Who Made My Clothes?
First off, let me just say that i've never been more determined and inspired to write a blog post. Nor have I been more excited to research and dig-in to a topic. The more I found in my research, the more invigorated I felt to be contributing to this very crucial conversation.
Now, it's entirely possible that some of you have no idea what i'm talking about. So let me provide some background information.
Last Tuesday I was thrilled to attend a Fashion Revolution Week panel event put on by Fashion Revolution Edmonton (@Fahion_revyeg) and moderated/hosted by Publicity Room (@PublicityRoom). The theme of the event was 'selling fashion without selling our souls' and specifically spoke to over consumption and slow fashion; asking a panel of influencers and fashion advocates how they stay relevant while promoting such topics. Each panelist had their own unique story to share and I felt overjoyed to know that:
a) I wasn't the only blogger in the room who feels pressure to buy clothes just for the sake of creating new content and...
b) Change is coming. But the only way to fight for it is to band together like these four ladies and so many other bloggers and brands are doing.
Honestly, there were truly so many great conversations had at this event, however, my intent of this blog was not to go into them. Instead, it was to ask myself the very question Fashion Revolution Canada is asking the world —Who Made My Clothes? — so here goes.
I began my research on the outfit shown here, which i've been wearing quite regularly. It also happens to include three brands that I love and wear often — Aritzia, Zara and Levi Strauss & co.
In my search, I looked for more than just "who" made my clothes, but how and where. A well as everything in between like each brands sustainability practices, supply chain, workers compensation, treatment of employees and treatment of animals. I wasn't able to answer all of my questions during this first round of research but I was able to answer some.
And this my friends is what I found:
Note - i'm not technically wearing an Aritzia brand in this outfit, but I purchased my Levi's from them, so I felt it was important to include them. The following information was found on their website here.
- Human Rights
- Aritzia’s Vendor Code of Conduct is communicated to and signed by all their supply chain partners. Their Vendor Code of Conduct was established under international frameworks, including the International Bill of Human Rights, the ILO Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the ETI Base Code, which is recognized as one of the leading frameworks in the global fashion industry.
- Aritzia’s manufacturing facilities are monitored by independent specialists; visits there can be announced or unannounced and always include interviews with workers. If conditions at a manufacturer do not meet their standards, Aritzia will work with the manufacturer to improve them by providing a Corrective Action Plan. The manufacturer is then required to demonstrate improvements within the timeframe given, and Aritzia will provide any support necessary to remedy any identified issues. As a last resort, if a manufacturer is not able or is unwilling to rectify issues they reconsider their business relationship with them.
- They did not share any specifics however on the wages they provide their workers which is something I would definitely like to learn more about.
- Partnership and Collaboration
Aritzia is a participant in an initiative with the International Labour Organization to uphold decent (side note, i’m not a fan of the use of the word decent here. I’d like to learn more on what exactly they consider “decent”) working conditions and promote sustainable manufacturing industries. This initiative is unique because it is tripartite; it involves not only businesses, but also governments and the local and national trade unions who represent the workers. Aritzia supports this initiative in Vietnam and Cambodia, where they have manufacturing bases.
For more information on their supply chain transparency visit: California Transparency Act.
Down is the primary material used in Aritzia’s fall and winter collections because it's one of the world's best insulators. Down is also biodegradable, renewable and recyclable, and (with a little care) lasts for decades.
As of their Fall 2016 collection, they use only responsibly sourced goose down in their jackets and parkas. Which means It comes from geese who receive adequate food, space, shelter and fresh water, and who are never force-fed or live-plucked.
Their down suppliers are also certified to the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), the voluntary global standard developed by The Textile Exchange, a non-profit that promotes sustainable practices in the textile industry. The certification process requires full transparency and traceability. Each step of our supply chain, all the way to the farm, has been inspected by Control Union, an accredited independent certification body, to ensure it meets the RDS's strict requirements.
Aritizia’s website also states that in addition to the specific measures taken with their down supply, they also have a policy in place to uphold animal welfare standards in the supply chain, which is communicated to our suppliers of leather, suede and wool. This is all they say about their other textiles which makes me wonder if their leaving out some very valuable and potentially negative information?
The following information on Zara was sourced here and here - kudos to the blogger who sourced all of this information for Zara as well as the information on Levi’s below. I can’t take credit for their incredible research. One thing i’ll note is that none of this information was found directly on their website. They did however share a link to Inditex
- Work Environment
- They employ about 3,000 workers in manufacturing operations in Spain at an average cost of 8.00 euros per hour compared to average labor cost in Asia of about 0.40 euros per hour.
- Zara factories in Spain use flexible manufacturing systems for quick change over operations.
- 50% of all items are manufactured in Spain. 26% in the rest of Europe. 24% in Asia and Africa
- The 2017 Ethical Fashion Report – which looks at criteria including payment of a living wage, transparency and worker empowerment initiatives – gave Zara an A+ in policies, auditing and supplier relations, an A for knowing their suppliers, and a B for worker empowerment. Suppliers and manufacturer partners with Inditex are required to follow their Code of Conduct, and their traceability systems allow them to know exactly how their products are made, and where they come from.
- Inditex also states it has a total ban on child labour, forbidding any employees under the age of 16 to work in their factories, as well as a ban on forced labour and discrimination in the workplace.
- Animal Welfare
- Zara’s animal welfare policy includes a strict ban on fur, angora and on stocking products tested on animals. They also claim to source wool exclusively from non-mulesed sheep. Unfortunately, Zara does use leather and down without stating their sources. Given I am wearing one of their leather jackets in this outfit, this statement definitely saddens and disappoints me.
Levi’s high quality of care put in to the production of their clothing was something to note, especially for their denim, which is a positive as far as the consumption topic is concerned. Knowing their jeans are going to last far longer than most is definitely a positive. But my research into their supply chain efforts came up a little short. The following was sourced from the Ethical Consumer.
Information currently on their website in regard to their corporate social responsibility and supply chain can be found here.
- Levi’s Terms of Engagement (TOE) document can be found within their Sustainability Guidebook, dated December 2013.
- These requirements are applicable to every factory, subcontractor, licensee, agent, or affiliate that manufactures or finishes product for Levi Strauss & co.
- The TOE document contained adequate clauses on working hours and child labour (specifying a minimum age of 15 years or older depending on local legal requirements).
- The clause on wages did not however commit to payment of a living wage.
- Stakeholder Engagment
- The company stated on its website that it was a member and programme partner to the International Labor Organization’s Better Work program. This program involves auditors evaluating if factories are adhering to ILO Core Labor Standards and national labor laws.
- The Sustainability Guidebook also states that factories must have functional and effective processes in place for workers to voice their concerns. Including:
- A trusted counsellor as the administrator.
- An internal, confidential appeal procedure available to workers if management failed to respond to their complaint.
- An appeal procedure for workers who feel unjustly warned or disciplined - suggestion boxes in secure locations.
While the above are positive steps towards a healthy work environment at Levi Strauss & co. they did not clearly state that workers' feedback would be anonymous. Overall the company's stakeholder engagement was rated as rudimentary according to this source.
Now, I know that the above doesn’t necessarily answer the question of WHO made my clothes, but it does certainly provide some insight into how they were made and how the individuals who made them were treated. Or at the very least, it inspired even more questions for each brand, which is a start and it only means that i'll continue to learn and ask deeper questions.
I hope you also learned something valuable reading this post. One thing I've realized is it takes a lot of time and effort to get to the bottom of this information. I have just barely scratched the surface on these brands, let alone the many others that I wear.
If you're practicing slow fashion i'd love to hear your thoughts and strategies in the comments!
Thank you for reading,
Imagery by Carissa Marie Photography