Friday, 12 November 2010
Did anyone else get a chance to watch dispatches Fashion's Dirty Secret this week? It looked at UK 'sweat shop' style manufacturers where workers were being paid as little as £2.50 an hour to work in cramped, unsafe and dirty conditions being almost abused by the supervisors who are pushing them to constantly churn out more and more clothes. Dispatches sent in an undercover reporter to get an inside look at where our fashion comes from. No body can deny the culture of fast fashion these days and the demand that this is putting on retailers to produce mass quantities in short spaces of time but it is also shocking to discover the ethical cost that this comes with.
When you think of workers being exploited you think of places such as Bangladesh, Delhi and China, but to think the same thing is happening just a few hours away in the UK is actually shocking. Working in a windowless basement where fire exits were blocked by the huge orders they were churning out, the conditions and safety persuasions for these workers is truly unacceptable. piles and piles of clothes could be seen stacked everywhere in the secret footage filmed by the undercover reporter which also showed how workers had to sit on boxes in the factory to eat their lunch as it was too cramped that there was no space for them to eat elsewhere.
Dispatches also exposed the unsafe machinery these workers were using to make clothing for shops such as New Look, Peacocks and BHS. As a fashion student I know the importance of adhering to health and safety as accidents do happen and they can be serious! Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that the manufacturer put the reporter onto the machines without asking about his sewing experience, his legality to work in the UK or even asking his name. These manufacturers are exploiting peoples desperation for money who are working illegally and are stuck in a cycle of hopelessness. One worker described her job and working conditions as 'slavery'.
New Look was highlighted a number of times as numerous items from their stores were being made in these factories. What surprised me the most was that the labels for the clothes were inaccurate stating that they were made in Moldova when in fact they were being made in Leicester, in the UK. This is illegal and highly misleading to the consumer. If you knew something was made in the UK and the price was low then you would think twice about how they could afford to make it so cheaply where as there is something about overseas manufacture that makes it acceptable to be cheap as well as to exploit the workers.
I am currently setting up my own business and as a core principle wanted to keep manufacture in the UK in order to have a tight control over who is making my garments, where and how. My brand will work towards a vertically integrated manufacturing model but until I can fund these ambitious manufacturing plans, I will need a start up supplier if you will. I want my brand to be as British as possible, keeping manufacture, design and sourcing as close to home as I can. I know that realistically this will be expensive and take time, but despite this I want to be able to create opportunities within the UK and build an iconic British sports wear brand.
Taking ethical issues into consideration was always going to be important to the success for my brand but after watching this exposing documentary I am going to make it a core principle for my business. Fashion with a conscience is the way forward. Perhaps it means my prices will be higher but I think its worth paying more to know that no one was exploited to make my clothing, don't you?!
This is genuinely a really insightful look into the British fashion industry and the exploitation of workers taking place right on our door step. If you get a chance, log onto the channel 4 website and check it out.