Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Designer Approach: A Cardigan

In my quest for an ethically-acceptable RTW cardigan,  several commenters suggested I look at People Tree.  I did try there, but they all looked a bit too "hand-made" (yeah, I know - the irony!).  But it made me think I should explore a higher price-point than is my norm, and in the process I came across a number of smaller European "designer" labels whose hearts appear to be in the right place, many of which can be found at online shops like Fashion Conscience.  Sadly, the one I liked there was sold out, so I kept looking.
A small, "slower fashion" company does not have the same pressure to produce huge quantities of garments at minimal cost and high speed. They can afford to think a little more about how and where their clothes are manufactured.  Yes, it will cost more, but if they are already pitching their wares at a more affluent consumer, this is less of an issue.
Inevitably, if you slap the label "designer" on a garment, you are allowed to multiply the retail price by five because your customer-base is different.  I found myself exploring online shops I had never heard of, whose bricks-and-mortar shops are sited predominantly in the well-heeled post-codes of West London, shops I would never dare to venture inside because they are too darned posh.
But, hey, guess what - the summer sales are on!  It's the recession!  The really well-off are on their summer holidays in sunnier climes and everyone else is hiding from the Olympics.  What does this mean?  Potential bargains!
... and so it was that I found a cardigan.

Hello new cardigan!

Do not be swayed by the camera necklace (though I have to say I was delighted to discover it is part of the deal!).  What you have here is a classic mid-length navy v-neck cardigan with front patch pockets.  It is a neutral work-smart garment which I will wear to death, but whose high-quality quirky details save it from total anonymity.  Those are real leather buttons.  That striped back-neck-lining is lovely and also appears inside the pockets.  It is not pure wool but it looks like a firmly-knitted fabric and is hand-washable.

OK, cut to the chase girl, what are its ethics?

It comes from a small Amsterdam-based company formerly known as Scotch and Soda, but this cardi has the label "Maison Scotch".  I think it is worth quoting their ethical statement in full, because it is clear and straightforward, and after some thought, acceptable to me.  Really, it just sounds like commonsense - no flash community initiatives or microcredit deals for franchisees, just fair. 

They call it their "Code of Conduct":

"•All suppliers have to operate in compliance with the laws of the countries in which they operate.

•No supplier will engage in forced labour or labour which involves physical or mental abuse or any form of corporal punishment.

•Workers must not be younger than the age for working in any specific country and not less than 14 years, whichever is the greater.   I wondered about this one - but it is in line with the minimum UK working age.

•No discrimination shall be tolerated in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on gender, age, religion, race, disability, ethnic and national origin, union membership and/or sexual orientation.

•Wages and benefits must be fully comparable with local norms, must comply with all local laws and must conform to the general principle of fair and honest dealings. Illegal, unauthorized or disciplinary deductions from wages shall not be made.

•Suppliers must ensure that regular working hours or overtime do not exceed the legal maximum according to local law.

•Overtime hours are to be solely worked on a voluntary basis and to be paid at a premium rate.

•All workers should be free to join associations of their own choosing, and they should have the right to bargain collectively. Disciplinary actions against workers who choose peacefully and lawfully to organize or join an association are unacceptable.

•Suppliers must provide a safe and hygienic workplace to prevent accidents and injury to health arising out of, linked with, or accruing in the course of work.

•Suppliers must ensure that products (fabrics, clothing articles, trimmings, packaging, hangers etc.) do not contain hazardous materials (incl. AZO-dyestuffs, PCP's, Cadmium, chrome, copper, formaldehyde, lead, nickel) in higher concentrations than permitted and/or as described in the production manual Scotch & Soda provides on a regular basis, whatever is the more stringent. Supplier must ensure to follow REACH Regulation.

•Supplier confirms that it will not, now or for future orders, use any production technique that involves sand-blasting or any other production technique that is directly harmful to the health of its workers.

•Supplier agrees to maintain on file such documentation as may be needed to demonstrate compliance with this Code of Conduct, and further agrees to make these documents available for Scotch & Soda or it's designated auditor's inspection upon request. Actual factory inspections would obviously be better.

•Procedures and standards for waste management, handling and disposure of chemicals and other dangerous materials, emissions and effluent treatment, must meet or exceed minimum legal requirements. "

Now, obviously I am trusting Scotch and Soda to carry out regular audits against these principles.  They might not! But I like the language of their Code of Conduct and elsewhere on their website.  They sound like honest people. 

And how much did this cost me?

£60 (reduced from £140 in the summer sale at FussyNation in Bayswater.)

That's less than a Boden bobble-tastic cardi, but about 5 times the price of a Primark special.  There is no way on this green earth that I was ever going to fork out £140 for a cardigan, but I can justify £60 if it lasts me several years without looking worn-out or "dated". 

Only time will tell if I have made a mistake.  But for now, I have done all I can to appease my conscience.

And now I need to get knitting so that this does not have to happen again!


Linda C said...

To quote my mother, you get what you pay for. I will say that I have a few Boden things I have had for years that still look good. I like to wait for the sales and I, being older, shudder at prices when I think of what they were when I was in my teens. But, if you buy a higher end article on sale and take care of it, it can last for years. I have read that, if you divide the times you wear something into the price, you get the preal cost.

Nice sweater. I love sales.

Jane said...

Oh, well done! I'm going to look there now; thanks for doing the research!

christinelaennec said...

That looks like a great shop. I often wonder why people begrudge spending money on good quality clothes (or other things). I suspect it's because we live in such a throwaway society?

Lotus said...

Dear Roobeedoo,
Sorry to say but this 'Code of conduct' is in no way different to any other retailers as far as I can see.
In what way is this company more ethical than your everage retailer e.g. H&M?
The key may be to consume less and when possible locally. You still have some lovely things 'made in Brittain', for example Brora.

Roobeedoo said...

Hi Lotus,
You are probably right... except so few retailers actually publish their ethics on their websites, so I have floundered around looking for information, with no luck. I would prefer to buy "Made in Britain" but it is very difficult to find / expensive (Brora). My aim is to make all my own clothes. Hopefully I won't have to resort to retail again for a long time. Thanks for your comment! Having bought that cardi and discovered it was made in China, I am back at square one.