Who Made This – The Most Complicated Question

Posted on August 4, 2018

Last week we were discussing the tools you can use to solve purchasing dilemmas when they come up for you, but one part of that that we didn’t discuss much is the question: who made this? This is a simple question, which is also one of the most complicated today. Our economic system cares a lot about getting products to people, but very little about revealing where those products are made.

This question is a variant of the Fashion Revolution’s rallying cry: Who Made My Clothes? This is their demand to the fashion industry to be more transparent so that we as consumers can make informed decisions. This is because clothing production – as well as many other kinds of production – is so hidden that we can’t even use our decision-making tools when we buy something. We can’t choose the products that represent our views because we simply don’t know which ones do!

So, how do you answer this question? It will vary from product to product, of course, but let’s focus on clothing for now. The first way to answer this question is to check for signs of human labour: how was the garment put together, what kind of stitching, how many different materials, and so on.

Everywhere you find stitching, that’s a place where someone did work by hand. This is the evidence of people involved, and leads into the ethical part of Fashion Revolution. We encourage you to find out more about the people who made your clothing, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The next piece of evidence for you is where the garment was made. So, check the label, and you’ll find the basic information of where the garment is made, though this is a bit misleading – those labels tell you where the garment was assembled, but that’s only the final piece of the process. If there are several different components to the garment, such as zippers, different materials, buttons, or so on, those are likely from elsewhere. It is a very rare product indeed that is sourced entirely where it is made.

But, now you have the information to do some detective work. You can look up the garment production industry in the place where your garment was made and find out what kind of environmental and human protections they have. This information is scattered in news articles, encyclopedia entries, and impact reports, but it’s out there online.

Next, you can research the materials that went into the product. You can contact the brand and ask where they get their materials. We tried this with a garment – contacted the brand, asked where they get their cotton for the garment, and they were able to tell us a region in China where they source all their cotton. It’s amazing what you can get when you ask!

Now, we were able to look up what the environmental and social conditions were like in that region, to give us an idea of the impact of the materials. Again, this information is online, spread around different sources.

Add these impacts to the carbon footprint of shipping from wherever the garment comes from, and you get a much broader picture of what it takes to get a product into your hands and can start helping you to make better decisions as to which brands you want to support.

Between this article and the last one, do you feel like you can make some better choices when it comes to what you buy? Do you have any recent successes or failures in this regard that you’d like to share? Our failures to make the best decision help us make better decisions next time! Navigating the environmental impacts of products you buy can be very difficult, and we all have so much to learn! Get in touch with us on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram. We’d love to hear about your journey.