FASHION RETAIL SUSTAINABLE AND ETHICAL PRACTICES
BY YASMIN SOBEIH - FOUNDER OF UNDER-RÂPT
After the unforgiving collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013, and more recent reports of child labour, refugee ‘cheap’ and unequal pay, cultural and religious ignorance and immoral working hours, Fashion retailers and Designers have been at the centre of many media publications and are being exposed surrounding their corporate responsibility in ethical laboring and manufacturing.
As a result of such controversies, Fashion Revolution - a global organisation responsible for the ‘Who made my Clothes’ campaign, calls for full transparency in the fashion retail supply-chain. The Fashion Revolution 2018 index states that ‘12 brands and retailers (8%)’ including Dior, Sandro and MaxMara have scored 0% for supply-chain transparency and are unable to disclose their ethical and sustainable practices.
A main concern in the fashion industry is that Retailers and Brands are demanding larger quantities and fast production; therefore, suppliers are under immense pressure to deliver in quick time and are outsourcing and sub-contracting manufacturing without necessarily having the consent of Retailers and/or Brands. These third parties may be involved with unethical manufacturing and as such it must be acknowledged that such retailers and Brands are not in control of their own supply-chain and are accepting unethical practices in turn for commercial business outcomes.
Take Primark as an example. My concern is that if a single T-shirt can retail at £2.50 that will include fabric costs, factory/operations cost, labour costs, delivery and logistic costs whilst also making company profit on top on it; then we must ask ourselves ‘how much of that £2.50 is contributed to employee payment?’
Consequently, through great revelation there is now an inproved demand for organic and sustainable clothing. Customers are not just impulse buyers but are now considering where and how the product is made so that it resonates with their social, personal and ethical values. Having recognised this increasing shift, Fashion retailers, media publicists and fashion influencers seek original brands that conform to a sustainable supply-chain to dismiss any future drawbacks with consumer loyalty.
New and emerging brands have the advantage to carefully select suppliers and manufacturers from the start to ensure full transparency, as an example ‘Athleisure’ brand UNDER-RÂPT launched in 2017 and specifically chose its fabric and garment producers in its early stages to build valued relationships, establish direct communication and will make regular visits to safeguard and uphold it’s responsibly in ethical manufacturing. Where as, retailing giants such as ASOS, Hugo Boss and YSL are amongst many retailers reported by the Fashion Revolution who ‘have increased their level of (supply-chain) disclosure’ and have to backtrack and change their supply-chain operations.
In addition to ethical manufacturing, we now have increased concerns for eco- friendly and environmental fabric sourcing and how the clothing we buy and choose to wear is harming our plant and the environment. With reports of water, and natural minerals in decline and global warming concerns, surely we must question that if we are damaging our plantation and forestry land then how can we harvest crops and organically grow our food whilst keeping our planet beautiful and green. Understanding the impacts is key if we are to consciously make a change.
In turn for faster fashion, many retailers and brands are opting for synthetic fabrics such as Polyester and Elastane as the popularity and frequency usually mean that ‘stock’ fabric is readily available with global suppliers. However, such fabrics impact significantly to energy, harmful waste, destroying forestland and releasing emissions into the air and water from disastrous chemical methods.
The sustainable angle is a non-profit organisation that focuses on minimising the environmental impacts in the fashion industry by introducing retailers and buyers to eco-friendly and organic textiles as well as giving access to international ethical fabric and yarn mills.
It is apparent that multi-brand retailers are increasing their eco-friendly and fair trade brand offering as a result of customer demand with ASOS forming their #fashionwithintegrity campaign and Selfridges launching ‘Project Ocean’. ‘Millennials in particular are interested in more-sustainable solutions; with 66 percent of global Millennials willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable’ - The Business of Fashion, January 2nd 2018.
The use of Eco-fabrics in our clothing not only means that we are contributing to the wellbeing of our planet but that organic components also have been proven to increase personal hygiene and welfare. Fiber innovation companies Lenzing Group have developed technology that sustainably source fibres from agricultural land. They have advanced fibers such as TENCEL® and MODAL® that are hygienic, kind to skin, breathable and sweat resistant. This cannot be guaranteed in synthetic fabrics.
Products such as bed linens and towels have been using TENCEL® and MODAL® fabrics for sometime but now fashion is also seeking synthetic replacements. Brands such as UNDER-RÂPT use Lenzing’s fibers in all products as their smooth surface; moisture absorbent and cooling components are well suited to Sports and Loungewear Apparel. As a lifestyle brand UNDER-RÂPT believes that if it is to inspire and promote healthier living then that must start at the core of their product.
With global trade fairs and organisations like the Sustainable Angle, Fashion brands have the resources and knowledge to improve their sustainable practices. Thus, if we know that customer are becoming more aware of the impacts that fashion has on our environment and are willing to pay more for ethical brands then surely as fashion brands we should work together and move away from ‘fast’ fashion. It may be a slow process or even a complete change in business procedures but every step towards sustainability counts. It is to be concluded that what we implement now will reduce the impaction for our future generations, and why wouldn’t we want the best for them?