Every month we’ll be opening our inboxes to a top sustainability question from our audience. This time, a member of the flock wants to know if their high street favourite is ethical.
“I’ve seen them doing a lot of cool women empowering campaigns, and their quality generally seems better than the other cheaper online stores. I really like their designs - please tell me I can shop there guilt free!”
Hey reader! Thanks so much for getting in touch. We’ve done some research into all major high street brands, and Monki (and their supply chain) belong to parent chain H&M. If you love Monki’s designs, we’d recommend checking out eBay or Depop for some bargains.
With the amount of clothing they produce every year, we reckon there’ll be plenty there to choose from. You can read more about H&M and the other brands in their group in a piece I wrote for Vice magazine last year:
“A brand that is seemingly adept at the smoke and mirrors imagery of artisanally-produced garments is & Other Stories. Wander into their beautifully airy stores and you'll be greeted with posters of white women's hands loftily holding tailoring scissors over cloth. These images are overlaid with the words "Stockholm Atelier", as if to imply that the product was created in a Swedish factory, with all the labour protections that are (usually) afforded European garment workers. Sure, the products may have been designed in Stockholm. But look at the clothing tags and you’ll see that the products are made in China, Bulgaria and Bangladesh. Owned by H&M, & Other Stories uses the same supply chain as its low-cost, better known big sister. It’s this not so subtle slight of (white women's) hands that appears to lead customers into a false sense of security about the provenance of their items.
One of the buzzwords I was initially sceptical of (alongside "empowering" and "conscious") is "transparency". Non-profit Fashion Revolution put together a Global Transparency Index, based on how much brands disclose about their policies, practices and impact. However, transparency doesn’t correlate to perfect ethics in itself. Factories may subcontract out work, or only show off good working practices when there are factory inspections; there are so many ways to cheat the system. Transparency is absolutely a step in the right direction, but there's so much more information brands should disclose, if they are to be fully transparent: details on how much union representation workers have, maternity rights, how incidents in their HR department are dealt with and how much their workers are paid.
Part of the reason brands are able to be vague about their environmental and social commitments is because of the lack of nuance and public education surrounding words like "ethical" and "sustainable". If you peruse Arket’s marketing materials, for example, you’ll see frequent references to sustainability. A subsidiary brand of H&M, Arket at least provides information about where their factories are and how many people are employed in them. But H&M seems to have failed to meet its own standards when it comes to paying workers a living wage.
...Sadly, it’s a good general rule of thumb to assume that, unless a brand really goes out of their way to show otherwise, it’s probably the case that someone was exploited to make your garment.”
Read the piece in full here: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/kzmw5a/the-greenwashing-hiding-the-truth-of-your-favourite-fashion-brands