Transparency is a buzz word in the fashion industry these days, but what does it really mean? As consumers we are becoming more aware of what we are buying and want to know the provenance of them. Who made them, were the workers well paid and working in safe environments and what are they made from? Some of us would also ask what impact the materials and processes of manufacturing our purchase has had on the workers and the environment.
Supply chain transparency is the amount of information that a company makes available about all these things. Who their suppliers are, where they source their products from and how and if their factories are inspected. The supply chain is the people and resources involved in moving the product from the supplier to you, the buyer.
In this consumer lead, tech-savvy world we should be able to access this information freely and easily. However some brands have no idea who makes their clothes and what impact they have and some quite honestly don't seem to care. We have all seen the headlines when a big high street name has been caught out using child workers or paying slave wages and I (and probably many of you) assumed that after having been publicly shamed they would get their act together. Sadly this isn't always the case. There are repeat offenders and some that feign complete ignorance and shift the blame. However most brands are now starting to realise that transparency is the way forward and enables a brand to be truly credible and authentic even when they have to be honest about problems they are trying to address.
As a case in point, back in the 90's, Nike were seen to be one of the worst culprits dogged by reports of sweatshops but are now leading the way in transparency. There are over 150 reports of Nike factory inspections available to read on the Fair Labor Association's website that attest to this. This was change brought about by activism and boycott more than 20 years ago and which now gives the consumer a great power in influencing brand behaviour through our social media channels . If we aren't happy with what they are doing or want to know more, we should say so and they need to listen. The more we know, or demand to know, as buyers of any kind of product the more we can choose to buy according to our ethics and support good practice around the world.
Patagonia uses very clear and creative ways to show complete transparency about their supply chain and is proud to do so. Their customers appreciate this and it becomes part of the story behind the garments themselves. How fascinating is it to learn how many people it took to create your purchase, how many sheep to provide the wool or how many miles it has travelled to get to the store?
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