Should you stop buying clothes “Made in Bangladesh”? Is the locally-made movement really the answer the dirty fashion industry? I often get questions from friends asking which “Made In…” should they support and which they shouldn’t.
Well, the answer may involve a bit more digging than simply knowing the location in which our clothes were made. The problem is, the only information we’re given is the country where the garment was made. In reality, this reveals just a fraction of what goes into a garment before it hangs on a rack in front of you.
A t-shirt that is made in India, Bangladesh or even the USA only guarantees that is was cut and sewn there. Saying something was “Made In” any one place actually makes very little sense. The supply chain is far too complex to attribute the production of a garment to one geographical location. How are we meant to know how much the person who made it was paid, if the fibres in it were farmed responsibly or how the fabric was dyed. Here lies the problem with the labelling on our clothes – simplifying the complex.
Why assumptions are dangerous
In providing very limited information on garments, brands force shoppers to generalise based on stereotypes they’ve most likely heard in the media. Have you ever heard someone tell you that all Bangladeshi garments are made in ‘sweatshops’ or that Made in America guarantees better working conditions?
While the likelihood of unethical practices is higher in less developed countries, it may surprise you that this isn’t always the case. Take the alleged mistreatment of Latino workers in US-based American Apparel factories in 2015. Meanwhile brands like People Tree produce Fair Trade products in Bangladesh which fund education and social welfare projects for local communities.
So which country should you support?
The answer is, all of them – just find the companies doing it right. With the era of locally-made in full swing, we need to keep in mind that a country like Bangladesh has an economy that relies almost entirely on the apparel industry – apparel makes up 80% of its exports. Meaning when consumers decide to buy only “Made in America” because these people are taking American jobs, they’re also supporting the destruction of an industry that keeps near-entire populations employed.
Yes, there are significant social and environmental issues within this industry. Meaning supporting those doing the right thing is even more important than ever. The largely young, female workforce of Bangladesh needs our support, not our neglect.
Be loyal to ethical brands – not countries
Support a mix of sustainable international products and ethical local brands. Look up your favourite brand’s website, do they say anything about where they produce their clothes? What sorts of fabrics do they source? Do they say anything at all about ethics and sustainability?
If you find absolutely nothing on the topic, why not email them and ask (trust me, they’ll likely respond – and if they don’t, well that may just be your answer). If it’s difficult to leave your fave label behind, don’t be discouraged. There are new and shiny ethical brands emerging faster than you can click ‘add to cart’.