In June of last year, Business of Fashion reported about the ‘Made in’ dilemma. Whereby consumers across the globe and especially the Chinese market, are concerned about where their goods are produced; ‘[they] want their watches to be Swiss, their perfumes and cosmetics to be French, their cars to be German and their bags and shoes to be either Italian or French.’
However, unbeknownst to the consumer, garments only need a small fraction of ‘finishing’ to qualify being ‘made in’ a country. An entire garment can be manufactured overseas with just quality control or attaching buttons to qualify the countries label. The British government specifies that incorrectly labelling how or when a garment is made is illegal but the boundaries are vague, thus inviting brands to bend the rules.
Mislabelling or squeezing the truth is unethical on so many levels. Firstly, these days, a ‘made in’ label is quite often marketed as an indicator of producing ethical fashion. Manufacturing in the UK brings jobs with a fair living wage and ethical practises, reduces transportation costs and helps boost our export trade. With only a percentage of a garment produced in the country of sale, it nullifies all of these things.
Secondly, by mislabelling where the most work has been carried out, we are undermining the workmanship of developing countries who depend so heavily on the fashion industry for their economy to survive. Traditionally when you turn the hem of your t-shirt out to read ‘made in Bangladesh’ it signifies such a negative process; sweatshop conditions, underage workers, terrible rate of pay. But what if you bought a t-shirt ‘made in Bangladesh’ with pride? What if the label of a developing country signified fine craftsmanship, fair trade and a booming economy across the globe? In the West we feel safe that no one was harmed in the making when the garment or product is endorsed with ‘made in Italy/Switzerland/UK/USA etc’, but what if the same could be said for seeing the label ‘made in Bangladesh’? The European mark shouldn’t be an exception, it should be the rule? We should expect to pay more for fashion and buy less and then we won’t be haunted by our own Western guilt. After all, sweatshops are only a result of our greed for more and our expectations to pay less.
This issue, was one of concern for Jessi Baker, who, as a result of her frustration, founded Provenance, a platform dedicated to telling the stories of the products we buy. Increasingly, people are becoming more mindful of how they consume, but the work has barely started to reverse the impact we have made. Unfortunately brands react most quickly to a change in consumer habit, rather the setting the example. As consumers, we need to demand better labelling, more transparency in the production process and change our attitude altogether towards accepting the systems in place.
Image Elvis & Kresse for Provenance