The archetypal sage is knowledgeable, wise, and reflective. Engaging in deep thought, they seek greater understanding of the world around them, and champion truth above all else. By reflecting on the origins of the clothes we buy, this commitment to truth is found to benefit both the wearer and maker, rekindling the relationship between them, and making the fashion industry safer for the many people it employs around the world.
Seeing the Maker
The sage believes wholeheartedly in the intrinsic value of learning, as a way of deepening our understanding of the world and life itself. Although we appear to live in a society that shares in the sage’s appreciation of knowledge, some aspects of our lives, particularly our online spending habits, actually appear to suggest the opposite. Whilst online shopping offers expansive choice and the opportunity to compare garments in your own time, a sense of where our garments come from – of their individual stories, for better or worse – is at risk of being lost. According to a recent survey by the UK’s Office for National Statistics, almost 80% of 16-35-year-old women and 67% of those aged 35-55 reported buying clothing online in 2019. This equates to many millions of garments being shipped to the UK alone, and we think it’s fair to assume that, for the majority of these purchases, the buyer will know little of the garment’s origin.
Seeing the Impact
It can appear as if garments have the ability to magically materialise before our very eyes and emerge from their plastic packaging with no real link or connection to their origins. Their journeys to our doorstep are invisible to us, making it easy to detach ourselves from the people that produced them and the sometimes horrific conditions that they are produced in. A series of tragic accidents have occurred over the past decade or so in various locations within Bangladesh, Pakistan, and China, exposing some of the cruel realities of the global textile industry. Thankfully, these incidents weren’t swept under the carpet. Pressure from consumers and campaigners persuaded many of the world’s largest clothing companies to disclose information about their suppliers, meaning that it’s now possible to find out who made your clothes and where.
Bangladesh and China remain the two largest global producers of clothing and textiles, and tragedies like the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013, which resulted in the death of over a thousand workers, have not been repeated, although there are still fears that some textile factories across South Asia are potentially at risk due to a lack of stringent monitoring and unenforced regulations. In addition to structurally compromised buildings, the presence of harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals in these factories further increases the risk for the many low-paid employees. Consistent and well-enforced regulation is needed to make these workplaces safe, and this can only be achieved by consumers demanding better from suppliers.
Researching the practices of your favourite designers and brands isn’t something you need to do before every purchase. Familiarising yourself with a company’s ethos and the supply of different materials and garments the first time you shop with them will engender a feeling of confidence when you make any future purchases, helping to ensure that you have an idea of the kinds of industry practices you’re paying into. Opting for clothing made by individual designers and smaller brands makes it easier to keep track of where your money’s going, as it’s easier for these businesses to keep track of their supply chain. Multinational clothing companies, despite their greatest efforts, inevitably have a much harder job of keeping touch with suppliers, given the complexity and expansiveness of their supply chain.
Seeing the Benefit
By purchasing garments from niche designers and small companies, the experience of buying and wearing clothing is made more personal; we can connect the garment with its manufacture process and feel more confident in its ethical impact. The sage believes that the truth is always worth knowing and, in the case of fashion, this knowledge brings benefits to both the maker and wearer of a garment. By being active, interested consumers, we’re able to direct our money towards more ethical practices and away from dangerous ones, which can have a life-saving impact on the people that manufacture our clothes. Clothes have stories, and we want to feel proud of them.