The mass manufacturing of commercial clothing requires an enormous amount of energy, produces both toxic and material/textile waste, and, more often than not, ignores international labour and fair-wage standards. All this to produce low quality garbs that will be discarded after one or two seasons, and end up in a landfill, where they will likely remain for the rest of time. The faster the production and disposal process, the faster that of environmental degradation.
In contrast, handmade/crafted garments and accessories are generally one-of-a-kind creations, made out of high quality materials, by skilled artisans who use, and are thus preserving, traditional crafts and processes that have been passed down over hundreds of years. Such practices require higher levels of personal attention, so items are made in smaller batches. This reduces the amount of excess merchandise and decelerates the fashion cycle. The environmental impact of machine-driven assembly lines is thus avoided.
Made in a Developed Country
In recent years, two decades after the emergence of low-cost garment manufacturing in China and the Indian sub-continent, there has been a growing demand in the developed world, on the part of both consumers and fashion companies, for the resurgence of local textile and garment production. With the rising prominence of labour rights concerns and environmental issues surrounding the fashion industry, consumers are increasingly concerned about the ethical sourcing of their clothes. For retailers, with overseas workers calling for higher wages, and the ever-increasing demand for new stock more often, it is the rising cost of offshore production and speed-to-market that has prompted the desire to ‘go local’.
This by no means signals the end of garment and textile production outsourcing. With the demand for fast fashion, it would be impossible for the UK, for example, to produce the large volumes of commoditised goods that roll off production lines in lower-cost countries. The idea that clothes that are produced in a developed country are automatically more ethical and sustainable, though, is one that is worth exploring.
Manufacturing locally lowers the overall amounts of energy consumed, and emissions produced, by the supply chain. This not only reduces the total production cost of each garment, but the cost to the environment as well. Additionally, developed counties have a better track record when it comes to the enforcement of labour standards and environmental regulations. This means that workers are more likely to be empowered rather than exploited, especially because of the prominence of trade unions, and companies are less likely to obscure information regarding their supply chains. This being said, at various points over the years, a number of sweatshops have been discovered in the UK. Most recently it was reported that factories in Leicester, producing for high street brands including New Look and River Island, were paying their workers £3/ hr. Additionally, the fact that fashion companies are bringing production back to the UK so that they can meet the fast fashion demand of more new trends, more often, is in itself troubling, and counterproductive.
In a similar vein, it is not required by law in the UK to include a label of origin on any product that is not food. There are regulations stipulating what is required of a garment and its production process if it is to be labelled ‘Made in the UK’, but even these do not guarantee that it is entirely British, and they certainly do not guarantee anything about its ethics or sustainability. It is possible that for developed countries such as the UK, localising textile and garment production is one viable step towards ensuring supply chain sustainability, ethicality, and transparency, and ‘buying local’ is certainly something that we as consumers can do to combat many of the grievances of the fast fashion industry. However, as has been mentioned over again, it is still important to be aware of exactly where our garments have been produced, even if their labels tell us that they have been constructed close to home.