The fashion world is no stranger to business, and as it undergoes changes and evolves, some in the fashion world are accused by being anti-business. Usually we associate “anti” with negative thoughts and ideas – but when it comes to the business of fashion, is anti-business really such a bad thing?
History of Bad Business
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City employed hundreds of workers, many of them women who might otherwise not have the opportunity to work outside the home and earn wages. This sounds like a good business practice, right? However, on March 25, 1911 a fire broke out in the factory and killed 145 employees. Most of these deaths were preventable. The factory, though, was organized as what we now know as a sweatshop. The deplorable conditions included locking the doors of the building and failing to provide employees with a safe evacuation plan, among other horrendous working conditions. Before the fire many looked to the factory as an innovator that provided jobs in the fashion world and had the capability of mass production of clothing. After the fire the factory is remembered for the dangers of sweatshops, and ultimately, was the catalyst for changing laws and regulations in the industry.
Fashion Fake Outs
Fast forward to the 21st century and we can see business booming online in the fashion world. This, too, however, comes with threats to designers and producers of everything from handbags to evening gowns. The danger doesn’t come in the form of flames, but in gateways for counterfeits and forgeries of fashion.
Big name fashion designers on one hand find a new booming market outside of brick and mortar buildings. Technology progress allows for customers who previously could not access perhaps the sizes or trends they wanted to because of location or other inconveniences. This progress comes with a price, though. Consumers searching for bargains online might see legitimate-looking storefronts, but receive counterfeit products.
The Fashion Law Center reports that in February alone, $14.1 million in counterfeit products were seized in Los Angeles. This included 1500 bags with fake Hermes labels. This is not an isolated incident. Last year alone more than $500 million in counterfeit designer bags were seized last year. Most of these originated in China, but were intended for worldwide distribution. These numbers do not take into account the millions of fake products that made their ways into the homes and closets of unwitting consumers.
Quality Production in Question
The legitimacy of labels is not the only bad business in the fashion world. Sweatshop production continues to be an option that unfortunately some designers try to utilize in order to mass produce their products. The International Labor Organization reports that children are the cheapest workforce in the textile industry, meaning that in some nations youth as young as 5 and 6 years of age are picking cotton and preparing fabrics.
Production houses are also risking the health of communities and the environment with dyes and other pollutants they introduce. The pesticides farmers use in producing the textiles impact the environment, bleach used to color fabrics can be leaked into ground waters, textile machineries cause noise and air pollution, and over-production of unneeded clothing ends up in landfills.
Breaking Free of Big Business in the Fashion World
Seth Godin describes the term anti-business as “against short-term waste, harmful side effects and selfish shortcuts.” As a fashion designer and someone who embraces the fashion industry for many aspects, I am also proud to say that I am anti-fashion-business. I reject ideas of mass production at the expense of children, working conditions, and the environment. I rely on the benefits of technology in the fashion-world, but acknowledge that all of us in the business need to take steps to protect the integrity of labels. I am breaking free of big business and committing to delivering quality, amazing fashion pieces that don’t carry a price heavier than their tags.
When we know better, we need to do better. Those of us who have the privilege of filling the closets and dressers of consumers must do better. Time to break free of business and make a commitment to quality, eco-friendly choices and labels of integrity.