Who Made This (And How?)

During my textile science class, as my professor went on about mysterious “made in” labels and the production of fiber and its environmental effect, the girl next to me scrolled through another e-commerce site. I realized the paradox of the situation as we dug deeper into unethical means of production used by these fast-fashion brands and the complete ignorance about their means of production as a consumer. By means of blockchain technology we can trace back the entire process of production of these clothes and in the process modify our shopping habits.

What surprised me is how, as a fashion student, I had never heard about blockchain. It is  essentially a record made by using cryptography, much like bitcoin, which traces every step of the process of manufacturing from the origin of the mohair goat right till the finished woolen coat. The garments have a unique code that tells the digital history of their location, content, and timestamp of their production.

This traceability logs information as it goes downstream along the supply chain. Every factor in the chain, from the cotton production unit to the merchandiser, is held responsible for their claims. These records become publicly available and cannot be counterfeited. This traceability gives way to transparency that goes beyond the “made in” labels. For a T-shirt that only labels the country of origin and fabric content, we have almost no knowledge of its production method, the amount of waste generated during the process and where every step of the process takes place.

London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard teamed up with blockchain technology company Provenance to register every process of the raw material till the final garment. The need for transparency arises from the vast number of parties involved in the process of manufacturing, as well as the increasing amount of consumption that ends up in landfills.

As consumers, we need to be aware of where our products come from and what they’re made of. We need to understand how it is feasible for brands like H&M and Zara to support their prices. Cheap fabrics, mass production in third-world countries, and unethical labor practices cut down the prices. Which begs the question, who is paying the real price of fashion?

Global movements like Fashion Revolution demand that we as consumers should know exactly who makes our clothes and how they are made. Their campaign, Fashion Revolution Week, falls on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. It draws focus on the need for ethical and sustainable practices in fashion. Employees in these third-world countries work extra hours without overtime and are not permitted to go for toilet breaks or drink water. Although legally they make minimum wage, it is not even half of what is required to support their families.

With 52 micro-seasons, there are new trends every week. It is an industry based on bottomless consumption, with the threat of being out of fashion by the end of their week as their unique selling proposition. The prices offered by fast fashion are tempting, especially as a broke college student in a boring textile science class. With all our materialistic needs being met with the wide variety of options available in e-commerce it can be hard to change the way you shop. With more ethical and sustainable brands offering competitive prices it is worth giving it a chance.

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