Consumers have been making “natural”, “green”, and “organic” choices when it comes to shopping for…
What does sustainable sourcing mean?
Sustainability is about minimizing a company’s negative impact on people, societies and nature, all the while maintaining its value as far as service and product quality are concerned. You could say it ultimately means that a business is doing good (for the people and the environment) and doing well (financially) at the same time.
When a company claims that it is operating a responsible textile sourcing program, it means that it takes all the necessary steps in order to ensure that the raw materials which are used for its products come from certified sustainable sources, which is a great step towards minimizing its footprint. Many companies are working towards eliminating deforestation, (which will in turn drastically minimize the effects of climate change) and championing sustainable agriculture while supporting small scale farmers, in an effort which may have countless positive social and environmental effects.
Why is sustainable sourcing important in fashion?
It has been a well-known fact for a while now that most of the cheap products that end up in sales in the western world are actually manufactured in sweat shops, or in merciless factories in third world countries, where child labor, brutal shift times, criminally low wages, worker abuse and suicidal attempts have unfortunately become daily occurrences. The fashion industry, especially, is certainly no stranger to such phenomena. In fact, one could claim that sweatshops are fashion’s dirty little secret. In fact, sweatshops where workers labor as slaves have been discovered even in downtown LA’s fashion district!
A major wake up call for the fashion industry came in the form of the shocking Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which lead to the deaths of 1140 apparel workers. On the 24th of April 2013, the eight story Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, the country’s capital, collapsed, causing the deaths of 1140 factory workers. Many of the survivors had to endure for days under the rubble, while some of them were grievously injured. The Rana Plaza tragedy was fashion industry’s greatest catastrophe to this day.
Apart from its potentially disastrous effects on people’s lives, the fashion industry can cause detrimental damage to the environment, as well; for example, the survival of the tapia forests in Madagascar, which are one of the island’s greatest natural treasures, are in grave danger. Even though the Malagasy’s livelihood depends on the forest’s protection, unsustainable sourcing from the region is slowly leading towards it destruction. Without the forests, which have been intertwined with the Malagasy culture throughout the ages, the people’s lives, their culture, their society will vanish, or at best become altered beyond recognition.
Tragic situations like those mentioned above turned the public eye towards the fashion industry’s dirty laundry, and public outcry forced the industry to steer towards ethical fashion business strategies and sustainable sourcing. In the following years the companies that focused intently on sustainability and ethical fashion, were able to reap the ethical and financial benefits a new, eco-friendly company image has to offer.
Modern consumers have definitely evolved into conscious shoppers and clients, which means that they tend to prefer companies whose profiles fit their own agenda. People care whether their clothes were made by children who are forced to work for 12 hours a day and paid next to nothing. They care about who actually made the cotton for their clothes, they care whether the workers are allowed to live their lives with dignity, as befits any human being on the planet.
This shift of consciousness didn’t happen overnight, of course. With the valuable contribution of many sustainability and ethical fashion pioneers, such as Orsola de Castro and Livia Firth, modern consumers are very well-informed, environmentally conscious and ready and willing to support ethical fashion labels, even if it means they’ll be expected to pay premium prices. In this respect, organic, fair trade, ethical, recycled or recyclable products are in high demand.
Even die-hard technocrats could not argue with the fact that when the consumers care about an issue, the company should, too. Many large companies, including even the colossal multi-billion net worth IKEA, which uses approximately 1% of the entire Earth’s wood supply, have started turning towards sustainable sourcing, at least as far as wood and cotton textiles are concerned. Labels that have made ethical fashion and sustainable sourcing pledges include H&M, Zady, Stella McCartney and many others.
Where are your clothes and accessories made?
But where are your own clothes and accessories made? Are they made by companies who practice sustainable textile sourcing, or are they products of slavery? And how can you be sure?
Well, if you are one of the millions of conscious consumers out there who want to find the answers to these questions, you can only do one thing; research. It is not enough to rely on a company’s self-proclaimed eco-friendly agenda. Many companies are known to exploit loopholes in faulty systems in order to mislead their customers. Be aware of what is happening in the ethical fashion world. There are many trusted resources to draw information regarding sustainable textile sourcing and ethical fashion businesses, some of which you can find in Wild Tussah’s “Top 10 Ethical Fashion Tweeters You Should Follow” blog.
More importantly, you must speak up about the issue, and become part of the movement which fights to improve the lives of so many people, and protect the environment we are all living in. This way you will be opening the eyes, and maybe the minds, of the people around you who haven’t had the chance to take a moment and think about where all this mass-produced, cheap merchandise actually comes from. The only way to make a change towards ethical fashion is to create a united front, as consumers, against companies that only care about fast, cheap fashion – but at what cost?