LB Addresses Fashion Focused Voluntary Initiatives

Dressing is such an international affair. Our garments often travel throughout the world before finding home (if only for a short while) in our closets and draping our backs. The cotton may have been grown in Texas before being shipped off to Shanghai where it is dyed, then sent to Hong Kong where the garment was brought to life. The finished product may then be sent to a central hub in Miami before it makes its way across North America to a retail outlet where it is sold at a price much lower than the international treatment it received should allow. So how do we understand this international phenomenon that is our clothing? How do we know how our clothing is made? By whom and under what socio-economic conditions? Did children make the clothing?  What chemicals are used in both the production and processing phases? What are the conditions of the country where the garment is made?

Alternatively, do we each have time to ask these questions each time we buy something? How do you even go about retrieving the answers to these questions? In a perfect world the answers would be simple; garments are made using high quality, sustainable fabrics, by fairly paid, well trained tailors working under ethical conditions. If this is not yet the case, how does one navigate the retail scene? We believe a voluntary initiative that addresses all these issues is the answer. A label or certification that clearly states to the consumer that they are buying something both sustainable and ethical-a label that is trusted and well understood.

In order to address these issues, I have been doing my master’s at Ryerson University for a year now in the Environmental Applied Science and Management Program. And while the program has reaffirmed the more you learn the less you know, I do feel as though some progress has been made-at least in my personal understanding of the textiles industry.

In order to convince myself that going back to school for two years was a worthwhile endeavor I have linked what we are doing at LB with my studies; Sustainable Fashion. I am researching current voluntary initiatives (or voluntary codes of conduct) for the fashion industry to assess strengths and weaknesses to determine the best areas for reform. There exist many voluntary initiatives for the fashion industry, yet none seem to tackle the issues from all aspects. Basically a voluntary initiative is an industry standard or code that companies adhere to on a voluntary basis-FSC certification, Fair Trade, Responsible Care-these are all voluntary codes.

Through research with Ryerson and ongoing engagement with LB we are attempting to decipher a new and innovative way to address the problem of voluntary initiatives in a

holistic and comprehensive way. We have found that current initiatives like the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Greenpeace Detox Challenge, Responsible Care, Fair Trade (etc) address only one or two aspects of the garment industry rather than looking at the entire process. Each of these voluntary initiatives is important as they have helped inform the larger population and the garment industry of areas that need readdressing in the textile industry. They are great starting points-a place to launch forward.

So, what do we propose? We aim to develop an initiative with input from designers, retailers, manufacturers, fiber producers and NGOs. This way we address the entire chain. There needs to be communication all along the supply chain. Designers can have huge input, after all, it doesn’t matter how much tensel or sustainable bamboo is being produced if designers are not using it in their designs. Beyond this, a campaign to increase consumer awareness in order to generate a greater understanding of voluntary initiatives is needed-one that clearly and matter of factly shows how a garment was made-a label/certification that consumers can trust. In this respect we see retailers acting as the proxies for consumers, doing the research on behalf of the consumers.

We leave for Haiti in just over a month for the better part of August. While there we will work again with INDEPCO on new LB designs as well as engage with manufacturers and designers in Haiti to get their input on changes needed for the industry. We are excited to place LB in a broader aspect-to critically look at our production to see where we can improve. We are cognizant of the fact that our garments are part of the international garment sector-our vests would have quite the decorated passport were they people.

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