Clothing brands that pay a living wage

In the age of fast fashion, headlines about clothing brands often highlight unfathomably low wages and inhumane working conditions. Companies like Nike have been accused of using sweatshops in Southeast Asia to produce their clothing and shoes on and off since the 1970s. Documentaries like The True Cost have increased public awareness about the grueling working conditions in Asian garment factories, often illegal even when workers’ rights laws are far from comprehensive, all to yield excessive profit margins for large American- or European-based clothing brands. However, some clothing companies have made ethical production a key component of their business, and they prioritize living wage for their employees over excessive profits. This article will highlight five clothing brands that pay a living wage, exemplifying ethical and transparent production practices in garment factories in developing countries.

5 clothing brands that pay a living wage

  1. Matter is a Singapore-based clothing company that sources its materials directly from rural artisans in India and Indonesia. Its philosophy is to serve as a link between these rural artisans and the global market, thus adopting a hybrid supply chain model that combines hand- and machine-woven garments. Matter’s garment factory is closely monitored to live up to international compliance standards and provide its workers with a living wage. It also exclusively uses eco-friendly and natural dyes to protect the environments of the communities where its artisans live and work.
  2. Grana’s business and production both take place in Hong Kong, modeling ethical manufacturing in a metropolis known for its sweatshops while minimizing global shipping costs to maximize affordability for the consumer. Designing, manufacturing, and shipping from Hong Kong allow Grana to pay its workers a living wage while still having a mark-up of less than half of that of most brands. Its factories are visited regularly to ensure that they live up to the company’s high ethical and safety standards. Grana is dedicated to using the highest quality materials sourced from around the world, such as Peruvian Pima cotton, Mongolian cashmere, and Chinese silk, and all these high-end fabrics are produced by workers receiving a living wage.
  3. Everlane is exceptionally transparent about its production practices. Its website shows every single factory where its clothing is produced, which of its clothing is produced there, the number of employees, and a promise that this factory lives up to international ethical production standards. Every factory the company selects to produce its clothing has received a score of 90 out of 100 or better on providing fair wages, reasonable hours and a good environment for its employees. Its website also details the exact breakdown of production cost and profit for every piece of clothing, ensuring that consumers know they are paying a fair price for an ethically produced and high-quality item.
  4. Tonlé, a clothing brand based in Cambodia, is built on the philosophy of zero-waste clothing. Its website details the exact environmental impact of every item produced, which is always significantly lower than the waste created by conventional production of the same item. To live into its zero-waste philosophy, the company either uses all of a material to create a product, or it produces the product entirely from scraps. Its products are handmade without machine assistance, and the company exclusively uses natural dyes. On top of environmental sustainability, Tonlé is also dedicated to paying its employees fairly. In a 45-hour work week, the garment workers in its Phnom Penh factory make between 1.5-2.5 times what the average Cambodian garment worker makes in a 60-hour work week. Tonlé also ensures that factory conditions are safe, and it provides healthcare benefits, free lunches and paid vacations to its garment workers.
  5. Patagonia is one of the most well-known outdoor clothing brands in the United States, and it also prioritizes transparent and sustainable production practices. Every textile mill and factory it uses, from Sri Lanka to Nicaragua, is listed on its website with information including the number and gender breakdown of employees and the items produced there. Patagonia vets all of its factories to ensure that they are “safe, fair, legal and humane,” and it additionally pledges at least one percent of sales to grassroots environmental protection groups.

These clothing brands that pay a living wage are part of an ever-growing movement toward safe, ethical and sustainable clothing. While fast fashion is far from dead, many companies are choosing living wages over profits, a crucial step toward reducing global poverty and creating a more equitable global economy.

– Macklyn Hutchison
Photo: Flickr

Garment IndustryThe fashion tastes of consumers in advanced nations can have serious impacts on the well-being of workers that manufacture clothing products in developing nations.

Not only are these workers often paid unfair wages, but they also often suffer from extremely unsafe working conditions. In 2013, for instance, the collapse of a poorly-built factory in Bangladesh killed over 1,000 people, according to The Guardian.

Bangladesh, like many other developing countries, is highly dependent on the garment industry. This means that companies who fail to treat workers respectfully can defend themselves against critics by claiming they provide jobs to people who would not otherwise be able to work.

There is some sense to such a claim. According to The Guardian, 80 percent of Bangladesh’s GDP relies on the ready-made garment industry.

Nevertheless, it is certainly possible for garment companies to do more, both to protect workers as well as to support support development of the economies and societies in which those workers live.

One company that has proven to be true is People Tree, a London and Tokyo-based brand that aims to be 100 percent Fair Trade throughout its supply chain.

People Tree has attracted the attention of The Guardian, The Telegraph and other prominent publications for its commitment to Fair Trade policy.

In 2013, it became the first clothing company in the world to receive the product mark of the World Fair Trade Organization.

On its website, People Tree states that “people and the planet are central to everything we do.”

Central to its business model is what the People Tree calls “Slow Fashion,” which is a philosophy that rebels against the high-speed mode of trade that is standard in the fashion industry. It is that rushed mentality that leads to socially and environmentally hazardous practices.

As People Tree’s website defines it, “Slow Fashion means standing up against exploitation, family separation, slum cities and pollution—all the things that make fast fashion so successful.”

With regard to the environment, People Tree engages in a number of sustainable practices ranging from the use of certified organic cotton to dyeing with safe and azo-free chemicals. Products are sourced locally and from recycled material when possible. Once the products are made, People Tree prioritizes shipping by sea over shipping by air, thereby reducing the company’s impact on global warming.

Perhaps most importantly, People Tree’s fabric is woven by hand. Specifically, by the hands of real people whom the company strives to pay well and treat with dignity.

Indeed, one of the reasons People Tree cares so much about environmental friendliness is that it understands the effect pollution has on the environments in which their workers live. Environmentally conscious practices lead to sustainable development and happier workers, which in turn lead to higher productivity and more business, according to the company.

People Tree makes 50 percent advance payments on orders so that farmers and producers can more easily finance Fair Trade. And it manages its Collections so that workers will have enough time to produce garments by hand without being crunched, which the company says “is rare in the fashion industry.”

People Tree goes beyond paying fair wages and maintaining safe conditions, however. In some communities, it provides clean water and offers free education to poor families. In many cases, People Tree partners with organizations that empower disadvantaged workers, such as women and the physically disabled.

A new precedent has been established for the garment industry, as social business and corporate responsibility become increasingly popular in other industries. People Tree’s success demonstrates the potential for companies to think beyond profit and consider the wider impact business can have on impoverished communities in developing countries.

Joe D’Amore

Sources: Telegraph 1, Telegraph 2, People Tree, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2
Photo: Flickr