Fast fashion dominates in our culture and, in order to keep up with the latest trend, we are provided with a constant stream of the latest ‘must-have’ pieces.
But do we know enough about the journey of our clothes? Many fashion brands are still concealing unsafe and unfair working conditions, with a lack of transparency in supply chains.
Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer discusses the supply chains of some of the most popular high-street retailers and shines the light on some alternative brands who’ve built transparency into the heart of their business.
Who pays the price for cheap, fast fashion?
It’s been four years since the tragedy that unfolded at Rana Plaza, the Bangladeshi clothing factory that collapsed in 2013 killing 1,135 workers and injuring 2,500 more. This awful incident opened the world’s eyes to the dire conditions that many workers endure in order to fulfil the fashion demands of the west.
Huge consumer pressure and campaigning followed this event, pushing most high-street brands to investigate their supply chains. Many have taken action to clean up their act when it comes to understanding their supply chains, acknowledging the issues and starting to make positive changes.
In fact, our latest report into high-street retailers shows that 70% of high street retailers now receive our ‘best’ rating for supply chain management, but there is still a way to go. The very fact that fast fashion needs to be produced cheaply drives a spiral of decreasing wages and tight timescales, which results in longer working hours and cost-cutting, sometimes at the expense of safety:
Bad working conditions are still being reported today and most of the high-street retailers were marked down in our report for the worker’s rights category. Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) reported in 2016 that factories producing clothes for GAP, H&M and Inditex (Zara) regularly forced workers to work excessively long overtime to meet disproportionally tight delivery times. Workers were exposed to toxic chemicals, cotton dust and hazardous dust without protective gear, they received poor representation and did not receive a living wage.
It’s clear that more still needs to be done.
Brands built on ethical foundations
Rather than backtracking through a broken business model, trying to fix supply chain issues, there is a new breed of alternative retailers who are building their businesses from an ethical core.
In our alternative clothing report we reviewed a dynamic and eclectic group of ethical clothing stores. Many of whom are going beyond the organic and Fair Trade labels, providing complete transparency in their supply chain, and celebrating a culture that puts workers’ rights first. These companies are the pioneers and innovators of the slow fashion movement.
Meet our three best-of-the-best, when it comes to transparency, to see how they’re changing the face of fashion, with slow, lovingly-crafted pieces built on a fair foundation.
Know The Origin
Know The Origin received 17 out of 20 on our ethical report, showing a commitment across the board to ethical and sustainable behaviours. Their ‘seed to garment’ web page takes consumers through the six stages of their manufacturing process showing full transparency for each supplier. They work with certified organic and Fair-Trade farmer-run cooperatives and all workers across the supply chain are guaranteed a fair living wage. Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified dyes, which are 100% azo-free, ensure worker safety in their factories and they take transparency to a whole new level by encouraging factory visits.
Rapanui puts transparency in the hands of the consumer through their innovative system. Customers scan the QR code on the garment’s label to reveal a traceability map showing the journey from seed to product.
Rapanui pay workers 20-80% more than the minimum wage in each geographical area and carefully audit their suppliers to ensure that this policy is adhered to: ‘workers in our overseas supply chain have enough for their house, weekly shop and to send their kids to school looking smart – plus a little left over at the end’.
They have even opened this model up to other companies. Their sister brand, Teemill provides other retailers and artists with the platform to design and print their own sustainable products, sourced from Rapanui’s robust supply chain.
Brothers We Stand
Menswear online retailer, Brothers We Stand, requires all suppliers to provide a full breakdown of their supply chain. But more than that, they must demonstrate a positive social or environmental impact before they will be considered. The result is a fully vetted and transparent chain with accountability built in.
Their footprint tabs show ethical information for all items at point of sale, providing customers with all of the information they need to make an educated ethical purchase.
When brands are ready to open the doors and proudly display their supply chain, we’ll know that slow fashion is starting to take hold and that fast fashion may have run its course. But in the meantime, you can support the companies who are doing it right now.
Check out our alternative clothing report for more information on these and a whole range of other brands.
Top image used courtesy of Know The Origin.