Tearfund’s ethical fashion report makes me cry for all the wrong reasons

OPINION: The other day, while my niece was nosing around in our library, she came across Felix Donnelly’s 1978 book, Big boys don’t cry.

Donnelly was a Roman Catholic priest who, deviating greatly from the status quo, expressed views on human sexuality that strayed sharply from Catholic sentiment of the time.

The book itself is a far-reaching work that examines societal values ​​of the time and where Donnelly felt they had gone wrong. It’s an interesting read, especially for those who may have forgotten how far they’ve come in terms of acceptance and inclusion in just about 40 years.

I was thinking of Donnelly’s book, or at least its title, when I was recently brought to tears by a report from Tearfund, an organization that aims to reduce the incidence and impact of social and environmental ills caused by the clothing industry.

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As a background, the rag trade is something I have had a long involvement in. Albion Clothing, a manufacturing company that I am involved with, is now the largest clothing manufacturer in New Zealand.

And to give an indication of how the subject has been subverted by those with ulterior motives, I actually have to point out that “made in New Zealand” means that, you know, someone is actually making the product here. in Aotearoa. One would have thought that this was not a term that allowed much confusion, but it seems that this assumption is extremely inaccurate.

Tearfund publishes an annual survey to rank brands according to their social and environmental impact.  All the usual suspects are there - names you know and love and buy daily.

Artem Beliaikin / Unsplash

Tearfund publishes an annual survey to rank brands according to their social and environmental impact. All the usual suspects are there – names you know and love and buy daily.

Regardless, Tearfund publishes a survey every year to rank the different brands available in New Zealand based on their social and environmental impact. All the usual suspects are there – names you know and love and buy daily.

These are big brands, usually multinationals, that have entire teams to tick boxes, go into a lot of certification programs, and usually do a lot of things that while doing themselves good and making themselves feel good, doesn’t do not much to actually improve the social and environmental results of their business.

Now, I could be considered a little offended that Cactus Outdoor, my own company which is one of the last manufacturers of workwear and outdoor equipment in New Zealand, was never contacted by Tearfund for our opinion.

I might be slightly repressed that we have around 100 skilled technicians masking clothes in Albion, all of whom have to take advantage of the very strict labor laws we have in New Zealand (and, for the record, there are few in Vietnam and Bangladesh. , where the overwhelming majority of Tearfund survey respondents buy their clothes).

Or I could be confused by those same companies jumping up and down about their environmental sustainability even though they have chosen to manufacture in low cost countries at least in part because they are not held to the same environmental standards. .

I might even be cranky that many of the certifications these companies rely on can be purchased by anyone new to the internet regardless of the actual situation.

Ben Kepes: “By giving companies that produce fast fashion a imprimatur of credibility, they are telling the public that it's okay to buy clothes that wear out in five minutes and end up going to the landfill.

Provided

Ben Kepes: “By giving companies that produce fast fashion a imprimatur of credibility, they are telling the public that it’s okay to buy clothes that wear out in five minutes and end up going to the landfill. “

All of this would be very good reasons to get upset. But I’m more annoyed with what the Tearfund report does.

By giving the companies that produce fast fashion a imprimatur of credibility, they are telling the public that it’s okay to keep buying clothes that wear out in five minutes and end up going to the landfill because, thanks to a magic formula, these suppliers suddenly made it OK from a social and environmental point of view.

Tearfund, by giving a seal of approval to companies whose business models are based on perpetuating fast fashion, is actually making matters worse. For the environment (transport needs that emit more carbon) and for society (more people working in marginal conditions abroad).

Now I can just hear the howls of protest from people saying I have to plead for all of us to carry a bag. I don’t do anything of the sort. There are still some awesome brands that are committed to manufacturing in New Zealand, including Anna Rodewijk, Artstori, Nisa, and Untouched World.

All of these brands make stylish clothes here that are designed to last longer than one show – and none of them were looked at when Tearfund’s report was written.

Instead, some of the top scores given in Tearfund’s report went to companies making fragile clothing in countries with low prices and low environmental standards.

Frankly, I would question the ethics of an organization that focuses on providing these companies with a platform from which to justify their business model. It’s really enough to make a guy cry.

– Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. He even admits that he cries sometimes.

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