Six Questions to Ask Your Favourite Clothing Labels
Who made my clothes? Not an unreasonable question, but a thorn in the side of many fashion labels who struggle to answer it clearly. Since the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed more than 1,000 Bangladeshi garment workers, the organization Fashion Revolution has made it their mission to get more people asking this straightforward but powerful question. Together with the True Cost documentary inspired by the same crisis, this question has rattled the industry and brought new life to the movement for more responsible fashion.
Since we know that asking questions works, we want to continue the conversation and help you really figure out whether a brand is worth your business. Here are some simple questions you can ask (without seeming like a jerk**) to get to the bottom of it.
**We don’t advise storming into a clothing retailer and demanding answers to questions in a loud, jerk-ish voice. A 17 year old retail associate may not have the answers to your questions, that doesn’t mean they or the company are evil (see question #1)
1. Do you have someone in your company I can ask about the conditions in your supply chain?
This is a great question that you can ask anyone from a retail clerk to a customer service representative. If no one can give you any direction, or the company simply doesn’t have anyone who will take the time to speak with you about this, best to walk away. If someone will answer your questions – bingo! You can carry on with the following ones.
2. Does your company have any social or environmental certifications? (Some examples are B-Corp, OEKO-Tex, GOTS, Fair Labour Association, Fair Trade or Bluesign)
Some certifications apply to the environment, some to social conditions, while others like B-Corp cover both. If the company has taken time to get an industry-wide certification, it’s a good sign – it means that they’ve invited a third party in to look at their operations. If they’re small and can’t afford a full supply chain certification, not to worry, many companies just use suppliers that are already certified themselves. Just keep in mind that these certifications are limited, someone in the company should always be able to describe how they ensure that people and the planet are not exploited as a result of their product being made.
3. Does your company have a supplier code of conduct?
The existence of a ‘supplier code of conduct’ is a solid step for a brand – it sets their values and standards in stone and should be signed by every one of their main suppliers (fabric mills, sewing factories, dyers). Unfortunately some bigger brands have been found acting in ways contrary to their code (ie: allowing illegal subcontracting in their supply chains), but it’s still very important that the brand has one and can share it with customers.
4. Do you use Organic Cotton?
You can really only get three answers from this question – yes, no, and sometimes. The quality of Organic Cotton is fantastic these days, so price tends to be the only reason a brand would not use it. Cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop in the world, Organic Cotton uses none. We’re pretty keen on option b.
5. Do your Rayon fabrics come from responsibly managed forests?
Expect more confusion from this question. Many people don’t know that Rayon comes from wood pulp, and that the harvesting of that wood threatens entire ecosystems such as the Leuser rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia (and the critically endangered Orangutans that reside there). Some Rayons such as Tencel and Modal from Austrian supplier Lenzing come from sustainably managed forests. The more this question gets asked, the more brands will look into the source of their rayons (we hope).
6. Does your company do anything to reduce waste?
Producing textiles can be a very wasteful process, from the discarded scraps of fabric to the water used in dyeing. Some brands limit waste by re-using fabric off-cuts, some donate to weavers who turn them into rugs, others focus on using fabrics and dyes that require less water or heat. Getting an idea of how a brand looks at the waste it creates will tell you a lot – if they can’t or won’t talk about it, they’re not paying attention to a massive problem in the fashion indutry.
These questions should get you started, but we know that you’re all curious cats and will come up with more. Comment below with the questions you like to ask before buying clothes. The more you know, the better you buy!