Ever since the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, The Fashion Revolution campaign has encouraged us to ask “who made my clothes?” and consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with the origins of their products. But can you really trust the ‘made in’ disclosures on the label?
One of our most popular Instagram posts this week has been the ethical reminder that “your t-shirt shouldn’t cost less than your latte”.
It sounds like common sense – when you’re paying £5 for a t-shirt made on the other side of the world, you can be fairly sure that someone wasn’t paid enough to make it.
Unfortunately thousands of us flock to high street retailers every day for the cheap, on-trend selection they have to offer.
By relying on cheap labour overseas and adding a small mark-up on the clothes they sell, these discount fashion brands rely on selling high quantities, encouraging the insatiable demand of fast fashion trends while garment workers toil around the clock in poor conditions designed to keep costs as low as possible.
So it doesn’t take a genius to work out that your cheap t-shirt is less than ethical, but what about the luxury brands who charge a pretty penny?
Market demand is increasingly calling for brands to be more ethical.
In 2015 the value of the ethical market grew from £35bn to £38bn in the UK alone (according to The Ethical Consumer Markets Report).
Around 99% of the FTSE 100 companies now how some kind of ethical programme and the number of ethical issues brands are being asked to tackle is increasing.
It’s hard for luxury brands to ignore the potential advantages of full disclosure and transparent supply chains, but despite consumer demand, many are still failing to exploit it.
Saint Laurent, Gucci, Fendi and several other luxury brands have full transparent disclosure on their product pages, and are proud to declare their production in heritage countries on almost all of their products.
However, other brands using the ‘made in’ disclosure didn’t stand up so well to more rigorous ethical inspection. For example, Burberry declares ‘Made in the UK’ and ‘Made in Italy’ for their high-end runway collection, but tags its lower cost lines with ‘imported’ – and they’re not the only ones.
Many other luxury brands make little or no disclosure on their websites.
Some countries have become synonymous with sweat shops and we would assume that seeing certain countries on the “made in” label would tell us a lot about the working conditions, wages and safety standards of the brand and factories they use.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
‘Made in’ disclosures are not required for products traded within the EU, and even when they are required, they’re quite easy to circumvent.
Sweatshops are cropping up in other countries like Italy (a country we would normally associate with quality manufacturing and impeccable standards), and many brands still produce their items in Asia at a fraction of the cost and then finish them in Europe – allowing them to use a ‘made in’ label with European origins.
Consumer surveys suggest that where a product is made is an important factor in our buying decisions, particularly for ethically-minded consumers.
Unfortunately, demand for ‘fast fashion’ isn’t slowing down, cheap clothes aren’t made to last and even if we are willing to pay more for our clothes, many luxury brands have found ways around disclosing the less-than-ethical elements of their production.
So who can we trust? The powerful labelling systems such as Fair Trade and Certified Organic, which are strictly policed, are more reliable, but the best way is to research a brand for its transparency and production methods, and to keep asking “Who made my clothes?”
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