By Jo Salter, Founder of Where Does It Come From?
Transparency in Fashion – the Buzzword at Copenhagen Fashion Summit
It seems that the latest trend in fashion is transparency – knowing where your clothes came from and how they were made. As Stephanie Klotz recently announced in Sustainable Brands ‘Transparency has become a bit of a buzzword in the fashion industry and judging by the number of times it was mentioned at this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit, it is a trend that we are not going to shake anytime soon’. At Where Does It Come From? we are delighted to hear it – as the name suggests we are all about sharing this information with our customers, and have been since we set up in early 2013.
At Copenhagen the founder of Fashion Revolution, Orsola de Castro talked about the barriers and benefits to transparency in Fashion. ‘The fashion industry was built on secrecy and elitism; it was opaque. Transparency is disruptive – it that sense, it’s a breath of fresh air and a useful weapon for change. We want to know how our clothes are being made, wherever they are manufactured. But the fact that we want to expose and understand the whole of the supply chain as a system is a barrier itself’.
Barriers to Transparency in Fashion – Culture, Price and Habit
Certainly at Where Does It Come From? we have seen a growing interest in people wanting reassurance that their clothing hasn’t had negative effects on makers or on the environment. Customer feedback tells us that exploring garment stories and getting to know who made their clothes is very attractive to them. However there is still a long way to go before this translates into the majority of people being willing to change their ingrained shopping habits – impulse buying based on price is still culturally the norm, and many just cannot resist what they perceive as a bargain.
At our recent Ethical Brands for Fashion Revolution event in London we also had a discussion panel on transparency in fashion. The key issues seemed to be around how transparent brands can compete with much cheaper alternatives and how to communicate the issues to the general public so that they understand that when they are paying low prices then the knock on effects on the garment workers and the planet are most likely to be extremely negative. As I said during the session, customers know in their hearts that buying a garment for a few pounds is not right, but we allow ourselves to suffer from ethical blindness. You can read a great summary of this panel session by Ethica Magazine.
Transparency in the Food Industry
The growth of the market for food with a transparent supply chain has had a huge increase – farmer’s markets, butchers that tell you about the farm where your animal was reared and even chocolate bars (I discovered the delicious offering from Equal Exchange recently which had photos of its cocoa farmers on the inside of the wrapper!).
Transparency in the wine industry is also a growing area. At a recent wine fair run by Naked Wines I was able to discuss the wines I was tasting with the people who had actually grown the grapes!
I was delighted when on holiday with my family last year to discover that the hotel (in Italy) had it’s own orange trees in the garden. Each morning we could squeeze our own juice. My children were thrilled and spent most of each breakfast at the squeezer! Nutrition, education and traceability all at the same time….
Transparency Makes You Happier
At Where Does It Come From? we’ve always argued that just as knowing where your food comes from makes it taste better, knowing the story behind your clothes helps you build a deeper and more lasting relationship with them and ultimately contributes to your happiness and positive mental health. The alternate, and more common, scenario of fast fashion and throwaway culture leads to dissatisfaction and discontent. Truly. It’s not just me saying this, read what Christine Louise Hohlbaum says in Psychology Today.
Personally I’m delighted, and also relieved, that transparency in fashion is finally being taken so seriously. One impact that smaller businesses such as ourselves can make is to drive up customer expectations. If a small brand can tell you the story behind your clothes, then why can’t a big one? Please – ask them the question…..