There’s a question that we love to ask at Remake: Who made your clothes? Depending on what you’re wearing, it may impossible to answer — but that’s the point. Far too rarely do consumers take the time to think about the person who is stitching together their garments — we don’t know her face, her wages, or her workdays. Even if you did make an effort to find an answer to the question of who made your clothes, chances are that you couldn’t. The reason for this is because most fashion brands, and certainly all fast fashion brands, don’t share this information publicly.
According to Forbes, business transparency is “the process of being open, honest, and straightforward about company operations. Transparent companies share information relating to performance, small business revenue, internal processes, sourcing, pricing, and business values.” We can’t change or improve something we don’t understand, and we can’t implement systemic change in an industry until we truly know what is going on behind the curtain, or in the case of fashion, behind factory doors.
Why is transparency so important in the fashion industry? Because the only way to choose better is to know better.
Transparency is the way in which we can understand where our products come from, how they have been made, and finally, what the impact will be on our planet and the people involved in the process. Sounds simple enough, right? It should be, but because this process involves sharing at the public level both the good and the not so good, many brands are hesitant to reveal their true colors.
Knowledge give us the power to demand more from apparel brands and withhold our support from those whose practices go against our values. By being aware of what brands are doing on a microlevel, we can start a conversation, we can bring the topic of ethics to the table, and above all, we can act and make more informed decisions about where we choose to spend our hard-earned dollars.
Brands Aren’t Being Transparent Enough
Sustainability in fashion is driven by four main agendas: Social, economic, ecological, and cultural. Each one is significant on an individual level, but in order for a brand to be truly sustainable, it must be acting on all four of these fronts.
Many brands will often trick us into believing that they are sustainable by acting on one of the four agendas; however, what good is a brand’s ethics if it creates a product using responsible sourcing but pays the women making it less than a livable wage?
Most recently, we’ve seen a similar contradiction play out in China’s Xinjiang region, with brands like Nike, Uniqlo, and Zara coming under fire for sourcing cotton that has strong links to the forced labor of Uighur Muslims. And yet, on Nike’s website you’ll find an entire page dedicated to promoting the brand’s sustainability efforts, including the following: “Since 2010, we’ve been on a drive toward 100% sustainable cotton. Certified organic, recycled, and Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) are three ways that we are pushing sustainability in our materials.”
The unfortunate truth is that many brands will tout their practices as being both sustainable and ethical while withholding from the public the vital information that would prove this to be true. Nike doesn’t reveal where its cotton comes from on its website, nor does it reveal how much its makers are being paid to produce its bestselling garments. Why not? Because chances are that the brand’s practices are not nearly as commendable as the company would like to have you think.
Generic sustainability statements and lack of detailed information aren’t unique to Nike — this greenwashing tactic runs rampant throughout the fashion industry. So what would a brand need to reveal to be considered truly transparent? Remake’s Seal of Approval process works to answer this question, calling brands’ many bluffs along the way.
Remake’s System for Evaluating Brands
At Remake, we use a robust system of criteria to evaluate brands based on the following five categories:
2) Maker Well-being
3) Environmental Sustainability
4) Sustainable Raw Materials
5) Leadership, Diversity, Inclusion
Traceability. For this criteria we have to consider 3 sub-categories: Supply Chain Transparency, Product Traceability, and Ethical Sourcing Scope. We can understand traceability as the information provided to the consumers about the road taken to make the product. We can start by asking these questions: Where does the material come from? How was the product made? Where has it been made? By whom? Under what conditions?
Maker Well-being. This criteria focuses on the actions the company is taking to assure good conditions for the workers involved in the supply chain. Some examples of questions we should be asking are: What is it like to work for this company? How do their garment makers live? Under what terms are they working? Do they have social security? Does the company promote a good working environment? Is anyone allowed to work there? Do they promote a collaborative and inclusive environment?
Environmental Sustainability. For this criteria, we’re looking at the impact brands’ actions have on the environment. We can ask: How does the company manage their waste? Does the company promote clean energies? What actions are the company taking to mitigate their impact on the environment? Is the company working to reduce their consumption of nonrenewable materials? What does the brand do in order to control their waste?
Sustainable Raw Materials. Questions within this criteria include: What are the materials being used? Where do they come from? Do they come from nonrenewable sources? Do they come from animals? What alternatives is the brand considering? What is the impact of the materials on the environment after their life cycle?
Leadership, Diversity, Inclusion. For this criteria, we should be asking the following: Does the brand promote an inclusive environment? Is there diversity among the board members of the company? Is it easy for anyone to access and work for the brand? Is the advertising of the brand considering different types of bodies and races?
Call for Transparency
There is much to consider when evaluating a brand’s ethics and sustainability practices. The only way in which we can choose better is to know better, and to know better, brands must quit hiding behind generic statements with no backing and pull back the curtain on what their practices actually are. After all, you can say as much as you’d like, but if you don’t have actions to prove it, those words become worthless.
There is a distinct need for brands to go transparent in the fashion industry, and the PayUp Fashion campaign is calling for just that. Join the movement and sign the petition to let 40 of the most influential brands in the industry know that you demand more.