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Over the past year, the pandemic has exposed – and exacerbated – the widespread inequality, financial insecurity and poor working conditions that characterize the global apparel industry. This is the result of years of voluntary self-regulation, outsourced labor and the pursuit of maximum profit by brands and retailers.
At the BoF Professional Summit: Closing Fashion’s Sustainability Gap, Sarah Kent, editor of BoF London, was joined by Ayesha Barenblat, founder and CEO 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 abandoning its garment manufacturers and what needs to change.
Many of the challenges facing the clothing industry today are systematic. “The business model, be it a luxury or a mass market, is designed to exploit people,” said Barenblat, also noting that it is mainly women of color who make our clothes and bring our fashion to life.
Bhattacharjee said brands need to redress the “extreme power inequality” with their suppliers by paying actual production costs, producing goods in an environmentally sustainable manner, and moving away from the industry’s dependence on overproduction and overconsumption. It’s also critical that brands live up to their commitments to support freedom of association in factories, she added.
While the global fashion industry is benefiting from widespread deregulation, increasing consumer engagement is proving to be a powerful force for greater accountability. “Consumerism is changing and I think for the first time we really 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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