How old were the children who made your favorite outfit? Sadly, this is a question that is rarely asked, and which often has an unsettling answer. According to a 2018 article in the Guardian, “children work at all stages of the supply chain in the fashion industry: from the production of cotton to harvesting and yarn spinning, right through to the different phases of putting garments together.” And this isn’t just a few kids, either; this is millions and millions of kids.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries, with many of them working in the various production stages that support the fashion industry. In recent years, brands like Nike, H&M and Topshop have all been accused of violating child labor practices.
And don’t assume that spending more at retail will buy a clear conscience either; According to a new report by the nonprofit KnowTheChain, even top luxury brands like Hermes and Louis Vuitton use child and “slave labor” to produce their lines. Indeed, many famous retail brands with old Italian men’s names on the labels (like Prada and Armani) are made in China, despite what their Italy-focused branding might suggest.
In the world of bespoke couture tailoring, this is a much more avoidable issue, as we tend to employ old men and women who have spent their lives mastering their craft. But, as the linked articles above suggest, a keen eye must still be paid to fabric origins. At Ezra Cayman Bespoke Couture, we are proud to offer a full collection of Holland & Sherry fabrics, a unique luxury fabric mill that has invested in ownership of every level of their production line, from raising sheep to weaving cloth, and provides an extraordinary level of ethical transparency. As a result, we feel good about ordering as much fabric from Holland & Sherry as possible, and we hope other prestigious fabric mills will follow suit.
How can we, as consumers, make a difference? Well, for starters, shop bespoke, shop local, ask questions and do your homework — and only support major retail brands that have shown an ongoing commitment to the ethical production of their garments. Because, this is the sad reality in 2019: if a brand isn’t conscientiously avoiding child labor, they are probably inadvertently engaging in it.
This may not be a problem we can solve overnight, but we CAN make a positive impact by donating to groups like the Child Labor Coalition, and simply by shopping thoughtfully and supporting businesses that align with our values.