Who makes your clothes?

Our challenge to the New Zealand fashion industry: tell us how your garments are produced.

Victims in the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on April 25, 2013; photo by Taslima Akhter

It’s an unfortunate fact that it often takes a tragedy to kickstart change, and the scandalous collapse of a Bangladesh garment factory on April 24, 2013 – killing 1,129 workers – is one such moment.

The collapse was entirely avoidable, but was allowed to happen due to corruption, management greed and worker exploitation. The company responsible was in the business of supplying popular fashion stores in the UK and the USA, which led some shoppers in the Western world to start asking the hard questions: Who makes my clothes? And how can I use my buying choices to prevent this happening again? And what does this mean for us in New Zealand?

At the moment, apart from a third-party certification system such as Fairtrade, the only way to be sure the person who made your garments received a fair wage is to buy clothing made in countries with decent labour laws. But as manufacturers move around the world in search of production efficiencies, it’s challenging for consumers like us to keep track.

So we’re putting the question to New Zealand’s major clothing suppliers so they can explain how they’re grappling with these challenges. We’ll publish their responses online here and on Facebook as we receive them. So watch this space!

Responses we’ve received so far:

Re: An open letter to the clothing industry

Dear so-and-so,

In the wake of April’s Bangladesh garment factory collapse, we witnessed a wave of concern from New Zealanders wanting to know how they could guarantee the workers who made their clothing have a safe environment and a fair wage.

As much as we love ‘Made in New Zealand’, we recognise that this country doesn’t have the infrastructure to efficiently produce garments on a large scale, and that manufacturing locally isn’t an option for many major clothing brands.

Apart from Fairtrade, there is currently no local third-party certification system for ethical or sustainable clothing. The next best option would seem to be transparency from brands such as yours. A lack of information about these matters leaves us feeling powerless to make good consumer choices.

We realise that there are many challenges facing the garment industry and we want to make our readers aware of the issues brands deal with in providing clothing at an affordable price for New Zealanders. So we’d like to invite you to share with Good readers any information you have around the ethics and sustainability of your company’s products.

Maybe you personally visit the factories where your garments are made – our readers would love to know this. Ultimately, we’d like to lift the curtain and connect New Zealanders with the makers and suppliers of the clothes they wear everyday.

Over the next few months we will be publishing any responses we receive online at www.good.net.nz/fashion and we’d be thrilled if you would be willing to take part in this industry-wide conversation.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

Sarah Heeringa

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