As I write this I’m wearing jeans bought from Primark. They are the only jeans that fit my legs, and they’re sold at a price that I can afford. I love Primark jeans and currently have three pairs in three different colours. But once again Primark has been the news. Two Swansea shoppers told their local newspaper that they found an extra label sewn into their purchases: one said “Forced to work exhausting hours” the other “Degrading sweatshop conditions”.

At first, that sounded awful. I wrote about fast and cheap fashion in an earlier post and concluded that we shouldn’t boycott Primark because it wasn’t one of the bad guys. Primark paid out the most compensation after the Rana Plaza tragedy and has been active in the Accord agreement, one of the three separate schemes set up to bring Bangladeshi factories under regulation and inspection to agreed standards. But unpick that sentence – that’s just in Bangladesh. What about conditions elsewhere?

Actually, Primark has concluded that it’s a hoax. And there was something odd about the two labels as the labels were very similar, but the garments were made in countries thousands of miles apart and were on sale in 2013. OK, notwithstanding that, another piece of news tell us that a factory that makes garments for the American owned North Face caught fire recently and dozens were injured, but no deaths, fortunately.

I think we have to face up to the fact that our clothes are often made in not entirely satisfactory circumstances. What to do? Do we buy cheap clothes? Well, Primark, for instance, has an excellent website which sets out its ethical stance and the work it is doing to improve the lives of its workers. Or do we buy home-grown, British-made clothes? Grey Fox has a list of men’s clothes made in Britain. That’s wonderful but the prices are not going to be cheap.

That’s why I like buying from charity shops. It’s not just the price. I feel I’m recycling hardly worn clothes that are being saved from landfill and, at the same time, raising money for charity. But really, I’m only one removed from that initial decision to buy a piece of clothing. And I would say, we shoppers, we mainly buy blind, with no idea, whatsoever, what the conditions were, in which that garment was made.

Perhaps we ought to have more openness, transparency and choice at the point of sale. You can buy free-range organic eggs in the supermarket, if you want to, or not, that’s your choice. Couldn’t we have a label for clothing like a ‘kite-mark’, or the red tractor label, or the RSPCA farm-assured label that says the food has been produced in a reasonable way? Why not have that same thing for clothes – a universal label that says that this garment has been made in good manufacturing conditions?  Then we wouldn’t have to go to a shop that sells expensive ‘ethical’ clothing, instead it would be on all clothes.

The production of clothing from growing the cotton, picking it, cleaning and weaving it must be an immensely complex process; far more complicated and convoluted than the production of English eggs. Even so, High Street stores and shops; let’s have more information – in your stores on the clothes about their provenance.

That’s all for now but what do you think about cheap versus ethical but more expensive fashion? And having a universal ‘made well’ label.

With love, Penny, The Frugal Fashion Shopper

P.S. Checked my paper’s website this morning and I note that Aditya Chakrabortty has just published an article asking for a ‘Truth on the Clothes’ label. Must be on to something here – good!


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