Global fashion supply chains are complex.
It’s often hard to find ethical clothing manufacturers who can give you confidence in their standards.
And you’re under pressure to minimise your costs and increase your profits.
The answer is often to look overseas, to countries where labour is cheaper than in the UK. Turkey, Malaysia, Romania, Bangladesh and India all have thriving garment manufacturing sectors. They also often have low wages and poor, even unsafe, working conditions.
The Rana Plaza disaster and changing attitudes
Media attempts to raise awareness of unethical practices have been happening since the 1980s.
The tragic Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in 2013 led many consumers, as well as fashion brands, to think deeply about factory conditions. 1217 workers died when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed. The factory’s owners had ignored cracks developing in its structure and ordered its workers to keep sewing, despite the obvious danger.
Rana Plaza meant that making ethical choices has become much more important to many consumers. According to Mintel, 76% of consumers claim to care about the ethical and green credentials of their products. If you want those 76% to buy from you, you need to be able to answer the question ‘who made my clothes?’
We looked in detail at the core ethical issues for fashion brands in this post: How to be one of the most ethical clothing brands in the UK.
They include working conditions, pay, child labour, exploitation and health and safety violations.
How can you be sure you’re buying from an ethical supplier, and not unknowingly contributing to another potential Rana Plaza?
How to find ethical clothing manufacturers
- Look for recommendations. It’s not always possible to visit suppliers: a recommendation is the next best thing. Other businesses won’t always be happy to disclose their suppliers – so build relationships. Network at trade events, build your online network and sign up to the Ethical Fashion Forum.
- Be prepared to ask questions. Find out what the factory’s true manufacturing capacity is and how many workers they have. Are they packing in more people than they should into a small space? Find out who else they supply – if other brands you know share your ethical standards use them, they’re probably a good choice. Ask if they have a code of conduct too.
- Look for certification. Suppliers certified by an independent third party like the Fair Labor Association.
- Use ethical clothing manufacturers in the UK. Established UK clothing manufacturers will be happy to show you around and introduce you to the people who’ll bring your designs to life.
- Research. Find out all you can about the manufacturer, the manager and the region they’re based in. Often, there are geographical clusters of factories using unethical practices.