ROOT CAUSE #2: CONSUMER DISCONNECT
The fashion industry is opaque. And it’s opaque to the extent that even we were surprised by it once we started working on setting up a transparent supply chain. Something we kept asking ourselves was “how did we get here”? I have vivid memories of how clothes worked when we were young. For the most part, my mom bought fabric and brought me to a seamstress that measured us for what seemed liked hours (I was not a patient child) and within a couple of weeks produced terrific pieces that I loved for years (until I outgrew them, which was fairly quickly unfortunately).
Occasionally, we would also go to a children’s clothing store and get some fancier dresses or coats there. And that was it. My mom knew exactly the fabric that she was buying at the store – what it was and often where it came from, and she knew who made my clothes. It was not too dissimilar for her clothes – while most of her stuff was bought in shops, made in Spain. She knew that probably it came from Cataluña or Valencia, which were the central textile regions in Spain, with thriving industries that supported thousands of workers.
But somehow, as prices started to come down, we began to lose that connection to our clothes. It’s a very similar story to food really – few people today know how beans, carrots and potatoes look like in a field because we no longer think about it. The challenge is, when we forget how things are produced, we forget how much time and effort it takes. We become more vulnerable to supporting exploitative systems.
A few years ago, before I started thinking about ethics in the fashion industry, I was a big consumer of fast fashion. I remember occasionally wondering how could prices be so low, marvelled about how much my little savings allowed me to buy. And while I didn’t delve much into the answer, part of me thought that somehow economies of scale could account for this, or automatization (yes I guess I thought that possibly machines were making my clothes). It was when I invested time in researching, and once we set up Trace Collective, that I came to understand that making a jacket today takes the same time as it did 20 years ago. That time, for one of our jackets, is roughly 3-4 hours. Which means that, if you’re paying 50 euros for your jacket, the people who made it were paid pennies and are working under exploitative conditions.
The more we shop in big retailers (whether it’s for clothes, for food or anything else), the further we’re getting from the stories of the products that we buy. We think that choosing small means choosing proximity and that asking a store owner or a farmer about their products is the first step to start reconnecting with those stories. Because every product has a story, and those stories matter – the tell us how many miles they travelled, what they did to the planet, and who were the humans that made it possible that we can enjoy that product.