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No sweat shopping!

Updated Friday, 11th October 2013

Cosumers want to shop more ethically - but need retailers to take the lead

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Retail shopping – online or high street – is one of the UK’s most popular leisure pursuits, but as consumers we struggle to make responsible fashion choices when shopping for clothes.

Few people want to spend hours on the Internet tracking down evidence about the labour standards, or working conditions that went into producing their latest Primark dress or Zara sweater.

Shoppers take a break outside the Oxford Street, London, branch of Primark Creative commons image Icon henry... under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license Shoppers take a break outside Primark in the West End

Even if they did, it would be beyond most of us to navigate the complex supply chains of contractors and sub-contractors that underpin global garment production. Labelling rarely tells us much beyond country of origin and washing temperatures, and the majority of shop assistants would be equally challenged to tell the story behind their products (assuming as shoppers we took the time to ask).

What the public really need are for retailers to take up the challenge, and help inspire their customers to make an informed and responsible choice, one that doesn’t require huge effort on their part.

While big brands such as H&M (with their Conscious Campaign) and Nike are slowly opening themselves up to scrutiny, it’s the smaller, entrepreneurial fashion brands that are at the forefront of making the ethical connection between producers and consumers by telling an open, honest and transparent story about how their products are made.

Shopping is above all an emotional act for people, underpinned by all kinds of meanings, motivations, attitudes and practices. Connecting the emotions of shoppers with the emotional impact their purchases have on those who make their clothes is one pathway to raise consumer consciousness.

The collapsed textile factory at Dhaka Savar Creative commons image Icon rijans under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license Aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh  

Responsible Trade Worldwide recently gathered together key players in the fashion supply chain – designers, retailers, lobbyists, regulators, media -  to discuss how conditions along the supply chain can be improved and what can be done by industry to help consumers make better choices.

One company they featured which is at the forefront of the movement to tackle sweatshops by increasing transparency and traceability in the clothing supply chain is the fashion label Everlane.

Their "Radical Transparency" campaign is based on their guiding principles:

"Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why."

Not only do they build strong relationships with their suppliers but they believe customers have the right to know what their products cost to make.

At Everlane they reveal the true costs of manufacturing, and then also reveal their markup. In traditional retail a designer shirt is marked up 8x by the time it reaches the customer. Everlane have also launched a series of blogs and videos – Everlane Explores China - that show manufacturing conditions in their Chinese factories, displaying to their customers how the products get made.

Due to the complex supply chains used by big global fashion brands, committing to this level of honesty and transparency is more daunting and challenging. However, the interest that consumers are showing towards these small entrepreneurial fashion firms and the trend for customers to engage with their story could provide just the push that multinational brands need.

Find out more

If you want to find out more about responsible clothes shopping and about other industry initiatives for yourself, go to:

Consumer Practices: Ethical or Flexible? Podcast by Caroline Moraes and Marylyn Carrigan, Centre for Trust and Ethical Behaviour (CETEB) 

Responsible Trade Worldwide Event website and industry podcasts 

Join in Fashion Revolution Day on 24th April 2014, and ask 'Who Made Your Clothes? in support of those workers who lost their lives in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh

War on Want Love Fashion, Hate Sweatshops campaign





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