Who Supports Independent Labels?

Exploring The Current Fashion Scenario

There’s a poignant question in the fashion industry: who supports independent labels? The current fashion context is volatile, unstable and tough – especially for independent designers who struggle to survive. Just like independent fashion retailers. Therefore, many are making the difficult decision to close their businesses.

The current fashion scenario: mass fashion

On the one hand, there is mass fashion, encompassing both luxury brands and fast fashion. Despite their differences in price and perceived exclusivity, they follow the same model: overproduction, overconsumption, and exploitation of natural resources, labour, and human rights.
What do mass brands do? Business as usual; now cloaked in a veneer of greenwashing. And what do people want from them? Business as usual. Greenwashing allows consumers to feel comfortable with their purchases and lifestyles. We can affirm this because, even though consumers are aware of brands’ unfair practices towards people and the planet, they continue to support them wholeheartedly.

Niche brands and independent labels

On the other hand, there are niche designers, or small independent labels who produce limited quantities, creating a leaner and respectful business. Their prices are much higher than fast fashion for obvious reasons, yet lower than luxury brands. Unfortunately, according to Financial Times Fashion, many independent labels have had to close their doors this year. Although the article focuses on the US situation, it’s no different in Europe.

What happens to them, as well as to the independent retailers who support them? People complain about their prices, showing little understanding or respect for their work. In the end, what do they do? Consumers often choose fast fashion or discounted luxury brands while preaching sustainability and human rights support.


So, who supports independent labels? A very tiny percentage of free thinkers. Perhaps not enough to sustain their businesses. The risk of a polarised fashion industry is very strong. Based on this brief exploration, we must ask: will information and education ever contribute to creating a more diverse fashion scenario?  Or are we doomed to an irresponsible and destructive mass fashion?

Share your thoughts with us. We’d love to hear from you!

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What Does it Mean to Be a Fashion Designer Today?

Emerging Brands & Investors: Between Change and Status Quo

What does it mean to be a fashion designer today? Launching a brand in today’s fashion landscape is a complex and challenging endeavour. But most follow outdated rules, missing the crux of the matter.

Aspiring designers often invest heavily in their education, attending expensive fashion design schools. However, upon graduation, they face a harsh reality: many brands prefer to hire celebrities to design collections, capitalizing on their fame rather than nurturing new talent. Perhaps someone does the actual work while the celebrity of the moment enjoys the spotlight. But that’s what it is.

New brands & investors

So, young and brave creatives launch their namesake brand. That step demands immense hard work, effort, commitment, and consistency. But once they enter the market, these small, independent brands realize that the panorama is crowded. Very crowded. Most importantly, to survive in such a competitive world, they need financial backing.

That seems to be the foundation upon which AZ Factory launched the new AZ Academy: teaching how to attract investors in the fashion field.

So, is it all about that? If a brand finds an investor, does the journey become easy? Money undeniably helps. But it comes with its own set of challenges. When big companies invest in a brand, designers lose the creative freedom that inspired them to start their journey in the first place. Profit margins and commercial viability take precedence over creativity and individual liberty. For instance, consider the case of Martin Margiela.
After his brand was acquired by OTB Group, he found himself increasingly constrained by the demands of a fast-paced, novelty-obsessed, and hyper-communicated fashion industry. The pressure to constantly produce new collections and maintain commercial success stifled his creative vision, leading him to leave his own brand. 

Now, let’s be clear. You won’t hear us saying money isn’t fundamental when launching and sustaining a brand. But, in this specific context of deep change, we need more than that. Priorities have changed, and we cannot separate fashion from the current cultural context. Does it make sense for a well-funded brand to promote huge collections, pre-collections and showcasing hundreds of samples, encouraging overconsumption? Therefore, perpetrating the same old overproduction pattern in a world on the edge of ecological breakdown?

Indeed, we cannot understand brands, established or new, who cannot distance themselves from this dangerous thought.

Conclusion: what does it mean to be a fashion designer today?

Launching a brand today is not just about finding investors. It goes far beyond that. Being a designer in the modern world is about having a vision – envisioning the future. It involves asking oneself: What future do I see? Do I want to maintain the status quo, or do I want to wipe out everything and start something better?

Well, corporations are not interested in that. That’s why we wonder if it makes sense to search for that kind of investor. Or is it better to clench your teeth and stay small, independent and free to bring about change?

Business as usual doesn’t work. New rules, new systems, and new ways of interacting with the audience. That is what we need.

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Dior in Court Administration & the Case of Luxury Fashion

Is Luxury Fashion Sustainable and Ethical as They Claim?

Dior in court administration highlights the case of luxury fashion, bringing to light a harsh reality. Luxury brands pride themselves on labelling their products and practices as the only sustainable and ethical fashion. But the truth is way far from that high-standard patina. The reality diverges significantly from the beautiful policies displayed on their websites or the public declarations made during panels, events and fashion shows.

Luxury & sustainability: the image of dedication

Let’s take a step back. In 2019, magazines and millennials applauded Maria Grazia Chiuri for explicitly tackling sustainability. “A topic she’s grappled with privately for some time and that’s becoming a growing focus at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the luxury conglomerate that owns Dior,” you can read on WWD.

The same WWD article notes: “The group recently bought a stake in the Stella McCartney brand, known for its green credentials, and appointed photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, founder of the Good Planet foundation, as an advisory board member. LVMH is set to unveil further environmental initiatives at a press conference in Paris on Wednesday.”

The news: Dior in court administration

Now, back to the present day. According to Reuters, “an Italian subsidiary of French luxury giant LVMH that makes Dior-branded handbags was placed under court administration on Monday, after a probe alleged it had subcontracted work to Chinese-owned firms that mistreated workers.”

Italian police conducted inspections at four small suppliers operating in the Milan area. The staff lived and worked “in hygiene and health conditions that are below the minimum required by an ethical approach.” Additionally, the workers had to sleep in the workplace to ensure “manpower available 24 hours a day.” Moreover, safety devices had been removedfrom the machinery to allow faster operation.

The current investigation into labour exploitation within Italy’s fashion supply chains is shattering the immaculate image brands use to describe themselves. Indeed, it exposes the connection between luxury brands and sweatshop conditions.

Specifically, this is the Milan court’s third decision this year regarding pre-emptive measures. In April, they accused Giorgio Armani Operations of inadequate supplier oversight. 

However, Reuters has seen a copy of the latest decision: the court stated that prosecutors alleged the rule violations were not isolated incidents among fashion companies operating in Italy, but rather a systematic issue driven by the pursuit of higher profits.

“It’s not something sporadic that concerns single production lots, but a generalised and consolidated manufacturing method,” the document said.

No comment from LVMH. Armani stated that it has always implemented controls to “minimize abuses in the supply chain.” Fun, isn’t it? Is a 2/3€ per hour pay a minimisation of abuses?

More data on investigations here:

Behind the Seams: Fashion Industry & Forced Labour

And here:

Workers’ Rights in the Fashion Industry

The case of luxury fashion

In conclusion, let’s repeat this concept once again: fast fashion and luxury fashion are two faces of the same coin. For different budgets, but operate through the same exploitative pattern of overproduction.

Is luxury fashion sustainable and ethical, as they claim? Not at all. It’s a marketing manipulation. Mass-produced garments made in sweatshop conditions are neither sustainable nor ethical. High-end brands sell a dream, an illusion of luxe. And, If quality is an illusion crafted by marketing, so is luxury. What once was known as luxury fashion isn’t really luxury anymore.

Indeed, luxury fashion has nothing to do with true luxury.

The absence of moral fabric within the industry is evident, and consumers demonstrate disregard by ignoring this issue despite the wealth of available information.

The point is: does it still make sense to support these brands?

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Shiny Objects Syndrome: Unveiling Psychology Behind Consumer Behaviour

Exploring the Paradox: Why People Forget Reality and Support Exploitation in Fashion

Shiny Object Syndrome is the psychological idea where a person moves from one subject or object to the next, creating a constant distraction and a constant need for something new and exciting. This syndrome is present in the fashion industry with fashion trends, technology, news, social media, etc. 

Shiny Object Syndrome: encouraging overproduction from brands

In terms of the fashion industry, the control of Shiny Object Syndrome over society is what encourages fashion corporations to overproduce and contribute towards the abundance of textile waste and exploitation of labour. But our need for something shiny and new is costing the planet purchase by purchase. 

Unbreakable reputations despite concerning news
In April 2024, the Italian police exposed Giorgio Armani operations for using Chinese workers under an unauthorized subcontractor to make handbags and accessories. These workers were subject to unsafe working conditions and exploitation. Armani can also be traced to major water pollution scandals in China. Despite these concerning allegations, Armani maintains their reputation of being the pride of Italy and a loved brand worldwide. This contradiction is evident in other brands as well. 

The result: a vicious cycle
News and trends circulate so much that we forget the significance of events. Thus, when Armani releases their new collection we are too fascinated by the new fabrics, styles, and costs to remember how exactly these novelties were made. Thus, the Shiny Object Syndrome. Ultimately, we are showing brands that they can exploit human rights and the planet and get away with it. This must stop. 

Stopping Shiny Object Syndrome

Shiny Object Syndrome can reflect in many aspects of our life from relationships to our purchasing habits. If we are always searching for the next exciting thing, we will never be satisfied with what we have. 

To avoid shiny object syndrome you can:

1. Set achievable short-term goals
Setting short-term goals can divert our focus towards positivity and improvement during the week and help us work towards a greater goal. Personal motivation is key.

2. Focus on experience rather than substance and find meaning in smaller things
Spend money on experiences like dinner with friends and plan these experiences for something to look forward to. Also, find meaning in smaller things by reviewing your day and asking yourself what made you smile and how you can make someone smile tomorrow. 
When you do buy, buy thoughtfully. Invest in items where you can read about the story of the designer and feel the craftsmanship. Items that are unique to you and not just a trend.

3. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude always. Gratitude can be as simple as being grateful for a sunny day or the flowers blooming. Once we see what we appreciate, we can appreciate even more and accept a beautiful life.

Gratitude turns what you have into abundance.
Gratitude is so much more than saying thank you.
Gratitude changes your perspective of your world.

What really matters

In conclusion, brands are constantly feeding off our bad habits, not only exploiting their workers but they’re also exploiting their customers. Shiny Object Syndrome increases the profit of brands while decreasing your overall well-being and satisfaction with life. It is better for your health and for our social and economic environments to disengage from Shiny Object Syndrome and focus on what really matters to you.

✍ Credit: Post written by Joelle Elliott, an American scholar pursuing studies in Fashion at Cattolica University in Milan; currently interning with suite123.

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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!

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