Fashion Revolution week ends, but the cause doesn’t.
Never stop questioning who made your clothes.
During Fash Rev Week, as they call it, I asked Ice breaker, a New Zealand outdoor active wear brand that specialises in Merino wool, and Everlane, a US-based online fashion retailer with strong transparency principles, about their ethics.
I approached Everlane because I like their clothes, and have read over and over that they are ethical. They get the ethical badge because they divulge where their garments are made, that they audit suppliers, and show images of the supplier factories. But does that make them ethical? Not really as it turns out. They’ve been accused of greenwashing – when you use PR/marketing to exaggerate your ethical/sustainable values when unable to back it up – largely because the stories about their garment origin offer no real information about, for example, the safety of the factory and living wages, animal welfare, dye toxin disposal. I was a little heartbroken so I thought why not just ask. It is after all a week to be revolutionary!
I chose Ice Breaker because I love NZ-made merino clothing, and am a big outdoors fan. I own a pair of their leggings and they really served me well on a three-day hike. But the day that I drove out to go on my big walk I read that the Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion report ranked them the lowest of all NZ Brands. How disappointing.
Everlane was awesome in their reply. Not only did they take my email seriously but they explained in some detail their supplier compliance processes including instant dismissal over labour exploitation. They explained about their use of dyes, animal welfare, even going so far as to say that silk is generally not sourced without harm and is then best avoided. While they still didn’t divulge some aspects I felt assured by the following, a small part of the email:
“… as we continue to grow as a company we strive to know more about the details of our products–from seed to stitch–in part so we can be as fully transparent as possible with our customers.
Regarding our manufacturing partners, all of our factories abide by standards set by the International Labor Organization (goo.gl/ZVPdgU), which include prohibitions on compulsory and child labor, discrimination, and the right to free association and collective bargaining. In fact, if we encounter evidence of child labor, human trafficking, physical/sexual/psychological abuse, or discriminatory practices we will cut ties with the guilty party immediately.”
Most importantly, Everlane acknowledge they could do better and are improving everyday. They want to be regarded as an ethical brand. Am I being greenwashed because I like their clothes? I’m going to get a second opinion, so I’ll share what I find out.
I have yet to hear back from Ice Breaker, but to be fair it was only today that I got in touch! Again… I’ll update as always.
Did you get in touch with anyone? What did they say?
I’ll leave you with this pointer from Margaret Mead, borrowed from encircled. It resonates with me, not only because it’s true but because I studied anthropology and Margaret Mead was a well-known if sometimes controversial cultural anthropologist who studied people in the South Pacific not too far away from here as it happens.