I have posted on social media regularly about the issue of brands delaying payments to suppliers in the wake of growing concerns about Covid-19. The response to my posts has been very strong, and this issue has gathered a lot of interest. One response I wanted to focus on, however, is the suggestion from some people that these kind of poor purchasing practices are a fast fashion problem. Wrong! In fact, this is an issue which, as a manufacturer of more than two decades, I feel very strongly should be brought out into the open.
Do not be fooled by the price. There are some huge misconceptions in this industry, and they need to be dispelled. Consumers desperately need educating. If they think that by paying more for a garment, they are more likely to have assurance that the garment will have been produced sustainably, and to high environmental and social credentials, they are seriously mistaken. In fact, in a great many cases—based on my own experience in the industry—the opposite is true.
Fast fashion, more than any other segment of the apparel industry, has come under huge scrutiny over recent years, by NGOs, governments, regulators and civil society. One effect of being under the spotlight like this is that fast fashion brands are now among the most compliant in our industry. Nobody is saying they are perfect but, certainly in my experience, they have people in place who understand the regulatory environment we operate in, and who are very clear and consistent about factory compliance issues such as the use of factories with working effluent treatment plants and adherence to strict health and safety standards for workers.
They are compliant like this because they have no choice—the world is watching.
On the issue of wages paid to garment workers, we are constantly told by NGOs and the media that fast fashion is the culprit when it comes to low wages for garment workers.
There is a perception among consumers that wages paid by factories are low because the cost of garments in fast fashion stores is so low. This is not true. Anybody who understands our industry will know that wages only make up a fraction of costs along the supply chain. They will also know that increasing wages is about much more than increasing the price of clothing.
Let me put this another way: if increasing the price of clothing leads to increased wages for workers, why is apparel production at some of the world's most luxurious brands carried out at factories which pay some of the poorest wages? Just because a garment has a high retail price does not mean that those who produced it were paid a high wage. In the main—in Bangladesh in any case—there is no link between these two.
The reality is that, unlike the fast fashion industry, luxury, more upmarket brands are generally not under as much scrutiny. They certainly get a far easier ride from NGOs and the media. This probably explains why I can name countless instances (which I know personally of) where luxury brands are happy to put their name to apparel when they do not even know which factory it has been produced in as it was sourced through a third-party. To cite an example here, my factory recently produced jeans for high-end brands such as Jones New York and Sean John through Global Brands Group (GBG). The retail prices of the jeans are up to 89 dollars. We shipped the jeans on time but we haven't been paid for the goods on the plea of Covid-19 outbreak by the GBG. You wouldn't see these kinds of practices by the likes of H&M or Zara, of that I can be sure.
End consumers need educating on these issues. A typical consumer will spend an age looking for the right kind of garment—the right fit, look and price. So why not spend time finding out about how their apparel was made? If they really do care about these issues—and we keep being told they do—they should demand transparency and responsible purchasing practices by the entire industry. The use of blockchain and DNA molecular tagging in supply chains could certainly support such a process.
It is not as black and white as saying that a cheap garment means a worker has been paid badly. It is not as simple as saying fast fashion as an industry is irresponsible.
The picture is far more nuanced in our industry, but one thing I can say with certainty is that the end price of a garment tells us very little about the conditions in which it was made.
Mostafiz Uddin is the Managing Director of Denim Expert Limited. He is also the Founder and CEO of Bangladesh Denim Expo and Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE). Email: email@example.com