I have been thinking on how to do this post for a very long time now. And recently it struck me the exact way I wanted it to develop. This is too broad a subject to talk about everything in one single post, so I will structure it in a series of post, each with different topics.
So what is Sustainable Fashion? Very briefly, it is fashion that is eco-friendly and socially responsible. I insist, very briefly!
There seems to be a tendency towards obtaining labels in order to be sustainable. Generally, we only know the big picture they offer, but have no clue about the details. A sort of “Greenwashing”. First we do it to ourselves, then to our clients.
But looking past labels, there are other things, polluted rivers, working children, unlivable wages, coercion, etc.
And yet is not all bad. A lot of brands are digging into being eco-friendly through different materials like tencel and recycled fabrics, whether it is polyester, denim, or others. Even new materials appear for this matter. And I’m not saying that brands are nailing the environmental aspect of sustainable fashion. I shall talk, for example, about the friendly-non-eco dyes everybody is using. And not because they are using them, there is nothing else really, but “how” is what I will talk about.
But what about being socially responsible?
It seems for some that producing at a Fair Trade certified factory is enough to make a collection certified. Others wish to do more, but don’t know how. There is still a lot of misinformation on this matter. I will not presume to have all the answers, nor to state all the problems right away. But I will note some facts I have seen while producing in India. Facts so many seem to miss, specially on the branding side.
As I already mentioned, Fair Trade, the certification, is the solution for many. And not even certifying your collection, it’s enough if the manufacturing factory is certified. That will cover us so that we are not involved in a Rana Plaza incident of the sort. I find many so called sustainable retailers demanding these kind of certifications from small brands, which is ridiculous and denotes their misunderstanding and misinformation of the real situation.
But anyways… Let’s talk about retailers more in detail later on…
There isn’t an exact formula on how to be socially responsible. It not only depends on factors on the manufacturing side, but on the branding and retailing part of the business. I truly believe that we can only try to get as close as possible, and work step by step on that direction.
After all, how many suppliers do we need to make a t-shirt? The cotton producer, the spinning mill, the knitting guy, the fabric dyer, the printing workshop, the sowing factory, and most probably an agent!
So really the easy thing to do is to have a Fair Trade certified company to do the work. So which companies do actually have Fair Trade? Does anyone knows the cost of being certified Fair Trade? Well, it’s not cheap. Not for the clients, nor for the producers. Yes, they are regularly audited, but what exactly happens in between audits?
People stop wearing their personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, etc.). They go on doing extra hours every day. A total of minimum 60 hours a week. Managers treat their workers without respect, shouting and yelling all over the place. Under aged workers suddenly appear, specially in spinning mills and farms. Productions are subcontracted to factories that do not need to comply any rule whatsoever, because they are not certified. And a long etcetera. And all this without brands even pushing their factories for cheaper costs, shorter delivery times and so on. It is just how it works.
So let’s say you want to start a new .
Let’s say you want it in Organic Cotton. You dig a little and, in a general basis, minimum quantities are 1000 to 3000 pieces. You don’t want or you can’t start that big. So you keep on digging, and you find the right amount of cotton you are willing to afford, and you are lucky is GOTS certified. But you also want a Fair Trade company to assure yourself, or that is what you want to make yourself think, that workers are treated nicely and fairly, not only for your production, but the year through.
So you look for Fair Trade certified factories that are willing to produce your collection, and it comes up that only the big companies are Fair Trade certified, with big minimum quantities. Conditions you don’t have. And even if they accepted your collection, they will probably subcontract it, and, in any case, pay very little attention to the quality of your garments. But at least you are guaranteeing certain labour conditions. Conditions we can’t assure even exist outside of an audit day. But as long as it’s certified and I can put that logo in my shirt, it’s fine with me. I can complain about the quality and try to reduce the cost at the end.
Now of course, not everyone thinks the same way. This is just what we are left with; sometimes there doesn’t seem to be other alternatives. Sitting on the other side of the manufacturing world is very difficult to think of them, or, even so, put them in practice. Plus there are so many aspects to consider, which we will be talking about one by one…