NEW YORK, United States — When the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh two years ago, footage showed tags of many of today's most popular clothing brands amidst the rubble. Perhaps just as shocking as the events that transpired, was that many of these brands, including Joe Fresh, hadn't even the slightest clue that their own production was taking place in that facility. Their auditing system failed. They just didn't know.
Now, two years later, the topic of reform for the manufacturing industry is top of mind more than ever. Global brands are announcing sustainability reports, taking pride in showcasing their cut and sew factories, and proudly demonstrating the reforms they have instituted in reaction to one of the most horrific factory accidents in history. We are desperate to correct the ways of the past. It is clear that a new standard must be established — and that new standard is transparency.
The only way to safeguard our employees is for brands to not be in the dark about the full supply chain of a product, from farm to final factory. By being transparent with our supply chains, we start to take responsibility for them, including the safety of our workers and the impact we have on the environment.
Fashion brands can choose to know as much or as little as they’d like about their production. At Rana Plaza, the world saw what it looks like when a brand knows too little. We believe brands need to not only know, but share with consumers, every step of the supply chain. They should ask where their dyeing is taking place and what process is being used — and then tell their consumers. The fashion industry’s impact begins at the cotton farm, so transparency has to begin there too.
The fact is, we are living in a time when information is readily available, at our fingertips, all the time. Consumers are hungry for information. For us to not provide it is not only irresponsible, but when it comes to the younger generation of shoppers, it’s also just bad for business. As well as a “Made in” tag, fashion garments need a “Sourced in” tag that shows the countries of origin for each step of the supply chain, from farming, washing, dyeing and spinning, right through to the cut and sew.
Brands must be aware of how their garments are being made. They must know the working conditions in their factories. We cannot turn a blind eye to problems just because they exist elsewhere. There is no elsewhere. We are more connected than ever before.
By providing consumers with a deeper connection to the items they purchase, fashion brands can bring greater value to their products. Consumers will learn to value products for the work that went into their creation, moving us away from the current out-of-control cycle of consumption.
The first step towards reforming the industry is for brands to take responsibility. If companies take on this challenge, the consumer will follow. Companies need to select manufacturing countries that have fair and enforced labour laws. Governments have the power to make sourcing easier for brands, by doing their part to protect their people and land.
Two years post-Rana Plaza, what can we do? We can establish a new industry standard of complete transparency and accept nothing else.
Maxine Bédat and Soraya Darabi are the co-founders of Zady.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.
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