The Fashion Transparency Index might not be your idea of relaxed bedtime reading. But, for anyone who wants to shop and sleep at night without worrying about whether the dress you just bought was made using forced labour, or in a crowded sweat shop where there are cracks in the walls, no fire escapes and the garment workers are not allowed proper breaks to go to the toilet, you might well want to at least download a copy. It was published yesterday by the Ethical Consumer in collaboration with Fashion Revolution; you can find it here.
None of us wants our retail-therapy session to end up feeling like a guilt trip. There are 40 brands included at the moment and, by 2017, the aim is to have the input of 100 brands. And, if your favourite label isn’t there, you are encouraged to contact them (Twitter gets a pretty rapid response) to ask #whomademyclothes and to opt into the Index.
So why is transparency so important? Carry Somers, co-founder of Fashion Revolution, which is campaigning for a more transparent fashion industry, explains: “Lack of transparency costs lives. It is impossible for companies to make sure human rights are respected and that environmental practices are sound without knowing where their products are made, who is making them and under what conditions.”
Brands who have nothing to hide should be embracing this opportunity to tell us the good news. By doing so, they will only gain our trust and loyalty. So there’s a big tick to Levi Strauss, who came top of the transparency list with a score of 77 per cent. Bottom of the list is Chanel, which doesn’t mean they are using sweatshops or a shoddy supply chain (quite the contrary – I’ve seen where Chanel makes much of its clothes and the good state of the art ateliers of Lesage and Lemarié in Paris, where the embroiderers and finishers are highly unionised), but it means they need to get with the programme on making their working practices more transparent. If anything, they could set a shining example.
Forever 21, Claire's Accessories, Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Prada also scored lowly.
Yesterday, Mary Creagh MP hosted the second-ever Fashion Question Time at Portcullis House in Westminster with an expert panel that included Livia Firth, creative director of Eco Age, and Jenny Holdcroft, policy director at IndustriALL Global Union. Transparency was one of the main themes of the discussion, with Livia Firth saying, "the supply chain is so complicated it’s almost like fast fashion has done it on purpose. It’s never their responsibility".
For anyone who wants to shop and sleep at night without worrying about whether the dress you just bought was made using forced labour, or in a crowded sweatshop, you might want to give The Fashion Transparency Index a read
The suggestion is, perhaps, that some brands would rather bury their heads in the sand and feign ignorance when something really catastrophic happens, as it did when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed on April 24 2013, killing 1,134 people who were simply going about their daily routine of sewing clothes – our clothes – to make a living. Despite the fact that there were labels found in the rubble, it took several weeks for some brands to actually admit their clothes were being made there. No brand wants that PR disaster on their hands (never mind the blood of its workers), so that’s why this Fashion Transparency Index is something everyone should be clamouring to sign up to. It’s a win, win situation.
Bravo, Levi’s, H&M, Inditex (that includes Zara, Pull & Bear and Bershka), Nike, Adidas and Primark who, out of all the brands surveyed, were revealed as the most transparent global fashion companies. I must confess to a penchant for Uniqlo’s designer collaborations, so was fairly satisfied that they scored well on policy and commitments, as well as their social and environmental audits, but they need to work on how traceable and trackable their supply chain is (they scored a high-middle rating in the report). I know they are a company at the cutting edge of Japanese technology, so surely this is not beyond their capabilities. If we are going to change this business to one that we all want to support and be proud of, it needs the whole industry, from high street to high end, to make a moral stand.
It takes us, the consumers, too. And I can recommend four companies who are leading the way in transparency and are worth considering the next time you fancy a shopping hit. The American luxury basics brand Eileen Fisher has a brilliant website, which gives the option to either simply click and buy or to "dig deeper" and find out more about every garment’s journey. So too does the Nudie Jeans website, which shares where their different factories are (click on production guide) and prides itself on its transparent production. It’s also worth mentioning Everlane, who provide information about their factories, materials and making process on their website. Although they don’t yet ship to the UK, they have hinted that they might in the future.
People Tree is perhaps the best transparent fashion brand, with founder Safia Minney working tirelessly to campaign for transparency and fair trade. They are great for basic, such as organic cotton T-shirts, and prices that are really affordable.
Another brand worth checking out for good, simple pieces that will stand the test of time (and are accountably made) is cool Kiwi brand Kowtow. You can buy them from gatherandsee.com.
The transparent edit