Fashion, clothing and ethics: Who made your clothes?

Reading Time: 8 minutes

So, today is Fashion Revolution Day. A year to the day after 1133 people were killed and over 2500 injured when the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh. A tragedy that made world news and made a huge impact on those unfortunate to be directly involved.

Has anything changed since then? Quite likely not. At least not on any measurable scale.

Apart from reminding the world of the Rana Plaza tragedy, todays campaign is about raising awareness of where your garments are made. The idea is to wear your clothes inside out today, to focus on the labels inside (hence the hashtag #insideout for gather the forces on the various social media platforms). A catchy idea indeed, and it would certainly be a good thing if the awareness would last longer than a single day.

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28 western brands were identified as using the Rana Plaza factory as a low-cost option to producing their garments. In the aftermath only a few of those identified have been willing to admit that they were using Rana Plaza. Instead they have made quite obvious lies to avoid being linked to the tragedy.

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Those that did admit using the factory, and hence took some responsibility for the working conditions and ultimately the collapse of the building, may feel they have received absolution. At least those companies wise enough to contribute to the compensation fund may feel so. A compensation fund that still isn’t operative a year after the accident, and still hasn’t received contributions from over half the companies that should be contributing. The current status of the compensation fund is maintained on the web here.

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Perhaps an easy to find list of those that have not taken responsibility and hence should be boycotted and shunned would be even more useful?

To me this shows a quite shocking lack of ethics in the fashion industry. I’ve previously blogged about what I see as major failings in this industry. It will take a major shift in human behaviour to effect change though, both in changing the behaviour of consumers and in the way the major fashion companies operate. After all, how can the well-being of our fellow humans and the health of the planet possibly compete with the lure of cheap fashion and massive profits?

The fashion industry is for the main part all about profit, as any large business today. And the larger the company the greater the focus on the bottom line and shareholder returns. They will only change their ways if they see that the only way to maintain their earnings is to do so. And this is likely only under pressure from consumers. If no demands are placed on them from their customers, they will continue to exploit both production workers and environmental resources. You thought the fashion industry was all about creativity and having a positive attitude?

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So how can consumers discover and support the companies that are more concerned with ethics and production and not the exploitation of workers or environment? I’ve come across a few on my travels the past year or two, and if there is one common trait they share it is that they are small and run by people enthusiastic about what they do. Is there a clear correlation between size and how ethical and environmental companies are? I believe so, but it happens to be an inverse proportion, so big is bad and small is sound in this instance.

Personally I never cease to be amazed at how many supposedly premium brands have their wares produced in low-cost countries, yet have profit margins that are enough to make your eyes water in disbelief.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all factories in “low-cost” countries are bad, or that all factories in “high-cost” countries are good. Things are not that simple. In the same way there are scumbags to be found everywhere, there are of course properly run factories in the Far East. They’re probably not very large and probably not producing unbelievably cheap fashion garments for large western companies though.

In general, countries where there are strong rules and regulations, and an enforcement of these, the conditions will be better. And western countries tend to be more enlightened in these respects.

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At this point, you may be thinking that “Made in Britain” has to be a good thing to look for, right? I already posted my thoughts on that a while back, and while Britain certainly isn’t a low-cost country by the usual definition, there is no guarantee that a British factory isn’t a sweatshop or staffed by underpaid imported workers. In fact, a friend running a successful mid-size British clothing brand stated clearly that two of the worst factories he’d ever seen were in the UK.

You can find my list of companies I consider to have good or acceptable ethics here:

Ethical and environmentally sound garment makers

Please add your suggestions in the comments and give credit where credit is due, OK?

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As with so many aspects of life, you may be wondering what you can do to help change things? These are my suggestions:

  • Don’t support fashion chains that put profit over ethics and exploit workers in low-cost countries.
  • Buy more vintage or second-hand items.
  • Support companies that have a policy of ethical labour practice, environmentally conscious production and use of sustainable materials, such as organic cotton or other alternative fabrics.
  • And, perhaps buy less? I know, a tough one.

What will I do to help? Well, representing the blog-world in this case, a world that probably hypes the buy-more agenda more than most, I feel it falls to me to be more responsible than the average consumer. Purchase as you preach, so to speak.

Well, here is my list of actions:

  • Basically, the same list as above.
  • Inform about the materials and production specifics my reviews.
  • Don’t partake in shameless hype-building.

Am I optimistic about change being possible? Not really. As long as we can’t make a conscious and collected effort to save our planet and ensure humanities future through preventing climate change, I have little faith in my fellow man when it comes to less life-threatening matters. Sadly we are all doomed and will go to hell clad in cheap fashion.

Now that is a decent slogan for a great awareness-raising t-shirt, eh?

 

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1 Comment

  • paul 24/04/2014 at 09:26

    very interesting read nick.

    btw i want the t-shirt haha

    Reply

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