The problems of the Fashion Industry
Everyone wants to look gorgeous, but these days, consumers are increasingly aware that this comes at a high price. It takes a toll on the environment and a cost to others. We are being made increasingly aware of unethical practices within the fashion industry, there are often stories in the news of sweat shop labor in developing countries, children being exploited and people working in dangerous conditions for poor wages.
Fashionistas don’t want that on their conscience, so there’s a growing market for ethical fashion. It creates a problem for businesses though, trying to do the right thing, versus maximizing profits. The fashion industry is a highly competitive market. People want cheap products, but they also want ethical products. It’s difficult to bring both to the high street.
You can see the trend towards ethical products in the increase in popularity of vintage clothing, upcycling and the ever popular Swishing parties where people swap their old clothes. Not only are people getting a bargain, which is important in these slightly austere times, but it makes them feel good. Recycling is big business. Poor ethical conduct is very bad from a marketing perspective. Any company found to be exploiting their workforce will make the headlines and that is very bad press! There is no glamour in slave labor, people will boycott a company that doesn’t treat people fairly.
Knowledge of bad practice stays in the mind, and it just takes the shine off a new pair of shoes. It’s hard to feel like a million dollars when you know people have suffered to create your new look. People don’t want that on their conscience and especially not for something as frivolous as a new designer handbag.
Even well-intentioned ethical business can be a problem for businesses if it is not well thought through and well structured. Ethical practices must be solid, and not simply a marketing gimmick. Consumers soon see through a thinly veiled cause marketing campaign. Simply running a month-long campaign pledging money to a good cause does not counteract paying your workforce poor rates or using materials from non-sustainable sources. Small initiatives are not enough if there is not transparency of workforce wages, business practices and supply chain. The supply chain for the fashion industry is very complicated.
From fabrics to buttons and packaging, there is a lot involved. Problems can arise when fashion houses demand huge orders with a fast turnaround. The business may source their products or workforce from one company, pay a decent wage and have ensured good working conditions and sustainable raw materials, but the businesses employed to supply, can often be found to be subcontracting the work. Taking a profit for themselves and employing unethical practices further down the chain.
We love to shop, trying on a sexy new pair of killer heels and checking out the latest trends is a favored hobby, but if it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, well it’s spoiled the fun! People want to pursue their love of fashion without any negatives. While they may feel a pang of guilt about spending too much money on a fabulous new handbag, they certainly don’t want to feel guilty about how that bag was produced. For many years now, we’ve been aware of how our cosmetics are produced and testing on animals for cosmetic products has become increasingly unpopular.
The Solutions for the Fashion Industry
These days nearly all the products on the shelves are clearly marked ‘not tested on animals’. This is because the consumer demands it. People buy these products above products that have been tested on animals. Consumer demand leads business practice, and we are likely to see the same with ethical practice in the fashion industry. Ethical fashion is no longer a novelty, it’s a prerequisite. The solutions for the Fashion Industry While it might seem tricky to use organic, fairly traded materials, and fairly paid labor, an ethical fashion business can still be highly successful. These days, consumers like to know how their clothing was produced, where and by whom. The want to know where the materials comes from, if they’re from a sustainable source, and if the person making that garment has been treated fairly. Ethical fashion is in itself a fashion statement and a little extra cost on that must-have dress is well worth it for peace of mind regarding the production of that garment.
A company with transparent ethical practices will be a go-to for the savvy clothes shopper. As the ethical fashion industry grows, to satisfy consumer demands, it becomes the norm rather than a novelty exception. If we’re all demanding ethical practices, then companies are increasingly competing on a level playing field.
More laws are being brought in to eliminate exploitation, so the cheap ‘slave labor’ production is becoming increasingly difficult. Which of course is no bad thing. If the legal requirements and the consumer demands are high enough, the whole ‘make it cheap, sell it cheap’ mentality will become a thing of the past for many fashion retailers. Doing the right thing transparently can be very good from a marketing perspective. There are rules and regulations in place, industry standards to adhere to, but go above and beyond this with your ethical practices, and you really have something to shout about. Being truly ethical may mean compromising on fast turnaround, but it’s important to focus on the long-term benefits this good practice will bring to your business, as well as the potential to avoid a major catastrophe if a less than ethical practice should be made public knowledge.
With social media so prevalent these days, word spreads fast and has a great and immediate impact. Unethical businesses can no longer sweep their bad practices under the carpet. It has already been proven by many fashion companies that you can make a profit while also being ethical and environmentally responsible.
A beautiful garment with a beautiful story behind it is worth so much more than one without. Customers who know that by buying their winter coat from you, means workers with a better standard of living and children getting an education can feel happier about their purchase, and the fashion industry is strongly focused on giving people that feeling of happiness. Give them that feeling with a gorgeous garment, but also with the story behind it, and you’re onto a winner.
A close partnership between businesses and their workforce and suppliers is essential. On site visits to assess safety and morale is very important. If the workers are unhappy, there must be a reason. It’s not enough to presume everything is fine and ethical just because you’re paying a fair wage. Is the money getting to where it should be going, or is your supplier sub-contracting out your work for less money? Ignorance of such a situation will mean nothing if a negative story hits the headlines regarding the production of your garments, and there are many such stories. In recent years there have been several stories that have caused great furor in the press.
Stories of child labor, and even deaths when unsafe buildings have collapsed and killed workers. If these workers are making your clothing, it will be your business that gets the blame. Whether you knew about it or not, public opinion will state that it was your business to know about it. A disaster like this brings so much adverse publicity it can be very hard to get back your good reputation and of course, profits suffer badly. A good reputation can take decades to build, but it can be destroyed overnight. A system of order tracking and accountability is vital. To protect your own business and to protect everyone who works for you and supplies to you. Every item must be examined in great detail. Fairness to workers, and materials sourced without environmental impact must be at the forefront of your mission.
We are a changing society, a society with a large social conscience. Tap into this and not only will your business be doing the right thing, but you’ll be doing the right thing by your customers too. The customers that want to have the latest trends, those designer items to show off to their friends, but without any guilt associated with the purchase. Give them a clean conscience, and you’ll have one for yourself too.
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About the author
Emelyn Bagatsing, Chief Empathy Officer of Lincoln Martin Strategic Marketing.
Daughter of a public school teacher, now a certified marketing diva. Ems has one biological son, but she is a loving mother to hundreds of children in Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa and India. Her passion for service stemmed from being a member of cause-related organizations during her university days: Haribon, a formation within the University of the Philippines that caters to environmental causes and Gabriela, a national association aimed at promoting social justice and equality. Now based in Dubai, Ems spearheads Child-centric activities in the city, especially during special occasions, including Christmas, Easter and the UAE National Day. She also leads in conducting breast cancer awareness programs and in mobilizing hundreds of people for a group march every October. Inspired by a close friend who lost her battle against breast cancer, Ems is taking the initiative to advance the cause of breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment.
Since 1995, Ems has been an avid supporter of and donor to Operation Smile, the Red Cross and Child Fund International. Naturally inclined towards safeguarding the welfare of children, Ems supports various orphanages, educational institutions and healthcare facilities for children.
She loves to have coffee partnered with a slice of heaven at the Cheesecake Factory. She can spend hours talking about shoes, bags and fashion accessories. She is a frustrated singer and a great cook.
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