Fashion Revolution Week has now begun – Twitter and Instagram are breaking out in a bold rash of #whomademyclothes and #FashionRevolution hashtags as ethically minded consumers ask fashion companies to inform them who made their clothes and what conditions they made them in.
The campaign is aimed at lifting the lid on the global fashion industry to show how exploitative and environmentally damaging some of the clothes manufacturing systems are, with the ultimate aim of driving change and making fast fashion more transparent and accountable.
Carry Somers, founder of Fashion Revolution, said: “We no longer know who makes our clothes and we don’t know the true cost of the things we buy. The fashion supply chain is fractured and the producers have become faceless. This is costing lives. We believe that rebuilding the broken links across the whole supply chain, from farmer to consumer, is the only way to transform the entire industry. Fashion Revolution brings everyone together to make that happen.
“We want to see an increasing number of brands make their supply chains more transparent, because we can’t start to tackle exploitation until we can see it. We want to see the faces and hear the stories of thousands of farmers, makers and producers.”
Carry added: “Who Made My Clothes should be a simple question. Most people would expect a brand to at least know the final factory where their garments are cut and sewn.”
The Behind The Barcode Fashion Report published last year found that 48% of brands didn’t know the factories where their garments were made, 75% didn’t know where their fabrics came from and 91% didn’t know where the raw materials came from.
One of my favourite brands, as previously alluded to in Ethical 366: Walk in My Shoes, is Irregular Choice. Their amazing shoes (and bags and stunning accessories) have been part of my style for many years now – always drawing compliments and adding a special quirk to even the most serious of outfits.As I have written previously Irregular Choice don’t broadcast any ethical credentials or policy on their website so I approached the firm via their customer services to ask them #WhoMadeMyShoes and after a few days I received this comprehensive reply from a helpful (albeit nameless) customer services bod:
“Sorry for the delayed response – I’ve had to ask around quite a bit to try and get you a definite statement. I think you’re asking about a couple of different aspects of Irregular Choice – how we treat our employees and suppliers, and how sustainable our materials and practices are – so I will answer each in turn.
“We are still, and always have been, a family company. The Sullivan family are at the head of Irregular Choice and always strive to keep that close-knit feeling within the company! As for production, Irregular Choice shoes are made in three factories in China and we take 95% of all the production from them, with some extra production taking place in Portugal. We have our own designated inspector in each of these family run factories who we have been working with for many years now and have regular meetings with the owners and UK Irregular Choice staff.
“There is absolutely no child labour or forced labour and the workers only work the hours permitted under Chinese Law. As we produce Disney licensed products, there is also a very strict level of inspection for the factories that produce any part of these items, down to the packaging printer and embroidery specialists.”
The statement added: “Regarding ethical sourcing of materials, we buy in materials to make our shoes from hundreds of different sources, and many considerations go into which we choose and for what reason. Durability, cost, finish, supply … etc are all very important in these decisions, however there is rarely any possibility for us to check how these are manufactured and if they impact of their production upon the environment is negative or sustainable. One thing I can say for sure, is that all of our European store deliveries and 50% of our website deliveries are made by DPD, who operate a carbon neutral policy. So, whenever we can choose the best path – we will.”
So far, so good – Irregular Choice is already above the 48 per cent of companies who are clueless as to the origin of the finished product. They’ve gone far enough to ensure that they work with factories where they can control how their products are made and the conditions they are made in. They carefully consider the impact their manufacturing and supply chain processes affect the environment and aim to always choose “the best path”.
But the fly in the ointment came in this portion of the statement: “We do get asked quite often if our products are vegan/vegetarian – and the response we give to this is likely to echo this response to you somewhat, do humour this analogy here… We can advise if our shoes contain leather or not, however it’s very hard for us to say for sure that all dyes, trims, beads, packaging, glues, etc could be described as vegan. It would be misleading, and simply greedy, for us to label something ‘vegan’ when we can’t ever be entirely sure if that is the case. We could indeed ask all of our suppliers if a product we use of theirs is vegan (or sustainable and ethical in this case), however we would then be beholden to their honesty in this respect.”
And this is the issue with the fashion supply chains – if Irregular Choice cannot confirm all materials are vegan – can they confirm that these goods are not made by, for example, children? The answer is surely not. They are clearly a firm aiming to do their best – I am impressed by their honesty in admitting this– but if you can’t say if the material is vegan – how can you say who made the fabric?
For me this causes problems – it may not for you – after all a brief Twitter poll I ran suggested that less than half of people would question where their clothes came from. The firm certainly isn’t a bad firm, and, admittedly, they are dealing with one of the uncomfortable realities of modern fashion manufacture.
But the beginning of the end to this mass of unknowns in clothing manufacture will happen if enough customers demand to know. There are far too many unknowns in supply chains and, until we as consumers demand transparency, is it worth the while of manufacturers to show it?
This year, brands and retailers will be challenged to take responsibility for the individuals and communities on which their business depends. The Fashion Revolution want people around the world to show their label and ask #whomademyclothes. #FashionRevolution want every stakeholder in the fashion supply chain – retailers, brands, factories, private label manufacturers – to demonstrate transparency and show us the people who make our clothes, answering with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes
- Editors note – the sale of my shoe collection is still due to happen – once I have resolved a few off line sales – watch this space!!