When we published the post “When Artisan Clothing is Anything But Ethical” exploring the issues surrounding artisan-made fashion in the unregulated informal sector, readers rightfully asked:
So can you provide some guidance and advice on how to tell if artisan-made fashion is ethical?
When it comes to ethical fashion, gold stars are often awarded to businesses that hold Fairtrade and other ethical certifications as third-party audits and on-site visits are essential in determining compliance to fair labor standards. However for many small businesses and artisan enterprises, certifications are both cost-prohibitive and time-prohibitive.
Short of you visiting the artisans and homeworkers, interviewing them and eye-balling their pay slips and bank accounts (assuming they have one), how do you really know when a handmade garment is produced fairly and without slavery or slavery-like conditions? How can you ensure that more of the profits from the sale of the product reaches the makers?
To put it bluntly, under these conditions, you can’t know for certain but you can get closer to certainty with a little effort. Here’s what to do:
1. Check out a brand’s website for ‘ethical’ clues
“We highly recommend that consumers visit brand websites to read more about their principles and practices relating to sourcing, supply chain mapping and social responsibility,” shares Kristin Schneider, a representative of Nest, a US-based nonprofit organisation that helps to ensure transparency and ethical compliance in artisan, handicraft and home-based workers supply chains; basically craft work that takes place outside the standard walls of a production factory.
“Brands who are making a great effort to ensure that their supply chains support the rights and well-being of all workers, will typically talk about these efforts. The more transparent that a brand is in divulging its practices, the more likely it is that that brand is working towards improvement.”
According to the organisation, a lack of transparency can be one of the biggest warning signs that a brand may not have an ethical supply chain.
2. Try to cut out the middle person if you can and go direct
“I think the answer with Fair Trade is to get down to the producer level and cut out wholesalers and middlemen etc.,” shares Dr. Mike Thair, veteran scientist and co-founder of natural skincare company, Indochine Natural who has consulted for various development agencies on science-mathematics education projects throughout Southeast Asia.
Dealing directly with makers and producers means a greater chance of getting to the manufacturing truth and ensuring that a larger percentage of the profits of a sale of the product goes back to them.
3. Ask loads of questions
If there are no ethical seals of approval anywhere on a product or no mention of social responsibility on a brand’s website this doesn’t necessarily mean they have something to hide. As we established earlier, the brand may not have the funds to pursue certification. It’s even possible that they just haven’t updated their website (as was the case with one transitioning-from-fast-fashion fashion designer we know). So reach out to them via email or social media (or in person if you find yourself at a shop or market) and start asking questions about their supply chain.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask:
- Do you pay your artisans a living wage?
- How do you determine a living wage?
- Where are your products made?
- Where are your artisans based?
- What kind of hours do they work?
- What sort of benefits do they get?
- Am I able to connect with one of your artisans directly?
Often the only tools at your disposal is communication and trusting your gut so if the business isn’t forthcoming with information after you’ve asked, it may be a sign that not all is above board ethically.
4. Get online searching
Your smartphone unlocks the key to knowledge and ethical purchasing power so get online and start searching. There is plenty of information on living wages for artisans and garment workers, access to brand ratings apps such as Good On You, ethical fashion guides and reports and country-specific fact sheets on the rag trade. Customers also share reviews and honest opinions about brands and businesses so it’s worthwhile conducting an online search to unearth forums and product reviews.
Conscious consumerism can play a pivotal role in changing the fashion industry for the better. As Nest‘s Kristin Schneider points out, “Consumers today have more power than ever to move the fashion industry in a more responsible direction by making use of platforms like social media to voice their values, ask questions, raise concerns, and praise those brands who are working towards a brighter future.”
Want to play help accelerate the ethical fashion movement? This post has a comprehensive checklist of things you can do to help end fast unethical fashion.
- 69 Facts and Statistics About Fast Fashion That Will Inspire You To Become An Ethical Fashion Advocate
- Individuals in the Developed World Consume More of the Earth’s Resources. Here’s How to Consume Less…
- Unethical Fast Fashion: If We Don’t Buy It, They Won’t Make It, It’s That Simple
- World’s Tallest Closet Filled With a Lifetime of Clothing Demonstrates Scale of First-World Consumerism
All images courtesy of Nest.