The recent Spinoff expose that WORLD, one of New Zealand’s most iconic, avant-garde designer brands, sell Made-In-NZ labelled cotton T-shirts made in Bangladesh, is just an extreme example of the rampant greenwashing in New Zealand fashion.
They have been lying to us. And they are not the only ones.
Like many nationals, Kiwis are fiercely supportive of locally-made products. They want to support the local economy. However, people I have spoken to who want to buy sustainably also believe that NZ-made is the safe choice, because surely, we think, if it’s made in New Zealand it’ll be fair trade and safe to our local ecology.
But that’s simply not possible when it comes to cotton. No new cotton clothing is made entirely in New Zealand. That’s right. Nothing! New Zealand does not farm cotton, organic or otherwise. Nor do we have cotton mills.
We do have garment manufacturing businesses however, so cotton t-shirts can be constructed in New Zealand from imported goods (or of course upcycled from deadstock or old stock).
Supporting the local economy is great, but unfortunately the sentiment is a little late when it comes to fashion. When Kiwi consumers (and the most Western consumers) decided they preferred to buy cheaper, faster, want-it-now fashion, many local brands sought a more competitive model, manufacturing outside of New Zealand.
When these brands went overseas, a lot of local garment production talent stopped too. Industrial machinery was sold, or is by now outmoded.
For many years, iconic Kiwi brands that were once made in NZ, continued to trade on the general consumer perception that they were locally made. Slowly, over the years the wording has evolved to be accurate and on the right side of Commerce Commission regulations. Of course, in WORLD’s case they didn’t even bother with that. Not really. The neck tags state fabrique en Nouvelle-Zelande (Made in New Zealand), yet the actual care label states where it is made.
What’s worse is that Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet (she’s was made a dame for services to fashion!!), founder of WORLD, denies misleading the public, calling them stupid for thinking the tag represents the entire garment, and that cotton t-shirts cannot be made in NZ. Her further defence is the tag – the carboard printed tag – was made locally. I mean.. WHAT!? Serious!!
And worse still is that she has been outspoken about the ‘slave labour’ other brands use. Wow, what a hypocrite.
Here’s the full story. It’s been going off across local media today, and I’m actually pleased that finally the Kiwi public at large will become a bit more savvy. More so, I am proud that they have taken issue with this! Good on us for caring!
The other problem with greenwashing is that Kiwi brands aren’t transparent about their garment supply and manufacture. Claire Hart from Tearfund, that publishes the ethical fashion report, lamented the lack of supply chain transparency in NZ in a recent interview – hmm, now it makes more sense! Of course! They don’t want us to know it’s made overseas.
Iconic street wear brands like Huffer and Federation are two prime examples. Do they know who is making our clothes? Do children sew the Huffer Puffer jackets that are so well-known and loved in New Zealand? We don’t know. They don’t share their supplier information.
There is a likelihood that garment makers in Bangladesh, China and elsewhere who are creating some of our Kiwi faves may earn too little to ever get out of poverty and debt, who may be exposed to insecure work and sexual harrasment as well as unsafe conditions, like those that worked in Rana Plaza, the garment factory that collapsed five years ago killing more than a thousand workers.
Furthermore, WORLD, Huffer, Federation plus more charge as if the clothes really were made here where manufacturing costs are higher (because we pay fairly over here, and invest in infrastructure).
It’s a slap on both cheeks – Neither locally-made, nor with any ethics.
Kiwi brands that use overseas suppliers who are ethical, and/or use organic cotton grown elsewhere, and that truthfully state as much, may not even get a look in when well-meaning, proud Kiwis want to support “NZ-made”, or long-standing Kiwi labels first.
Retail NZ general manager of public affairs, Greg Harford, said in this article that, “If your product is not manufactured here or substantially manufactured here you can’t apply a New Zealand made tag to it.”
Perhaps, like a jar of ready-made sauce that I buy in the supermarket, cotton clothing labels should state: “Made in New Zealand from imported goods”.
What do you think?