Respected Fashion designer Katherine Hamnett made a number of comments about her industry citing that it is ‘a stinking business’ and ‘most of our clothes are covered in blood’.
If you work in the fashion / lifestyle/ sportswear business you do have a choice. You can pay workers a living wage, use less harmful chemicals and use factories which recycle their toxic dye water. However there is a price to pay; increased manufacturing costs. Paying a living wage is slightly more expensive, less harmful substances are slightly more expensive than their cheaper more hazardous chemicals and factories who recycle dye water require investment in purification processes compared with factories who just discharge dye water into local rivers and lakes causing wide spread pollution.
If you select a higher ethical path then you have to directly compete with other brands in the market place who take the cheaper manufacturing option. And through their decisions will have a cost advantage over you. Katherine Hamnett suggests large fines should be imposed on fashion brands that use sweatshops and cause wide spread pollution when producing your clothes. Creating a more ethical and fairer fashion industry. Do you agree with her? Such fines would need to be in the order of millions of pounds to make any difference to the larger fashion leaders.
How do consumers know which brands are involved in these polluting practices? The fashion industry has very been successful in creating positive brand images by paying out millions to celebrities and sport stars to endorse their clothing.
In 2011 Greenpeace launched an initiative called Detox, which primarily concentrates of gathering evidence of toxic chemicals being washed untreated into local rivers from factory outlets used by fashion brands.
Nineteen global fashion leaders have committed to Detox in response to the growing international campaign:
Nike, Adidas Puma, H&M, M&S, C&A, Li-Ning, Zara, Mango, Esprit, Levi's, Uniqlo, Benetton, Victoria's Secret, G-Star Raw, Valentino, Coop, Canepa, and Burberry.
By agreeing to Detox these 19 brands are indirectly admitting to causing water pollution during the manufacturing of their clothing. Otherwise there wouldn't be any evidence against them or any requirement for them to clean up their practices, under pressure from Greenpeace activists who can generate bad publicity and bring awareness to customers of these unpalatable truths hidden away by the fashion industry.
Therefore it would be reasonable for consumers to avoid buying from these 19 brands until after the year 2020. The date set by Detox for these 19 brands to clean up their act. Unfortunately after 3 years, some signature brands, notably Nike and Adidas, have made little or no progress. It will be interesting to learn what additional pressure Greenpeace can exert on these brands to comply.
Brands such as GAP, Primark and Disney who failed to respond to the evidence submitted by Greenpeace should be avoided altogether.
You can always seek out brands who manufacture your clothes in a more ethical and environmentally friendly way.