Ethical Fashion Manufacturing: A Common-Sense Approach
So many designers and labels care deeply about ethical fashion and sustainability in their supply chain. All the attention has created a demand, and a financial incentive, for suppliers to provide higher levels of concern for the safety and health of their staff, as well as more environmentally-friendly options for the manufacturing process and supplies. With ethical fashion manufacturing in the spotlight, how do we as a company address respond to this demand?
The Dark Side of “Ethical” Fashion
Unfortunately, however, where there’s a financial incentive there’s also a motivation to bend the rules. This has lead to a “greenwashing” effect where suppliers can easily just employ these labels to lead consumers to believe that they’re contributing to something great when in fact it’s just more of the same old. It takes no effort at all to simply say “yes” when a client asks for organic cotton. Who’s going to know? There’s literally no way for a customer to know, so they have to trust the label. The label has to trust the manufacturer and the manufacturer has to trust the mill and the mill has to trust the filament supplier and they have to trust the cotton grower and………and…… Wow!
That’s a whole lotta trust right there! What do you think are the chances that just one person in that chain might tell a little white lie to make some extra money?
What IS Ethical Manufacturing?
There are lots of confusing terms to describe what is, in essence, a simple concept: A product or process that is in balance with the world and produced with the best intentions. There’s a vast complex universe of things to be considered: the ecology affected by the sourcing of the materials, the life cycle, the waste process, and of course the complicated lives and needs of those people who produce the items. If you go far enough down the rabbit hole, you’ll find faults with every product and various ways that the supply chain is out of balance with the positive intentions of the customer. So how can we navigate this complex web of truth & lies to find truly ethical fashion manufacturing options?
Certified by Prototype
Certified by Prototype is our answer to this dilemma. It’s not an “organic” certification, it’s not “fair trade”, it’s all of them and none of them. It’s what we call a Common Sense Certification. When evaluating a potential manufacturer or product, we simply evaluate the following:
- What are the working conditions like? Is it clean? Well lit? Does it appear to be a place that cares about the environment and its people?
- How are the workers treated? What are their hours? Are they cared for as if they were valuable, as if their personal health and safety are a concern to the company?
- Are the workers paid a living wage? Is healthcare available? What about holidays and paid time off?
- What is the quality of the products? Do they look as if they were built with pride and care? Or do they look like cheap, throw away type products?
- What is the supply chain? Do the decision makers care about where the raw materials come from? Do they care about the environmental impact?
- How is their customer service? Do they support their product? Do they receive repeat customers?
These are mostly all related to ethical concerns. All subjective of course and will have a wide variety of answers. But when you physically go into a business, meet the people there and have a good thorough look around, it generally becomes pretty obvious right away whether they meet this basic criteria. Some do, but sadly, most don’t meet the expectations of ethical manufacturing.
Who Will Watch the Watchmen?
You might be asking yourself, “How can we trust YOU?” That’s a valid question. We care deeply enough about these issues to work to try to solve them. We strive to provide our clients with only the best manufacturing options that fit with their goals. But you’re going to need more than that. You want proof and you’ll get it. We will be continuously documenting our suppliers who receive our certifications and will post the results for you to see. We will earn your trust, you’ll see!
Ethical Manufacturing Special Badges
Every supplier has their strengths and weaknesses. And every customer has different priorities. We recognize that and we want our clients to be able to find ethical manufacturers and suppliers whose values align better with their own. For that reason, in addition to being Certified by Prototype as an ethical manufacturer, we also recognize our suppliers and manufacturers for their own special strengths…
Women lead the vast majority of our client companies. Awesome right?! We want to give our clients the opportunity to work with other women in business. Together we rise! A Woman-Led certification signifies that the company is either owned or operated by a woman or team of women in leadership positions. Women make up the majority of the workers in most garment factories. But it is typically men who run the business. We believe that by encouraging woman-led companies, we can help to restore the balance.
An Inclusive certification means that the workplace is LGBT+ friendly, that the supplier does not discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation, and that it is a safe environment for those who might be vulnerable. Some of these businesses are owned or managed by LGBT+ or have a generally open-minded point of view. We do not give out this certification simply because an owner indicates a willingness to tolerate LGBT+. Keep in mind that most of our suppliers are in Indonesia, where it can sometimes be a significant risk to be open, due to societal and family pressures. We give this certification out to those brave and kind ethical manufacturers who truly deserve special recognition.
Family Owned and Operated
This might be an easier badge to earn, but for many of our clients and for us, businesses owned by families often align with our values. Family businesses honor tradition, loyalty, relationships and a generally better sense of integration with their communities. A supplier needs to not only be family-owned, they must also embody the positive qualities we associate with ethical manufacturing to earn this badge.
We award the Ethical badge to a manufacturer who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Not only do they meet the needs of customers and staff, but they also must really demonstrate a powerful commitment to making the world a better place. A truly ethical manufacturer spares no expense in providing the best workplace possible for their staff, such as daycare for staff children, special training and continuing education.
The Giving Back badge signifies that the supplier takes extra care of its people and community by participating in charitable work. Giving back to the community can take many forms: regular service work, financial support or other activities. This badge requires an ethical manufacturer to make a next-level commitment to making the world a better place.