All of Us – Supporting clothes makers and ethical brands

We often see the phrase ‘Made in India’ ‘Made in China’ ‘made in Bangladesh’ on our clothes, but how often do we stop to think about what that means or consider the lives of people we gain so much from. It’s an invisible machine behind a global empire. This week, as Fashion Revolution week draws to a close, I want to share a concept I have been exploring. 

The movement of #whomadeyourclothes has been growing with activists, sustainable brands and empowerment collectives and has been particularly highlighted this week. There is a huge amount of importance in sharing the faces behind our products when trying to form emotional connections to our clothes. When we feel connected to an item through a story, an experience, or an understanding of its origins that item may start to feel less disposable and more treasured. In an era where the impact of fast fashion is the second worst in the world, beaten only by the oil industry – reducing our consumerist clothes habit is imperative. 

Sustainable brands are working continuously to highlight the transparency in their supply chains, ensuring fair pay and ethical materials throughout. There has been much outrage this week as H&M were labelled as the ‘Worlds most transparent brand’ by the Fashion Transparency Index report. Transparency does not always directly translate to a sign of ethical practices as discussed by Know the Origin:

Here’s what we know about H&M, they generated $1,813.92m net profit in 2019, but were still unable to pay a living wage to any of the people that made their clothes.⁠

⁠H&M is working hard to do better and they’re becoming more and more transparent/ ethical as the years go on, but that doesn’t mean their products are at all sustainable, child labour free, human trafficking free or add anything back into the communities they deplete from.⁠

Link to the rest of their blog post here.

To empower the makers and inspire the consumers, ethical brands around the world are creating innovative ways of building this connection. Local Womens handicraft – a womens empowerment collective in Nepal are sharing videos from their Artizans, the UK brand Lucy and Yak use a number system where a numbered label inside the product correlates to the number of the Taylor who crafted them. Brands are also sharing images on social channels with clothes makers all over the world holding signs informing you that they made your clothes. 

Nasreen, a friend who founded Local Womens Handicrafts mentioned above, was previously an undocumented worker in a sweatshop. She tells her story and explains the importance of knowing the face behind the clothes in her ted talk below. She is an incredible woman who was once one of the faceless workers putting her blood sweat and tears into our ‘wear once’ items. I would really recommend watching. 

As a designer, how can I contribute to this movement? 

I thought about how we could build these emotional bonds at the point of purchase, or even to inspire your purchase upon learning of the jounrney that dress has made. How could I build on this imagery whilst also increasing consumers understanding of the work that has gone into crafting their clothes.

What if there was a way to give direct feedback to those manufacturers. Or a way to highlight the positive transparency that the ethical brands have worked so hard to achieve. Finally what if we could not only put a face to the item, but instead build our understanding of lives around the world. Could this help build our global community and work towards an economy of co-creation over consumerism? 

Apps like Good On You are a fantastic source of trusted information, helping us navigate the truths of brands and recommending alternative retailers. To build on this, what about an app/plugin that showed you the people behind the product. I thought I’d give it a go.

The Problem

Western consumers are disconnected from the craftsmanship behind the clothes they wear. A lack of emotional connection or appreciation for the items allows them to discarded easily. 

Clothes makers all over the world are often over worked, under payed and underappreciated. Brands that work hard to improve this struggle to convey these efforts effectively to their following.  

The User

There are 3 users of the platform: the consumer, the brand and the makers.

Ideation

It could be easy to shine the interrogation light at brands that are yet to carry out ethical practices with this solution. However for brands to get involved, this service would need to be an asset to their company. Exposing their current practices would not do that. Instead by focusing on championing ethical brands, systemic growth can occur as consumers demand this level of positive transparency from the people that sell their clothes. It is for this reason that the service is angled towards these smaller, ethical brands.

This is an idea I have been exploring and ideating on for a few years, discussing my thoughts of how the platform could work with sustainable fashion champions. This is my current solution that is open to evolving as user feedback is accrued.

Proposed prototype

The mobile product would be used in store to build connection with the clothing and take customers on a journey through the store. These screens utilise video content with messages from the makers, I thought potentially this could be developed into a Virtual reality app where the makers are in the store with you, through your phone screen.

The proposed user journey is as follows:

  1. Customer enters the store and sees QR code on the end of clothes rails
  2. By scanning the QR code, the user is taken to the AllofUs platform where they can explore the craftspeople at every stage of the garment creation
  3. The arrow takes the user to a map visualising the global effort to create the item.
  4. By clicking on any of the makers, personal videos and more information is available.
  5. Direct appreciation channels lie at the bottom of the makers profile, giving a personal touch and building the feeling of a global community.

The web product would be a plugin that could be installed and used across multiple retailers who have ‘AllofUs’ enabled. The user journey is almost identical to the mobile platform, only the primary interaction point is through a plug in notification instead of a QR code.

Strengths of the product

The platform allows a deeper interaction for the #whomademyclothes movement. It also deepens the emotional connection in their purchase and improving the reputation of the brand. From the makers perspective, it is also an opportunity for them to get feedback on their work that was not previously available. I hope it also helps to set a president for ethical transparency and the information we want to be able to know.

Aspects to investigate through further user testing

I am intrigued to know from the users perspective, when is the right time to interact with the platform during their exploration of the store/purchases. There appears to be merit in facilitating the interaction before purchase to build the connection with the item of clothing right from the get go. However there could be information overload and it could deter purchasing through distraction. Could the platform work better at the end of check out, to make you even more excited to receive your item and more likely to return to the retailer? Is there the correct balance of information?

I hope to explore this further in the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading this Design blog entry, I would love any feedback on AllofUS so please don’t hesitate to comment or reach out to me at cjwdesign@hotmail.com

Charlotte 🙂

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