Fashion has routinely failed the millions of people who make its clothes. What should the industry do to create systemic change?
Over the past year, the pandemic has laid bare — and worsened — the stark inequality, financial insecurity and poor working conditions endemic to the global garment industry. This has been driven by years of voluntary self-regulation, outsourced labour, and the pursuit of maximum profits by brands and retailers.
At the BoF Professional Summit: Closing Fashion’s Sustainability Gap, BoF London editor Sarah Kent was joined by Ayesha Barenblat, founder and chief executive of Remake; Ritu Sethi, founder-trustee, Craft Revival Trust and editor, Global InCH; and Anannya Bhattacharjee, international coordinator, Asia Floor Wage Alliance, to discuss how the global fashion industry is failing its garment makers, and what needs to change.
Many of the challenges facing the garment industry today are systemic. “The business model, whether luxury or mass market, is set to exploit people,” said Barenblat, also noting that it is mostly women of colour “who make our clothes and bring our fashion to life.”
Bhattacharjee said brands need to redress the “extreme imbalance of power” with their suppliers by paying the actual cost of production, producing goods in an environmentally sustainable way, and moving away from the industry’s reliance on overproduction and overconsumption. It is also crucial that brands make good on their commitments to support freedom of association in factories, she added.
While the global fashion industry benefits from widespread deregulation, mounting consumer engagement is proving a powerful force for increased accountability. “Consumerism is changing, and I think for the first time we actually have the right period where we can change the discourse from the consumer’s point of view,” said Sethi. Indeed, said Bhattacharjee, “this is a time of opportunity and radical change.”
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