A video made in Germany went viral some time ago – people queued at a vending machine to purchase a plain white tee-shirt for two Euro. Well, what a bargain – who wouldn’t buy a garment that could be worn many times, styled in different ways – and only two Euro? Coins are dropped into the slot, sizes are selected, but just before the tee-shirt is ejected, a message appears on the screen showing a very young girl sitting at a sewing machine. ‘Meet Manisha,’ the screen reads, ‘she earns 13 cents an hour each day for 16 hours.’ The camera pans over a room crammed with young women all sewing white tee-shirts industriously. ‘Do you still want to buy this shirt?’ Then two buttons appear on screen – “BUY’ and ‘DONATE.’ Everyone donates.
Is it necessary to be this confrontational to make us aware of sweatshop labour? And does it actually make a difference to the way our customers make their purchasing decisions if they know we only manufacture our garments in factories where the staff are treated ethically?
The fashion industry is the third largest in the world, and is often ignored when it comes to comes to global matters – seen as light-weight and unimportant. How can a frock change the world? But fashion’s carbon footprint is immense, and making changes to a behemoth this size is going to take time and commitment.
Research taken out in England over the last few years shows that the Global Financial Recession did not dampen the public’s appetite for buying ethically sourced garments, and consumer demand for transparency is holding brands to account. As a result of this, openness in manufacturing systems is becoming more and more common in mainstream fashion labels.
Another catalyst for change in the industry was the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, where over 1100 workers were killed and 2200 injured when an unsafe building collapsed. Four years later, more consumers have become conscious of where and how their garments are made, and are asking questions about ethics and sustainability when they make a purchase. A 2016 survey made of Australian fashion houses graded them from A to F on their policies, supply chain and treatment of employees. Alarming facts came out of this survey with fashion chains like BooHoo only gaining an F.
An ethical clothing manufacturer needs to be responsible for their entire supply chain – larger and more anonymous brands can rarely trace the journey from fibre to fabric to manufacture. Although made in New Zealand where we can, at Annah Stretton it is sometimes only possible to achieve the beautiful fabrications and delicate trimmings when the garments are made in China, because of the sad demise of the supplier side of the industry in New Zealand. For this reason Annah visits the factories she uses on a regular basis, and her team at Head Office are in daily communication with them. All of our China based factories are small, owner operator enterprises, they pay a fair wage, we know the owners personally, and the working conditions match the conditions of our remaining Auckland based CMT factories.
‘There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.’ Ghandi