Earlier this year I attended a Tearfund, Ethical Fashion Guide, discussion group where I was interest in meeting people in Auckland who worked in the fashion industry or who in some way were connected to fashion and the ethical direction that this industry is taking… step by step. It was really interesting to meet others who were so passionate about helping turn the fashion industry around and bring to light the ethical and sustainable routes brands can take these days.
The fashion industry, as a lot of you will know, is the second most polluting industry in the world behind oil. Just watch the documentary ‘The True Cost’ on Netflix and you will see how devastating the industry really is. Not only is the overwhelming challenge of the ‘carbon footprint’ polluting... but so are the pesticides used in cotton farming, the toxic dyes used in manufacturing and the great amount of waste that clothing creates. The strain on natural resources used in extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping has to also be considered along with the abuse to human rights with unfair pay and unsafe working environments.
The Tearfund together with Baptist World Aid Australia have produced an annual report called The Ethical Fashion Report: The Truth Behind the Barcode which examines labour rights management systems in the fashion industry. The first report was published in the wake of the industry’s most tragic disaster, the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh which claimed the lives of over 1000 garment workers. This report analyses over 100 companies with the aim to reduce the risk of forced labour, child labour and exploitation in their supply chains. Take a look here where you can get a full copy of this years report.
I think this is an amazing step towards making the garment industry a “force for good”!
As Tearfund are gearing up to star the research process for 2018 I was lucky enough to have Claire Hart the Advocacy & Campaigns Co-ordinator answer a few questions for about this report:
Five Questions asked of Claire Hart, from Tearfund behind The Ethical Fashion Report, about ethical leaders, consumers, media and MORE!..
1. How do you ask for the information from each of the companies that you have surveyed for each individual report?
The research that we do is the only research into ethical supply chains in fashion that seeks to actively involve and engage with the brands themselves. At the start of the process we seek to identify a contact person at each company. We then work with this individual to complete the survey we send out. The information we assess will either be included in the survey or submitted by the brand as supplementary information. Throughout the process we provide as much or as little support to the brand as they request.
2. Are there one or two countries in particular that you think are leading the way with ethical and sustainable fashion manufacturers and brands? … and Do you think that New Zealand brands have a long way to go to becoming more ethical?
Thanks to the Ethical Fashion Report, Australian brands and consumers seem to have a far greater awareness of ethical and sustainable fashion compared to other countries. However, I only know this anecdotally.
From the conversations I’ve had with brands in NZ, the general trend is positive. Most brands are genuinely responding to consumer pressure to become more transparent and ethical. Of course, some business models make it harder to achieve ethical supply chains – for example the value brands. There is also a large spread across the NZ brands. Some are really industry leaders and others are just beginning to consider this area.
3. Do you think that New Zealand consumers are buying into ethical fashion considering the recent launch of Topshop, H&M and Zara in the last 24 months?
This is a really interesting question. H&M and Zara were very much the brands that created and lead the move to fast fashion. It’s easy to think of them as the baddies in this regard. However, now, they are very much the brands that are leading the charge creating solutions to the problems of fast fashion and improving their supply chain ethics (Zara is the highest ranking MNC in our Report). The size of these brands mean they have huge sway over their suppliers (unlike many other brands) and can introduce better standards in their supply chains. That said, ultimately, H&M and Zara are still brands that subscribe to high levels of fashion consumption and build their business models from this – therefore, in regard to sustainability they still have a long way to go. I don’t include Topshop in this as they are smaller and don’t rate as well in our Report.
So that’s a very roundabout way of saying that NZ consumers are lucky that two of those big brands are conscious of ethics. I personally don’t think that the majority of NZ consumers are willing to compromise very much on price or convenience in their purchasing. That said, the trend is starting here – 6000+ NZers have got the Ethical Fashion Guide and are using it to guide their purchases which is a great first step.
4. Do you think the media needs to do more to raise more awareness of the down side of fast fashion?
I’ve been seeing the media do this more and more. Marie Claire have just published their first ever sustainability issue. Stuff.co.nz has published a number of in-depth articles in regard to this. I think the challenge for the media is to keep a balanced and nuanced view – it’s not just good and bad, there is a lot of grey areas and complexity. We can’t expect brands to change overnight right? The brands are caught between some consumers and NGOs who are demanding change and the bulk of consumers who still want cheap, fast fashion and business models that have been created to produce this. Change will take time and we do need to credit efforts.
5. Do you think there is an opportunity for cottage industries to re-emerge off the back of the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion? and can you see any changes so far here in New Zealand?
Personally, I doubt that we will see a significant resurgence of cottage industries. I think the more likely change will be in the behaviour and practice of MNCs. There will also be a market for the niche ethical producers, this may grow somewhat as the ethical sustainable trend increases, but I don’t think we will see significant change in this space.
….. I know its meant to be five questions,,, but I had to ask one more!;
6. Do you think the government is doing enough for the growth of these cottage industries and to protect our environment from the downsides of fast fashion?
No. At the moment, Tearfund is lobbying the government to introduce a Modern Slavery Act similar to what has been passed in the UK and is currently being considered in Australia. We hope that this will force companies to be transparent and ensure that labour exploitation is not taking place in their supply chains. In relation to the environment, NZ has a long way to go in this space. Hopefully, we can start the conversation next year – our next Ethical Fashion Report is introducing environmental indicators. We hope that this will bring the sustainable aspect of fashion into the front of consumer minds more and we can begin to see change take place.
What a wonderful insight… don’t you think!!!
Lets work together to make fashion a FORCE FOR GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!