If asked about your favourite possession you will often talk about its origin, its material, its history, design or personal memories. Transparency allows us to pass these stories from designers and makers, adding value to possessions, and combating issues of design obsolescence. Learning the processes products go through to get to us will only be possible with supply chain transparency. I believe this is the change we need to combat design obsolescence and over consumption, as well as playing an important role in adding the personal and monetary value many products deserve.
In July 2014 I started a six-month internship with leading ethical underwear brand Pants to Poverty. Founded by Ben Ramsdan as part of the Make Poverty History Campaign, the brand “is an experiment that proves how fashion can change the world for good by bringing you pants that are beautiful from cotton to bottom!” Ten years on the Pants to Poverty support over 5000 farmers in India, they have successfully campaigned to pull a killer pesticide off the market and have been at the forefront of global campaign Fashion Revolution.
At a time when manufacturers are coming under increasing scrutiny, doors to the public will often close in fear of bad press or bad practice. As a result of their high standards, ethics and their mutual trust with suppliers I had the incredible opportunity to travel to India with the Pants to Poverty team and visit their entire supply chain, working towards building transparency and community throughout the brand.
Starting at the beginning with our cotton farmers, we arrived in the tribal village Dhanora P, Telangana. It was harvest time so we spent long days in the fields picking the cotton by hand, which at first seemed like simple work, but soon proved difficult at the pace of the more experienced farmers; Their expertise in choosing ripe flowers and the dexterity of touch shown in picking soon demonstrated the care taken in supplying a quality cotton. Once picked the raw cotton is transported to a Gin in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. Here the seeds and contaminants such as leaves or litter must be removed leaving the pure cotton ready to be combed. The delicate process is carried out by the nimble fingers of women who work together carefully by hand to avoid damaging the fiber; understanding the importance of their role in creating a good quality product. Finally we visited the vertically integrated factory in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, where all the carding, weaving, dying and sewing is done on one site.
The benefits in transparency are evident, with a company such as Pants to Poverty being able to trace and be accountable for the entire manufacturing process.
My experience staying at the factory has led me to think that vertical integration is an effective tool in production. Staying with a colleague in the women’s labour house gave an insight in to the sense of community that can be achieved in a clean, comfortable working environment; the atmosphere and enjoyment in their work being completely contagious.
Witnessing first hand the processes the majority of the textile industry use enabled me to gain a real understanding of how much time and how many people it takes to make a product. Each individual I saw throughout the Pants to Poverty supply chain took pride in their craft to ensure quality. An issue we face today in the retail industry is over consumption, many products have a short life span before being frivolously discarded.
I believe if more people were to understand the story of the products they buy and the people behind them, they would value them more and possibly change their attitudes towards consumption for the better.