Business ethics in textile business

Published: 26/04/2018

Some time ago I watched a movie called Machines that shows the true story of print factory workers in India. You can find the trailer here. This week is Fashion Revolution Week and a good time to publish this blog post that has been pending and waiting for the right moment. Fashion Revolution was started in 2013 after the collapse of Rana Plaza, a clothing factory in Bangladesh. Over 1100 people died and more than 2500 were injured, because the workers’ warnings were not heard. They were forced to continue working in order not to lose their jobs. This week Fashion Revolution invites everybody to plea manufacturers of clothing and textiles to answer the question: #whomademyclothes. Who made my fabric, yarn, and fiber? Did they get a paycheck enough to live on? Decent working conditions? A free day every now and then?

The history of Rana Plaza and the Machines movie brought even more questions to my mind about business ethics in the textile business.

  • How do consumers feel when they see e.g. their tablecloth in a movie like this?
  • What is in the mind of the brand owners? Are they happy to see workers snoozing on top of the fabrics which are sold to consumers with high margins later on?
  • Are the designers feeling proud of the patterns they have created ending up in this kind of production?
  • But above all: how can a tiny design agency like us, or a group of a few designers, have an influence on where and how our designs are used? Since we are not happy to see our designs to be printed like this.

There are some examples of bigger design brands no longer supplying products to retailers with low business ethics. One of the most recent cases from Finland is the battle between Finlayson and the department store Kärkkäinen. Kärkkäinen has been connected to right-wing activities and deep racism.

Patternsfrom Agency meets most of its customers at Heimtextil. Probably everyone in the textile business knows how it is like over there: people from all over the world have gathered to sell and buy patterns for upcoming collections. Patterns are moved from one pile to another. Every once in a while a pattern is taken to the side for further evaluation and potential purchase. People come and go. No one is asking, neither telling, about the level of their business ethics.

How does business ethics then apply to a design agency? To our designers? Can we choose our customers and work only with the ones that have high business ethics? How to define high business ethics at the end of the day? Patternsfrom Agency wants to establish long term and reliable relationships with its customers, and we are strict with our terms when we do business. We value honesty and loyalty. This is what we understand as a starting point of good business ethics. And we are always happy to answer the question #whomademypattern since we meet them in person regularly. You can read more about them here.

Consumers have the power

Back to the movie. I don’t think the factory is one of its kind in the world. I don’t think all of the factories are the same either. Also, I am confident that the private consumers, you and me, have the power to make changes towards global wellbeing and fair trade. At the end of the day, the demand leads to the supply. People should consume wisely and especially less. Finally, as an individual consumer, I am ready to pay a higher price for a product if I know it is manufactured ethically. Are you?