Know, Honor and Treat Fairly, Thy Fashion Maker

The fashion industry employs an estimated 300 million people, and, while most of us know that most of these workers get paid very little for working awful hours in unsafe environments, we don’t really grasp the extent and landscape of this modern slavery. Globalization means brands manufacture where wages are most shockingly low (Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Cambodia and Mexico), and the industry war for rock-bottom prices means a supply chain where fashion brands often don’t even own their factories or visit them. The upshot? Many clothes in your drawers are made by some of the world’s most vulnerable and exploited people, often forced into labor and not paid at all.

Nonprofit KnowTheChain offers a report and system, scoring the world’s megabrands on how they’re treating workers. In a nutshell, abominable: Out of a 100, the average score was 37! Adidas and Lululemon scored highest, and, surprisingly, fast fashion companies fared well, while many luxury brands, such as Prada or Ferragamo, performed horribly. Access this important report here.

More people are demanding ethical fashion, and the future is more action by brands on (and transparency into whether they’re delivering) fair compensation, human rights and healthy workplaces. So many fashion companies are now going beyond “ok” to dramatically empower the economic lives of local makers and artisans.

Fashion4Freedom is smashing the old exploit-the-worker factory production model by giving artisans of traditional Vietnamese crafts their own equipment and then connecting those creators to sustainable brands—so they become the entrepreneurs. Malaysia’s Earth Heir makes entrepreneurs out of Malaysian craftsmen/women, working as an intermediary that creates fair access to markets. The ethical e-commerce fashion site Nisolo, founded in response to the tragedy at the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh that killed 1,134 workers, eliminates the money-pocketing brand middleman by bringing the clothes and shoes made by extraordinary artisans (the craftspeople luxury brands turn to) directly to the consumer. Egypt’s Okhtein (a bag maker worn by Beyoncé) works with Egyptian NGOs to empower women artisans that face economic hardship.

Transparency into Creators: If manufacturing is a faceless business, now more brands are providing transparency into the supply chain and their makers—and even celebrating by name the people who make your clothes and shoes. Everlane’s “Radical Transparency” program ensures that its factories embrace fair labor laws: It ranks them on their compliance with those laws and honestly shows shoppers how much it costs to make each and every product. Known Supply Apparel provides info on the artisan from an underserved community who stitched your garment; each piece is hand-signed, and you can even send the maker a thank-you note. With each leather good you buy, Italy’s Arno Cooperative sends a photo of the craftsperson that fashioned it, a map of all the places in Tuscany where it is made, and Arno’s website has info on each artisan’s family and life. And you can send a thank-you note right back to the maker. Fairness in fashion, for people with actual faces, is one humane future trend.

Apps Make the Right Choice Easier

People want to be sustainable and ethical in their fashion purchases, but, in a sea of brands, it feels impossible. Well, of course, now there’s an app (or tool) for that. Just a few:

Good on You: Launched in Australia in 2018, it’s available globally on iOS and Android. With data on 2,000 brands, you can type in the brand or a type of clothing and instantly see an out-of-five rating along with a summary of how ethical and sustainable the company is. Their algorithm crunches a huge amount of data from certification platforms, such as Fair Trade, Carbon Trust, the Global Organic Textile Standard and Greenpeace Detox, to rank brands in different areas, such as how they treat workers, the planet or animals. The app also makes suggestions to help you discover new “well” fashion brands if your brand comes up “avoid” or “not good enough.”

Done Good: It filters fashion brands to help you identify which ones align with your values. It also offers a Chrome extension, so if you’re shopping online and Google something such as “linen dress,” a sidebar pops up with suggestions for ethical brands that offer that item (plus discounts).

Project Just: Breaks down brands’ ethical and sustainability practices, and, on the “Project Just Wiki,” you can find individual brand reports and summaries that nutshell that label’s pros and cons.

Forecasting the Future

    • As more people interrogate their hyper-consumption of fashion and the resulting environmental destruction, they will ultimately expand this new sustainable consciousness to include how brands treat workers. Ethical-to-humans fashion is the logical next wave.
    • Brands will get more transparent: For instance, Everlane requires its factories to embrace fair labor laws, ranks and publishes photos of them, and shows shoppers what it cost to make that dress. But there’s activism for more and deeper metrics, such as a new campaign for brands to publish their lowest (not average) wages. And the future is going beyond “ok” to actually make entrepreneurs out of local artisans.
    • Resources such as KnowTheChain are invaluable: scoring fashion companies on how ethical their supply chain and treatment of workers is. Info like this will get more accessible and “appified.”

This is an excerpt from the “Well Fashion” trend in the 2019 Global Wellness Trends Report.

This is an excerpt from the TRENDIUM, a bi-weekly communication exploring the wellness trends identified in the Global Wellness Trends Reports.

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