A little while ago I did an interview with friend and journalist Carlo Javier on the topic of fashion ethics. We dabble on the topics of business transparency, human rights violations and the concept of “Fast Fashion”. It’s a tad of a lengthy read but also close to my heart and a topic I think deserves more media exposure.
You can contact Carlo at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To live beautifully isn’t just driven by appearance.
MATT & NAT is a Montreal-based line that prides itself in designing and producing ethically and transparently sourced vegan bags, wallets and accessories. Its name is inspired by the symbiosis of material and nature and the company lives by its motto: “live beautifully,” which it defines as the appreciation of “humanity, creativity and positivity found in all of us.”
Creativity is evident in MATT & NAT’s catalogue. Their design effortlessly amalgamates class and simplicity. Its products also put emphasis on standard and classic solid colours, eschewing patterns that have become common trends in modern bags and wallets.
Design, however, doesn’t tell the whole story. MATT & NAT have championed ethically sourcing and transparent production. The brand utilizes signature vegan leathers as well as recycled materials such as nylon and rubber. Manufacturing-wise, MATT & NAT’s bags are made in China, albeit in factories that follow the rules laid by United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other conventions and documents that centre on work standards.
Although MATT & NAT began its work in 1995, the company stands as one of the figures in the ever-ongoing discussion on ethical fashion. Over the years, the fashion industry has been placed under the microscope because of the repercussions of the growth of fast fashion – an aspect of fashion that’s predominantly driven by the market demand to bring in the latest trends from the catwalk to the stores.
Lucas Hui is a design consultant at a concept store called Secret Location. The store markets brands under a category they define as “True Luxury,” importing works of designers from Milan and Paris. His job for both Secret Location and its clients is akin to that of a storyteller, creating a personalized experience, including styling and educating on product information.
According to Hui, the concept of fast fashion is a relatively new idea that’s only truly come to light in the past 20 years. “I think it’s changed consumer behaviour drastically,” he began. “Women used to buy a dress and wore it for every event. The fact that we think to buy a new outfit for every party, every date is only possible through fast fashion.” However, Hui believes that despite the consumerist behaviour that ultimately dictates fast fashion, the unethical side of the industry may also cause people to think twice before opting for the quicker cheaper clothing option. “If factors like child labor, fair pay, exploitation of third-world countries and environmental damage were made transparent to the public then many people would realize the cheap prices and fad-trends just aren’t worth it I think,” he said.
One of the monumental incidents that sparked the controversy around ethical fashion is the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza in the Savar District of Dhaka, Bangladesh. The building housed numerous garment factories for multiple brands from across the world and its collapse due to structural failure resulted in the deaths 1,129 people. Another 2,515 were rescued, many of them severely injured from the debris.
Much of the criticism towards the garment factories were due to the fact that despite the reports of structural damages in the building, factory workers were still ordered to return. Banks and other shops had closed down due to concerns, but those that were required to resume work fell victim when the building crashed during the morning rush. After this accident, fast fashion retail giants such as Zara and H&M were placed under the microscope for their involvement in factories with poor working conditions, ultimately leading to a safety accord signed by several designers and retailers around the world.
The common assumption is that higher end clothing tend to be produced ethically. “It all depends on brands,” said Hui, “Higher-end brands tend to take steps in making sure their sources are high quality. And for that to happen, they need to go to places with higher skilled workers. And for that to happen the workers must be well paid. It’s all a trickle-down effect.”
As demonstrated by MATT & NAT, ethical production is an entirely sustainable business option. On the other hand, consumers are left to make the decision on where they choose to shop. This doesn’t mean that fast fashion stores such as H&M and Zara should be vilified, however. There is a common misconception that every brand that mass-produces their catalogues are the devils of the fashion industry. This in turn can lead to snobbery from those who boycott cheaper products.
One of the ways to support ethics and sustainability without having to break banks by strictly buying from luxury brand is to resell. For example, Closest Relay is an application that provides users with a virtual marketplace where they can “buy and sell once-loved clothing within the community.” Closet Relay’s model not only creates a sense of community through trade, it also promotes sustainability through reusing.”
Ultimately, being ethical when it comes to fashion comes down to choice, a choice that falls at the hands of both producers and consumers.
Written by Carlo Jarvier