Who Made Your Clothes? Support Local To Take Control Of Your Wardrobe

by: Rosie Dalton | 5 years ago | Features

Image: Ken is a Melbourne lingerie label which uses Lenzing Modal which is knitted, dyed, cut and sewn in Melbourne.

According to Fashion Revolution, we now face a system of fashion business that is broken. Operating in a fundamentally unsustainable way, we simply cannot continue to chase the cheapest labour and exploit natural resources forever. Eventually, they will run out. However, locally made clothing is uniquely positioned for increased ethical consciousness. Defined as garments made, designed and constructed in the hometown or country of the brand, these products allow brands to contribute to the local economy, while also having greater control over their supply chains. Producing locally not only supports small producers in the process, but it also allows designers to be reactive to best sellers. This, in turn, can reduce waste, landfill and the company’s overall carbon footprint.

Locally made clothing is far from the norm, though. In fact, based on value,92% of clothes sold in Australia are imported, according to the Council of Textiles and Fashion Industries of Australia. And primarily, garment manufacturing takes place in poorer developing nations, passing through many different hands and even continents before making it into our wardrobes. Local manufacture, on the other hand, allows designers to have shorter lead times and keep a closer eye on both production and attention to detail. Producing locally also tends to be smaller in scope; pushing back against the dangerous machine of mass-produced fast fashion — an industry that’s now the second most polluting in the world, next to big oil. The National Center for Biotechnology Information refers to this phenomenon as "waste couture". “Globalization has made it possible to produce clothing at increasingly lower prices,” they argue. “Prices so low that many consumers consider this clothing to be disposable. Some call it ‘fast fashion,’ the clothing equivalent of fast food.”

Unfortunately, as The Financial Review points out, “since Australian clothing brand Bonds slashed its local workforce and took its manufacturing to China in 2009, scores of other companies have followed suit.” The Bonds move is one that Pacific Brands defended as necessary for keeping the company afloat. However, local manufacturing still does contribute to Australia’s gross domestic product and exports, so it’s important for economic growth that brands remain committed to keeping their production local wherever possible. Sometimes this means tighter margins and smaller production runs — an approach adopted by companies like Cue Clothing Co., for example, which works closely with 16 local factories. “Our bottom line is very strong. We are a very lean business,” Cue co-founder Rodney Levis has told The Financial Review. “We still operate like we began – like we still only have two small stores in The Strand Arcade [in the Sydney CBD]." But it is worth it, because not only does this mean that companies like Cue can take charge of their own quality control, it also means they can bring valuable labour to the local workforce. According to Ethical Clothing Australia, for instance, Cue is “the largest womenswear manufacturer in Australia. This investment in local industry enables Cue to have longstanding relationships while also remaining ethically conscious.”

Unfortunately, the majority of clothing is still made overseas though. And what fashion’s vivid patterns and rich embroidery can tend to obscure is that it’s not just brands who have an impact, but also the myriad other companies along the supply chain too. As Fashion Revolution’s White Paper points out, “private labels (suppliers selling finished products to other brands) are virtually invisible to consumers. Your common shopper has no knowledge that this part of the supply chain exists - and this is a very important and profitable part of the industry.” Of course, manufacturing locally doesn’t always guarantee a 100% local product. Often, brands have to source their textiles from overseas because there aren’t necessarily the resources for this locally. China and India, for example, are now the world’s largest textile exporters, taking over from Germany and Italy. And according to data released by the Apparel Export Promotion Council (the industry body for garment exporters), India's textiles exports in 2013 were estimated at $40 billion, compared with China's $274 billion.

With this in mind, local manufacturers still need to be diligent about investigating their entire supply chain. But what local production does afford brands is the chance to take more control over these processes. Armed with greater knowledge about where their fabrics have originated, local brands can strives to make their garments as ethical as possible. And by supporting these brands, we as consumers, can also have this affect on our own wardrobes

By making informed consumer decisions and supporting local wherever possible, we not only help to support local jobs and industry, but can also contribute to improving fashion’s environmental footprint. Shockingly, Fashion Revolution estimates that a single textile mill can produce from 5% up to 25% of pre-consumer textile waste on its total yearly production. “Over-production runs and liability stock from manufacturers and mills are often absorbed by the local market or sold via third parties,” they point out. “Damaged clothing and discarded rolls of branded and/or recognisable fabrics are regularly slashed, landfilled and incinerated to protect intellectual property and brand image. This reality is hidden. Investigative reporters have tried and failed to find out what really happens with pre-consumer waste.” If local production can help to slow this down, then, and offer a more ethically conscious alternative, what more incentive do we really need?

At Well Made Clothes, we believe there is great value to be found in locally made fashion. Not just in terms of the creativity of these products, but also in terms of supporting local economy and employment, while also reducing fashion’s environmental impact. This is what our Local Value is all about — we support brands that produce in their hometown or country and want to make it as easy as possible for you to do the same. With this in mind, all of the brands within our Local value focus on constructing their garments within their local area. This helps to support an increasingly threatened trade and encourages the continuation of small production against mass production. As a result, these brands have the power to be reactive to what they sell, what is needed, and to reduce waste with the flexibility of a locally made approach. Community is essentially about giving back — by supporting your neighbourhood, you too can do just that.

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