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Ethics in the Fashion and Lingerie Supply Chain

Ethical fashion is not only about environmental responsibility, there are socially responsible practices brands should take to make sure that their employees are treated well. That means safe physical working conditions, safe mental working conditions, and fair pay. 

In countries around the world, factory owners fire pregnant women, deny maternity leave; actively retaliate against workers who form unions, force workers to work more hours or risk their job; and ignore sexual harassment by male workers. This doesn’t even begin to cover the dangerous physical working conditions of many garment workers. Crumbling buildings, buildings without air conditioning or reliable electricity. Sometimes workers forced to work without lunch, or exposed to dangerous chemicals without protection if they have to use certain dyes. Lack of ventilation is extremely common, along with little to no access to water or restrooms.  At worst, these kinds of conditions lead to building collapses (many of the buildings are not equipped to hold this kind of heavy machinery), fires, or slave labor. Pay for the garment workers often is as low as a few US dollars per month. It is common for a garment worker to work up to 96 hours a week, and are subject to physical and mental abuse by factory owners if they cannot meet their production deadlines. Some people will sell their children to garment factories to work for a number of years for one lump sum. 

The first step to combating these poor practices is to increase brand transparency. This requires brands to publish the names of the factories where their garments are made, the phone number of the factories, and the address, along with some information about the factory like who is the parent company and how many people are working there. Often, employees will see a human rights violation at a factory, but are unaware of what brand placed the order, making whistleblowing or opportunities for reform extremely difficult. Transparency helps eliminate this confusion. Transparency builds confidence and trust among consumers and among workers. If brands/manufacturers do not disclose their factories, it should create suspicion among consumers.

Fashion Revolution (see previous post for more info about this organization) ranks companies on the following factors:

1. Policy and Commitments
  • What are brand's current policies?
  • How will they improve in the future?

2. Governance

  • Who is in charge of the brand's social impact?
  • Can they be contacted?
  • How does the brand incorporate human rights into sourcing practices?

3. Traceability

  • How much information do they share? 

4. Know, Show, Fix

  • How does the brand fix supplier policies? 
  • How does the brand implement ideas to improve supplier policies?
  • Can employees report grievances?

5. Spotlight issues

  • What is the brand doing to help female empowerment and gender equality?
  • What is the brand doing to support fair wages and freedom of association?

 “Transparency requires that companies know who makes their clothes – from who stitched them right through to who dyed the fabric and who farmed the cotton — and under what conditions. Crucially, it requires brands to share this information publicly.

If we know the facilities where our clothes are being made, if we have access to information about the factories, mills and farms where brands are sourcing then the public can help hold the industry to account for bad practices and encourage good practices.”

- Fashion Revolution

 

Since transparency is the first step, what's the second? Where do we go from here? That would be to act on this information given to us. We need to hold brands, retailers, governments and suppliers accountable for negative human rights practices. 

 

All of our brands at Supernatural are ethical. Most are small/indie European brands that work with suppliers that are close by, or they are manufactured in house ( La Fille d’O being one of the most transparent). However, we do have a few American & Canadian brands, and we will go over some of their ethical practices here: 

  1. Kent Woman: Made and designed in Los Angeles with Certified organic silks.
  2. Only Hearts: Only hearts is founded by a mother daughter team. Only Hearts is manufactured in New York City using local, deadstock, and certified made in green textiles. Textile mills and garment factories typically have vast amounts of leftover fabric, known as deadstock fabric. These are rolls of fabric that are left after a garment production run, fabric that was dyed the wrong color, or surplus fabric that is unsold by the textile mills and left in storage.
  3. Fortnight: Each piece is carefully crafted in Toronto by a team of skilled craftswomen who are seriously passionate about the art of lingerie making. They put love and attention into every garment that passes from their hands into yours. Their fabrics are chosen based on their ability to offer high performance and durability, yet still be light, delicate and supremely comfortable. Their jerseys are made in Italy. They are quick drying, moisture wicking with excellent stretch and recovery for perfect contouring. Fortnight's lace is sourced from mills across Europe that honor tradition and quality. The tie that binds these fabrics: Power Mesh. Fortnight Lingerie is manufactured in-house, at a Parkdale Village studio located in Toronto, Canada. The undergarments are handcrafted by highly trained technicians, to uphold quality and precision with every piece that is created.
  4. The Great Eros: The collection is designed in Brooklyn and made in Italy with a 4th generation family owned factory and uses both old world and innovative techniques resulting in superb quality. 
Where a product is made doesn't necessarily indicate if the product was made ethically, but the United States and countries belonging to the EU are generally a marker of good quality and ethics. Laws regarding labor are stricter in these countries. Workers are allowed to unionize but many times, a lot of our brands just run a smaller, more humanized operation. This means the designers are working closely with their makers & suppliers.