fabric. I can tell you where I bought it from (in the UK) and I can tell you where the person I bought it from got it, but that’s it.
I can tell you that the garment was made entirely by me, within the four walls of my studio in Manchester for zero wages. That’s because I only get paid when I sell the product. That is the risk of any small manufacturing business. There is no one paying you per hour, because there is noone else in the supply chain. I don’t stock in shops. You come to me if you want to buy something.
You can’t get more transparent than that. But if you buy something in a chain and it says made in Cambodia on the label, what is that telling you? Does it tell you how much the factory workers were paid? Does it tell you that the factory who should have made it outsourced it to another smaller factory which has no rules whatsoever. Does it tell you that the main factory did this because of the unimaginable pressure put on them by brands in the West to get orders filled for greedy fast fashion hungry customers – many of whom have no interest whatsoever in how that garment they just threw into the back of their wardrobe got to their local shop in the first place?
The problem with fast fashion is across the board. It also lies with us as consumers. We live in a world where we want everything cheaper, whilst complaining we don’t get paid enough. We are mindful of conditions in factories abroad without thinking about processes and whilst still buying products at unfathomably low prices. We campaign against conditions in the export of live animals and slaughterhouses abroad but we still want burger meals for a fiver. We are fueling the problem at every level.
If you want things to get better you will have to pay more for your end product. If you don’t want to pay more for the things you love, you will have to get used to the knowledge that they will be made in horrible conditions, using underhand practices in countries who don’t respect the lives of others and prey on the weak and vulnerable. And that is the way it will be.