Well Hello, and Happy New Year, Everybody! First things first - I recognize I am wayyyy behind on my New Years salutations, but It's been a wild 3/4 month here at (Ag)+(Au) HQ and there are some things that have slipped a bit - not least my blog posting. That said, there are many exciting developments in the works over here - and I can't wait to share them with you all in the next few months! Now let's get on with it!
If you are one of those that adheres to the 'New Year, New Me' philosophy, this one is for you. Actually, it's for anyone who has made a resolution to be more mindful of how and where they spend their dollars this year - whether that means to support more local and sustainable businesses, to cut down on your single-use plastic, to focus more on the wonderful people and amazing things you HAVE and less on things you WANT.
Here at (Ag)+(Au), we make resolutions too. How we want to grow our business, not just in sales and reach, but especially in areas of transparency, responsibility to our planet and our workers, sustainability in design and production, and a commitment to better sourcing practices. We've been doing some research about a business' responsibility to creating a better industry, and we wanted to share a bit of what we've learnt with you, so that you can better understand where some of our decisions come from. And as always, we want to encourage you to ASK QUESTIONS! We love the opportunity to be held accountable and challenged and taught new things - we're only human after all, and we sure don't know everything - yet! We really believe all your favourite brands should take this approach. Ask "Who made my clothes" as loudly and as often as you need, and I promise you will start to see changes towards transparency in the fashion industry.
Over recent years we’ve become increasingly more concerned with our effect on the environment & the way our consumerism affects those in the poorest of countries (for good reason!), and we’ve turned to our favourite brands to set a leading example for us.
Pressure from consumers on large companies to make the move towards responsible production has had a tremendous effect on the fashion industry. High-end fashion brands have some of the best materials and designers, but since people have become more concerned with the environment, high-end consumers will opt for brands who are more socially responsible.
So, what does it mean for a brand to be socially responsible?
Corporate social responsibility covers a range of topics like sustainability, ethics, and social impact. Some well-known brands we love have been majorly successful with the CSR programs they’ve set in place in recent years:
Levi’s CSR focus is on their employees and their livelihood. They are dedicated to empowering their workers financial, health, and family well-being. These values are what sparked the creation of the Workers Well Being program back in 2011.
Patagonia is a great example of a market leader in the outdoors apparel industry who has exemplary CSR standards set for their company. Some of their efforts are working towards making sure that the many people who work in their factories are paid not only minimum wage, but a living wage. Another initiative is that they donate 1% of their sales to conservation efforts.
Okay, okay, I’m not a very well-known brand (yet! wink wink) but I’ve made it my goal to do good by following my three main values; ethical manufacturing, sustainable sourcing and durability. By creating clothing made with plant-based, sustainably sourced and durable fabrics, the lifespan of each article will be much longer than that of mass production! I am also happily associated with amazing factories both in Vancouver and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who comply by a high set of environmental, health, safety and happiness codes. (check out my About Me page to read more on the ethical standards I set for my own business)
Something I’m faced with on a daily basis as a designer in the fashion industry is the struggle to do right by myself, my business, the environment, and the community. It can be SO hard to know what the right decision is and how it’s going to affect others. With that said, are fashion brands obligated to be socially responsible? This is a question that has seen a lot of attention in recent years after events like the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza manufacturing facilities in Bangladesh which killed over 1100 people.
Unfortunately, it takes disasters like that in order for people to realize that change needs to happen. But from the fires, organizations like Fashion Revolution are forged, who are dedicated to increasing transparency in the fashion industry!
So no… “technically” fashion brands are not obligated to be socially responsible… but they SHOULD be, because let’s face it… brands that have no CSR initiatives in place aren’t going to be very successful in this modern age. As consumers, our goal should be to consciously and consistently support the brands that have clear CSR programs in place, because those are the companies that are going to (and have already started to) make positive changes for the fashion industry.
The responsibility to change the industry falls on the shoulders of the brands and through their development of concise CSR programs, but holding those brands (even the small ones - even me!!) accountable for the way they run their businesses is up to YOU, the consumer, the buyer of goods, the holder of the Almighty Dollar. Think about it - 14 year old girls world over could shut Forever 21 down overnight if they chose to question the companies businesses practices & values, or maybe if it said something mean about Beyonce. Now THAT'S a power trip I can get behind.
I'll leave you with a quote I think of often, partly because it resonates with me when I think about how daunting it is being tasked with something like this, and partly because I. HATE. MOSQUITOES. probably more than anything, ever.
"If you think you're too small to make a difference in the world, try sleeping in the same room as a mosquito."
- The Dali Lama (who proves that no amount of enlightenment will make me sympathetic to mosquitos)