ethicalfashion

Workers’ Rights in the Fashion Industry

A Reflection on the International Workers’ Day

As today we commemorate International Workers’ Day once again, it prompts us to pause and reflect on the state of workers’ rights within the fashion industry. International Workers’ Day is synonymous with Labour Day, annual holidays to celebrate the achievements of workers.

Some facts about workers’ rights in the fashion industry:

1. “Luxury brands show poor efforts to reduce forced labour.” (source KnowTheChain). Specifically, KnowTheChain evaluated fashion companies’ adherence to International Labour Organization standards in their supply chain, establishment of internal responsibilities to address forced labour risks, support for worker empowerment, and implementation of programs to address forced labour allegations. So, companies received scores ranging from zero to 100, with the average fashion company scoring 21. Luxury companies rank second lowest in average score among all sub-sectors, making them particularly flagrant offenders.
In short, among the luxury companies assessed:
LVMH: 6 out of 100
Prada: 9 out of 100
Kering: 23 out of 100
Only seven out of 20 disclosed the complete first tier of their suppliers, including names and addresses.

2. Alviero Martini: under investigation for starving wages.

3. Giorgio Armani Operations: put into receivership for labour exploitation.  Workers in Chinese-run workshops paid 2-3 euros/day, judges say. Probe finds migrant workers eating, and sleeping in factories.

4. Zara and H&M‘s cotton suppliers: involved in land grabbing, illegal deforestation and human rights violations (source Earthsight). Also, this revelation is particularly alarming as it implicates Better Cotton, a certified sustainable cotton label.

5. Low wages made Bangladesh the second largest clothing exporter after China, developing a huge industry for the country. There are about four million garment workers, mostly women, whose wages are the lowest in the world. In addition, the inflation and the devaluation of the taka against the US dollar (30% from the beginning of 2023) created unsustainable conditions for workers. Specifically, garment workers in Bangladesh make clothes for large groups such as H&MZaraGapLevi’s, NextAsos, and New Look.

6. After the Jaba Garmindo factory bankruptcy in Indonesia, 2,000 Indonesian garment workers have fought for the $5.5 million legally owed in severance pay since 2015. The workers made clothes for Uniqlo and German fashion brand s.Oliver, among others. (source cleanclothes.org)

7. China is the biggest exporter of ready-made clothes, monopolising nearly 40% of the global garment industry. Driving China’s $187 billion garment trade are over 10 million garment workers. People who toil under oppressive and exploitative working conditions, mostly for high street brands. …While foreign brands’ business is booming, China bans the fundamental human right of workers to form and join independent trade unions. Driving a race to the bottom on wages and working conditions, brands expect low production prices and a compliant workforce and governments allow this along with factory owners out of fear of losing foreign business. Exploiting this arrangement is the Asian retail giant, UNIQLO. (source waronwant.org).

Conclusion: what about consumers’ role?

While we commemorate International Workers’ Day, we’re compelled to confront a shameful truth about workers’ rights in the fashion industry. In fact, workers are often regarded as nothing more than commodities that brands can exploit for their own profit. 

The absence of moral fabric within the industry is evident, as is the disregard shown by consumers who choose to ignore this issue despite the wealth of available information.

But why do people ignore human rights and still support these brands through their consumption choices?

Workers’ Rights in the Fashion Industry Read More »

A Conversation with Aurora

Embracing the Up-and-Coming Wave of Fashion Designers

As we embrace the up-and-coming wave of fashion designers, we are thrilled to share our conversation with Aurora. Her first name doubles as her brand name (Aurora De Matteis); a young woman walking the fashion industry with a polite demeanor and a clear sense of an ethically run business.

We first met Aurora a couple of years ago at a fashion exhibition in the heart of Milano. Her universe, small, focused, and well-crafted, conveyed emotion to us. So we kept in touch until, finally, we placed an order. Indeed, we are leaders in uncovering talented designers committed to exceptional design, premium materials, and ethical practices.

Read our conversation with Aurora to find out more about the brand!

Aurora – the conversation

• How did your passion for fashion begin? What is your background?
I always thought I wanted to do this in life because I always loved creating something with my hands. Actually, my mother passed down to me a certain passion; she taught me how to crochet when I was little. In fact, I used to make handmade crochet earrings. I’m passionate about handicrafts and artisanal work. I love the world of graphics, but after high school, I enrolled in Secoli Institute to get a technical background in fashion. I did well in pattern making, learning to make a whole garment. My passion for manual work led me to take a knitting course recently. Learning new skills stimulates me; in this sense, I never stop.

• What inspired you to start your slow fashion brand, and what values do you aim to promote through your designs?
After graduating from fashion school, I could work for big companies where I would have focused on just one specific thing, like being a pattern designer. But I like to explore, research materials, so, despite all the difficulties, I chose to launch my own brand. Mine is a brand that believes in slow fashion, which means attention to fabrics and well-made garments, things big brands often overlook. But, above all, it’s a brand that aims to convey the value of the time needed to create a handmade garment in a small workshop. Time, quality, and ethics are values I believe in.

Image of Aurora Spring-Summer 24 collection
Aurora Spring-Summer 24 collection

• What is your vision of style? Can you share insights about your design philosophy and how it aligns with the concept of slow fashion?
“Less is more” is a concept resonating deep within me. A quote from Mies van Der Rohe explains it all: “Please, do not confuse simple with easy, there is a big difference. I love simplicity because of its clarity, not because of its ease or for other reasons. To achieve clarity we must simplify practically everything. It’s hard work. You have to fight, and fight, and fight.” Indeed, this process of distilling from complexity to essentiality is what I find interesting.

Minimalism reconnects to my pattern-making studies, garment construction. Specifically, making it distinctive in terms of construction. Instead of prints or decorations, I prefer to create colour blocks because I focus on lines and shapes. However, this design concept perfectly aligns with my vision of slow fashion because it allows me to emphasize the quality and longevity of the garment through a timeless style. ‘What’s in fashion this year?’ has always puzzled me. Who decides that? Today, talking about fashion can be chilling, with unwearable clothes and exorbitant prices.

• How do you ensure sustainability and ethical practices in your production process?
Many stop at the labels, but natural doesn’t mean sustainable. For instance, see natural viscose. It may be natural, but it has a significant environmental impact. I focus more on quality materials. And I only work with suppliers who don’t impose high minimums. Moreover, I produce without waste in a small artisanal workshop, ensuring ethical and sustainable manufacturing because I make limited quantities. I myself sew in my workshop in Turin. Everything is made in Italy, in small batches. I am against overproduction. Indeed, the concept of limited quantities is crucial to limit our impact on the environment.

• How do you evaluate conversations about sustainability?
Superficial. In fact, I don’t say that my brand is sustainable, I demonstrate it through actions. Often I’m asked: ‘Is this all you have?’ Yes, exactly: a capsule collection, thoughtful and well-made.

• What challenges have you faced in establishing your brand within the competitive fashion industry?
The showrooms have asked me to do things from their point of view without considering my project. They are seeking the product, not the idea. Just to sell more. My way of working was almost belittled. It shows a certain lack of attention from industry operators because if you want a massive production, you don’t go to an emerging brand.

• Do you think enough space is given to young people in Italy?
Unfortunately, Italy is an old country, doesn’t give space to young people.

After reviewing her Spring-Summer 24 collection, we were impressed by the precise cuts and fresh take on fashion. Also, we discovered each other within a philosophy that felt familiar: a shared vision of design and meaning. So, we hope you enjoyed our conversation with Aurora. In the end, isn’t it time to give space to the new generation of creatives?

So stay tuned to discover more about Aurora designs #formodernhumans

A Conversation with Aurora Read More »

Fashion Crimes: Dirty Cotton

Earthsight Ong Linking European Giants to Illegal Activities in Brazil

According to the British NGO Earthsight, the cotton used by textile giants H&M and Zara to produce their clothes is dirty cotton.

Specifically, the NGO alleges that the two European brands are complicit in large-scale illegal deforestation activities in Brazil, including land grabbing, human rights abuses, corruption, and violent land conflicts. But this revelation is particularly alarming as it implicates Better Cotton, a certified sustainable cotton label. If you heard us say certifications worth zero, here’s the proof.

Fashion Crimes: The report on dirty cotton

Using satellite imagery, court decisions, product shipping records, and undercover investigations, Earthsight has compiled a report titled ‘Fashion Crimes.’ The result is a damning portrait! Cotton certified as ethical by the world’s largest certification system, Better Cotton, is found to be contaminated by numerous environmental offences. Also, this cotton is exported to various Asian manufacturers, producing approximately 250 million clothing items and household articles annually for H&M, Zara, and their sister brands’ global stores.

Fashion Crimes: dirty cotton - Report cover
Fashion Crimes: Dirty Cotton – read the full report here

The NGO has tracked the journey of 816,000 tons of cotton from two of Brazil’s largest agroindustrial companies, Horita Group and Slc Agrícola, in Western Bahia. Traditional communities lived in harmony with nature. But greedy agricultural companies serving global cotton markets attacked them and robbed their lands. The Brazilian families who own these lands have a lengthy history of legal proceedings, convictions for corruption, and multimillion-dollar fines for illegal deforestation.

Some of these illicit activities take place in the Cerrado region, a savanna renowned for its rich fauna and flora, constituting the second most important biome in Brazil. The Cerrado, which hosts 5% of the world’s species, saw a 43% increase in vegetation destruction in 2023. The clearing of Cerrado trees for agriculture generates carbon equivalent to the emissions of 50 million cars each year.

Environmental protection is a key issue for the European Union, which has included the new European Deforestation Regulation (Eudr) in the Green Deal. A program against climate change that encourages the consumption of certified raw materials and imposes restrictions on the importation of those produced in deforested regions.

“Earthsight’s year-long investigation reveals that corporations and consumers in Europe and North America are driving this destruction in a new way. Not by what they eat – but what they wear.”

Better Cotton: certifications & greenwashing

In conclusion, the NGO points the finger at Better Cotton, the world’s largest ‘ethical’ cotton certification system, with the raw material exposed as dirty cotton. Therefore, contaminated by various environmental offences. “BC has been repeatedly accused of greenwashing and criticised for failing to allow for full traceability of supply chains.”

Therefore, can we trust sustainable labels? No, of course not! Left alone, labels and certifications mean nothing. In fact, they are frequently used to mislead people. So, they are just greenwashing. Moreover, selling more green products is a strategy to support the overproduction model. So, it won’t solve any issue. (Download “The sustainability basics” checklist here).

Even though brands like Zara and H&M might use sustainable materials, the massive quantities they produce would nullify the sustainable effort. Why isn’t this clear? The solution is plain: we must produce and consume less. It’s the only viable strategy in the face of such devastation.
Consumers play a crucial role in perpetuating these harmful practices, often unknowingly. By reducing our consumption and demanding accountability from brands, we can make a real difference in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability.

While uncovering dirty cotton practices is crucial, it’s imperative to recognize that consuming less is fundamental for sustainability. Consume less: this is the action we must take now!

Fashion Crimes: Dirty Cotton Read More »

Greenpeace: Stop Fast Fashion

Take Action and Sign the Petition!

Greenpeace has just launched a new petition urging people to stop fast fashion. The issue is very dear to us,  indeed, our perspective on fashion stands in stark contrast to this. So, we invite you to read and take action.

Notice: The content presented in the post is sourced from Greenpeace investigations and reports.

Fast fashion: a polluting and unsustainable industry

Clothes sold and returned immediately. Accessories designed to last only one season. Destined to break within a few weeks. And soon ending up in landfills or in the Global South. With mass production, low quality, and ridiculously low prices, the fast fashion industry generates enormous amounts of waste and pollution. And behind the false promises of sustainability often lies greenwashing and a devastating environmental and social impact.

Fast fashion in 3 numbers:

  • 25%: the percentage of new clothing unsold and discarded every year
  • 1 second: every second, a truckload of discarded clothing is either burned or thrown into landfills
  • -1%: it’s the amount of clothing that is actually recycled into new garments.

Every year in Europe, 230 million pieces of clothing get destroyed.

Greenpeace: stop fast fashion clothing discarded in Africa
Image credit: Greenpeace

Textile fibres

Over 60% of the textile fibres (acrylic, polyester, nylon) used to produce our clothing are synthetic fibres, and many are derived from hydrocarbon refining, such as gas and oil. Polyester, derived from petroleum, begins to release microplastics after the first few washes, which end up in the oceans and then move up the food chain, also in our food. The fossil fuel industry grows and proliferates thanks to fast fashion as well.

The dark side of the most famous brands

  • Shein: According to 2022 data, many of its garments contain toxic substances, with some exceeding legal limits, particularly phthalates, up to 600% of the legal limit.
    (source: Greenpeace investigation 2022)
  • Nike, Ralph Lauren, Diesel: A 2022 investigation demonstrated that waste from the production of clothing and footwear for these three brands was being burned in brick kilns in Cambodia, exposing the involved workers to toxic fumes.
    (source: Greenpeace/Unearthed investigation)
  • Amazon, Temu, Zalando, Zara, H6M, OVS, Shein, Asos: Clothing returned after purchase on the most famous e-commerce platforms travels up to 10,000 kilometres and often is not resold.
    (source: Greenpeace investigation 2024)

Online returns: clothing travelling up to 10,000 kilometers

Clothing purchased and then returned multiple times. Parcels of clothing travelling for tens of thousands of kilometres between Europe and China, with no cost to the buyer and minimal expenses for the producing company. But with huge environmental impacts. This is what emerged from the Greenpeace Investigative Unit Italy investigation, which, for about two months, in collaboration with the television program Report, tracked the journeys of some garments in the fast-fashion sector purchased and returned through e-commerce platforms. It revealed a schizophrenic logistics chain, extremely long journeys, and the environmental impact in terms of equivalent CO2 emissions.

Sustainability? It’s just greenwashing!

Fast fashion companies promote their supposed sustainability and respect for better working conditions by stating on labels that their clothing items are produced with a lower environmental impact. However, it often amounts to nothing more than greenwashing. Our investigation of 29 brands has revealed the truth, and globally recognized brands such as Benetton Green Bee, Calzedonia Group, Decathlon Ecodesign, H&M Conscious, and Zara Join Life, just to name a few, have received a red mark regarding the credibility of the statements on their labels.

Greenpeace: sign the petition!

In conclusion, fast fashion, the ultra-rapid fashion sold at very very cheap prices, is not harmless. Unfortunately, the low prices are achieved through the exploitation of workers and harm to the environment. Of course, it wouldn’t exist without modern-day slavery. However, there are alternatives to fast fashion for every budget, for instance, vintage, second-hand and slow fashion. Most importantly, it’s a matter of education and awareness, accessible to all. No excuses left!
So, take action now by signing the Greenpeace petition to stop fast fashion and protect our planet! 👉 sign it here!

Greenpeace: Stop Fast Fashion Read More »

Ethical Choices

From Fashion to Lifestyle: Do You Take Them into Account?

“Ethical choices shouldn’t be left to us! Ethics shouldn’t fall on us!” Remarked a friend when he felt obliged to purchase products at a low price to stay within the family budget. We know that if the price is too low, someone pays. Usually, the cost falls on people and the planet: see modern-day slavery, pollution and climate change.

The low-price pattern applies not only to the fashion system but to any industry. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, we want to feel good about our choices and their impact on the world. Of course, it’s unfair to put the burden of ethical choices solely on consumers.

However, brands, corporations, and governments ignore the matter. Well, they say they care, and talk about ethical fashion. Also, they support workers. But they do not do the one thing that would allow people a decent lifestyle: paying proper wages. Why? Because enslaving people through the manufacturing chains maximizes profits, which is the only thing that counts for them.

On the hunt for low prices

So, forget ethics for brands and corporations. The ethical choice is up to the end consumers. We can divide them into two groups:
The biggest group are workers who struggle to make ends meet. Although some care about ethics, they cannot afford better choices. So they feel forced to purchase products coming from unfair conditions.
In a smaller group, we find rich people who are happy to close their eyes in the face of ethics, modern-day slavery or climate change. Actually, they don’t care! Exploiting people is okay with their worldview as long as they can keep purchasing cheap products.
What’s your counterargument? Are ethical products too expensive? People from the second group label products of a certain cost as unethical. We’ve heard this plenty of times! But they consider okay cheap stuff made by slaves. Weird reasoning! Isn’t it?

Solutions to ethical choices

Solutions such as government regulations and corporate social responsibility are essential. In fact, the burden of ethical choices must shift from consumers to governments and corporations. They must hold themselves accountable as they are in charge of the economy.

Downward price logic is the expression of a rotten society which exploits people and the planet. But in this race to the bottom, how many slaves does the economy need in the future? And do they have a planet B?

Ethical Choices Read More »