Ethics in manufacturing
Being in quarantine has given the entire world, and especially every business owner a much needed moment to pause and reflect upon what truly is essential to live with. Clothing of course is an essential, but how much and what kind of clothing does one really need to move through life? At what cost does a closet full of fast fashion and luxury handbags come to the planet and humanity as a whole?
I want to begin El Convo with discussing the slippery slope of ethics in fashion. What kinds of ethics are implemented in fashion companies, large and small, how ethics is used as a marketing ploy, similar to that of “Greenwashing“ but also how truly ethical practices in business can hugely benefit a company and the lives of its employees and surrounding communities.
Keeping production costs low and profits high through producing and selling as much as possible is #goals for a typical fashion business. But all of this low cost and excessive production, comes at a high cost, not only to the environment but also to the abused workers who are paid less than living wages in the countries of production, working in squalid conditions with little to no breaks to even eat.
Merely reading a clothing manufacture’s label is not a straightforward road to understanding the truth of a garment. Simple things such as what country a product is made in and who made it is a daunting process, one which basically requires a masters in investigative journalism. In 2010 for example, Italy passed a law where only 2 parts of the entire manufacturing process actually need to be completed in Italy to say it is Made in Italy. Shocking.
And if a product is made in its entirety in one place, what does that even mean? A through article in the New Yorker from 2018 titled “The Chinese workers who assemble designer bags in Tuscany” for example, deep dives into the “Made in Italy” label. Yes the products labeled as such are made in Italy (whole or partially), but Chinese immigrants living in squalid conditions being paid extremely low wages are making them.
“And in the past decade they have become manufacturers for Gucci, Prada, and other luxury-fashion houses, which use often inexpensive Chinese-immigrant labor to create accessories and expensive handbags that bear the coveted “Made in Italy” label.”
One would take the assumption that the luxury sector, in charging thousands of dollars for a single handbag, actually pays their workers fairly and we would also assume the luxury sector sources ethically made and sustainable materials to make their products with. But that does not seem to be the case in general. Of course there are outliers, companies whom aspire to and do ethically and sustainably produce, but not many, and so I want to highlight those brands here in this space. I will start a running list and if you know of any brands that work ethically please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be glad to add them on the list.
Another large problem is brands using ethics as a marketing angle. Take for example American Apparel. A once visionary company driven into the ground by its owner Dov Charney then sold off at bankruptcy to Gilden, a Canadian T-shirt manufacturer. Once purchased, they immediately removed the core values of the company by moving production out of the USA and secondly they moved manufacturing to places such as Honduras where sweatshop like conditions are the norm. All the while patting themselves on the back relaying that this decision was made to help low income rural communities. Here is a great article by The Guardian explaining in detail what exactly went down:
The brand owners feign ignorance when something bad happens and internal auditors are useless. Governments are also to blame. They create laws which are easily skirted around. The 2012 fire in a factory complex in Pakistan is a good example of this. More than 300 workers died in the fire, exposing unsafe working conditions where brands such as Target, Gap and JCPenny produce their low cost, low quality garments. And it seems after 8 years things have not really changed. Here is an article from cleanclothes.org highlighting this problem.
If transparency is key but no one is really being transparent what is a consumer to do?
This is a complex question, that needs to be broken down into a few parts which I will get to in a the next series of blog posts, but primarily buying higher quality products and less of them is key. Then research. Most designers have websites, take the time to go into them and see what they say about ethics. Usually it's pretty clear if things are being mass produced. Mass production is not necessary bad, but it's where you should start asking questions. Try writing an email and ask questions of the brands you choose to buy from. I’ve had inquisitive customers write me asking about the sheep wool used in a blanket and exactly where it comes from. It seems daunting to ask this of every purchase, but if you are buying less, as a conscious practice it will benefit tenfold not to mention restrain one from buying questionable items because they do not have a clear provenance.
Another way to support ethical practices is to shop local, usually smaller designers have more control over their productions, which a lot of times is in-house. Not to mention you are supporting your local economy. If larger companies see consumers over the long run, choosing ethical brands with their wallet, these same companies will bend to that pressure because in the end that's what large companies do, they follow the money and desire. It’s clear things will not change if auditing and decision making is left up to the companies themselves. Most importantly vote in politicians who will make changes and laws of compliance and donate to NGOs and charities who support efforts in sustainability and ethics in manufacturing on all fronts.
There is an overwhelming amount of information I want to touch upon, waste and sustainability, materials, fibers, natural and man made, technology… I’m beyond excited about exploring it all here, I’m learning a lot in the process which I will use to implement into Mexchic and Mexchic’s practices. And that really is the most important thing in this day and age with global warming as the looming threat everyone wants to ignore. Educate yourself and support companies who are working to improve the world we live in.
Next week I will post a list of companies and designers I love from around the world, who are working towards this goal.