Three Name Brands Whose Steps Toward Transparency May Surprise You
Vietnam. El Salvador. China. Mexico. Bangladesh. For the first time, I thought of people from each of these countries as I read the labels on clothing at a department store. I had just finished reading Kelsey Timmerman’s, “Where Am I Wearing?,” and I wondered, Who made these clothes? What are their lives like? Are they treated well? I felt like there was no way to find the answers to my questions, so I left the store without buying anything. That’s how I began my decade-long journey of buying fair trade, B Corp, DoneGood, and secondhand apparel that continues today.
Yet sometimes, I can’t afford an ethical option, or one isn’t available in the item or size I need. Occasionally, I need to go to a brick-and-mortar store to try something on. I use the Fashion Revolutions’s annual Fashion Transparency Index as a guide for which apparel industry leaders provide information about the conditions in which their garments are made. This index, the Ethical Fashion Guide, and corporate websites reveal that many companies prioritize social responsibility by sharing which suppliers they use, how often they inspect factories for safe working conditions, and how they invest in the lives and communities of garment workers.
The following are name brands I have shopped in the past couple of years because of their response to the rising tide of conscious consumers.
I assumed Hanes’ presence in big box stores meant this brand would be a bad option for replacing worn out items bought at their outlet over four years ago. Instead, I discovered that this company owns 70% of its manufacturing facilities and spent two years researching economies and interviewing workers to provide a living wage in Latin America and Vietnam. In addition, Hanes is decreasing water, landfill, and energy use in production and donating some of the monetary savings to worker-led community projects. As Hanes continues these valuable initiatives, I look forward to the company incorporating recycled and other sustainable materials in its fabrics and packaging.
I didn’t think of Gap as a sustainable option until I found out about their B Corp brand, Athleta, last year. Athleta celebrates the physical, mental, and spiritual power of women by selling athletic wear and uses recycled, organic, and other sustainable materials in 40% of its apparel. While learning about Athleta, I discovered good initiatives behind-the-scenes of all the Gap, Inc. brands,which include Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Hill City. To lower negative environmental impacts, Gap researches how the entire life cycle of their garments affects carbon emissions and water usage. Gap has decreased its number of suppliers in order to closely collaborate with them to listen to workers’ needs and to assess and improve working conditions. Since 2007, Gap has provided wellness and leadership training to women and girls impacted by their global supply chain through its Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.) program. While Athleta is the only Gap brand to offer fair trade items, I hope these steps toward improving workers’ lives spread throughout the company’s other labels when I shop for business casual items.
As a musician, I see Vans multiple times each week among my peers and students. They are durable for walking on any terrain, comfortable and secure while carrying gear, and customizable to suit one’s personal style. I admire Vans’ design collaborations with current artists, but more importantly, their parent company VF Corporation is committed to traceability. Every contract supplier factory is reviewed annually, and VF works alongside factories to improve worker safety and human rights. Interviews with local workers and managers have led to partnerships for cleaner drinking water, preventative healthcare, and early childhood enrichment programs in their production communities. As VF Corporation continues developing its own policies and processes, I would like to see more of their products certified by ethical organizations from outside the company.
I would rather visit a store - online or in person - where the retailer converses and negotiates with the supplier as an equal, and where artisan designs and techniques have been passed down through generations. Only when buying fair trade is not feasible, I shop at name brands that respond to social and environmental problems by creating and enforcing high labor standards. Another action we can always take is to directly contact name brands to let them know we care about the people who make our clothes and want the company to guarantee them living wages and wholesome work environments.
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About the Author
With undergraduate majors in piano and Spanish from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in composition from Stony Brook University, Krystal J. F. Grant uses her music and words to reckon with society's brokenness. Her passion for fair-trade fashion led her to Dressember, and her childhood in Alabama guides her commitment to freedom throughout the world. She and her husband enjoy visiting museums and National Parks, or just making popcorn and watching anime at home.