Monday, 29 April 2019

Fashion Revolution Week 2019: Vintage Repro Ethics

Have you ever wondered who made your clothes, how much they’re paid, and what their lives are like?  That's exactly what Fashion Revolution asks us to do for one week each year, seeking greater transparency and accountability in the supply chain of clothing manufacture.  A fairer, safer, and fashion industry is the aim.

"Our clothes have gone on a long journey before they hit store shelves, passing through the hands of cotton farmers, spinners, weavers, dyers, sewers and others. Approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes. 80% of them are women between the ages of 18 and 35.  However, the majority of the people who makes clothes for the global market live in poverty, unable to afford life’s basic necessities. Many are subject to exploitation; verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe and dirty conditions, with very little pay." (Fashion Revolution, 2019)

The issues are just as pertinent in the vintage reproduction ("repro") fashion industry, but I wonder if the sector is actually less transparent than even the high street.  From my experiences over the last few years in emailing, tweeting and phoning vintage repro brands about their ethics, I have had wildly varying responses.  On Instagram over the last week, I asked a different vintage repro brand each day, "Who made my clothes?".  Here are the results.

House of Foxy
Wearing the House of Foxy "whirlaway skirt"

Response to my Instagram question: A swift response (within minutes), stating that the skirt "is made by a machinist in our Scottish factory.  We do 'through work' mainly.  I don't know whether she will be happy to be named on social media so for respecting her privacy I will refrain.  I will ask her tomorrow xx"

What is says on their website: "We proudly manufacture the majority of our own range of vintage inspired clothing ethically in Britain and Europe." and "Our values are to sell top quality clothing produced locally and in ethical circumstances and using local or regional businesses where possible."

I have always been impressed with the transparency of this brand (they used to manufacture solely in the UK but have been up front that they now manufacture some items in Europe).  I once interviewed the lovely owner, Clare, for In Retrospect magazine about ethics.  I get the impression that they're really trying their best.  I'd love to see some 'behind the scenes' photos of some of their factories, and hope that in future years they can join in with Fashion Revolution by having workers declare "I made your clothes!"

Wearing the 'Lana' dress

Response to my Instagram question: None at first - they 'liked' my photo, that's all.  I then emailed them, and asked my question again on an Instagram post of theirs.  I did then get an email back, it stated "All of our factories are audited by V-Trust. We do not use third parties for our fabric construction and we also use ethical dying and printing processing working towards the G8 and G20 promise; as to reduce and not pollute the environment closely effected in China."

What it says on their website: There is no mention of the word 'ethics' at all.

It is great to hear that they are using auditors to independently assess the factories that they use.  I'm left wanting to know a lot more about the ethical dying and printing processing that they are using.

Seamstress of Bloomsbury
Wearing the "Violet" dress

Response to my Instagram question: "Unlike some smaller brands who use the 'made through' method our clothing is manufactured by the 'production line' method meaning we have several different machinists designated to making different parts of the final garment.  Due to the commercial sensitivity of our business we do not disclose the precise location of our manufacturers however we will be uploading content of our production in the near future to give customers a glimpse into where and how their garments are made, watch this space...  We are in full support of #ethicaltrading #fashionrevolution #sustainablefashion."

What it says on their website: There is no mention of the word 'ethics' at all.

This all sounds very good on the surface, and I look forward to seeing the future content they mention.  However, I'm left really wanting more information - not an exact location of their factories, but a country, or even a continent would be nice!

Vivien of Holloway
Wearing the 'slashneck top'

Response to my Instagram question: None.

What it says on their website: "All Vivien of Holloway garments are proudly made in London."

I was surprised not to get a response - after all, their garments are apparently made in London, so I would have thought that the brand would be quite vocal about their ethics.  I'm again left wanting to know more!

Pretty Retro
Wearing the "Pretty tea dress"

Response to my Instagram question: "This is our tea dress - made in a factory in Lodz, Poland.  Obviously being based in the EU, the factory adheres to all the regulations you would expect.  Moreover, we visit this factory regularly and are very satisfied with everything.  What is particularly lovely is how happy everyone seems!  Hope that helps!"

What it says on their website: "Our garments, where possible, are manufactured in the EU to high ethical standards."

Pretty Retro is run by the same people as House of Foxy, and so the same level of transparency is present.  I had a query over their sweaters a while ago too, as they were making them in China at the time and stated that "The factory in China where they were made are very reputable and are a smaller factory than most. We have seen video via whatsapp and were very pleased with the conditions and staff wellbeing.  These sweaters will soon be produced in Europe as per our other products. So, if you are specifically concerned before buying - then we would understand if you prefer to wait."  Again, they are really happy to answer questions and supply a bit more information than some other brands.

Freddies of Pinewood
Wearing the "Spellbound" blouse

Response to my Instagram question: None.

What it says on their website: I couldn't find an ethics statement at all, I really hunted around.  Eventually I found that on each garment description, they specify 'Made in England'.

I'm baffled once again why a company making their clothes in the UK isn't shouting it from the rooftops!  A little while ago I did email their customer service about where they make their clothes, and was told "One item is made in Turkey,The Grease Monkey, no factories here are up to making it.  Everything else is made in London and UK."

 Wearing the "swing trousers"

Response to my Instagram question: None.

What it says on their website: "Heyday is passionate about keeping traditional skills alive, and we only use small manufacturers based in the UK where we are based, and in New Zealand where we started. We try to use authentic style fabrics wherever possible, and also source off-cuts and fabric remnants from designer ateliers so they don't go to waste and can be used to create beautiful, limited edition garments. So not only are our clothes glamorous and well-made, they are 100% ethical and guilt-free!  In this world of disposable fashion, we like to think we're making the vintage of tomorrow."

This is reassuring stuff - but I think I would like information on each garment as to whether it's been made in the UK or in New Zealand, as there are quite a lot of air miles difference.  A little while ago I did email their customer service about where they make their trousers specifically, and was told "We’re pleased to say that we have two manufacturers, and they are both based in the U.K, Nottingham."

So... what next then?
Overall I am disappointed that so many vintage repro brands that appear to be manufacturing in the UK didn't take the opportunity to engage in a conversation about ethics in Fashion Revolution week.  It seems as though the conversation about ethics in mainstream fashion isn't as loud in the world of vintage repro - and that needs to change!

What brands can do:
  • Display ethical information prominently on websites - either on the front page, or in somewhere really obvious like 'FAQs' or 'About us'.  Customers shouldn't have to hunt for it!
  • Provide more detailed ethical information - rather than just say you're "committed to fair fashion", spell out some of the policies and standards that your brand adheres to.  What is your brand's ethical code of conduct?
  • Incorporate ethical information on a more regular basis in your communications e.g. in newsletters, blog posts.
  • Provide information for each garment on where it is made, if garments are made in a range of locations - the customer can then make an informed choice about their purchase.
  • Read the Fashion Transparency report published by Fashion Revolution.
  • Take part in Fashion Revolution next year by sharing with your customers, who made their clothes!
What customers can do:
  • Let brands know that ethics are important to you - keep asking questions!

Do you think you'll take part in Fashion Revolution next year?

Linking up with: #iwillwearwhatilikeVisible Monday, Fancy Friday


  1. Well done, you! I'm been fascinated with this over on Instagram. I'm hugely impressed with House of Foxy (and the sister company) and how quickly and clearly they responded to your question, what a great attitude, they certainly deserve your custom.

    It's a tricky one for businesses to be really transparent. I know a small company in Sheffield who get their clothes tailor-made by a family in Goa and proudly let people know that their garments are made ethically and fairly only for a rival company to approach the family and offer to pay them more more for the same designs!

    You look amazing in all your repro especially that cheerful House of Foxy skirt! xxx

    1. That's very underhanded of that rival company, how awful!! It is particularly tough for smaller businesses - to get on some of the 'ethical lists' you have to pay, which only bigger companies can afford. It is such a complex issue. Xx

  2. How good of you! I worked for a company that only made their clothes in the Netherlands! I think it is very important to think twice about what and how much we buy!

  3. What an interesting read. But I must say I'm a bit disappointed that you didn't get more response from these companies. I would have thought that, usually smaller, companies like these would have a more transparent policy and would be more willing to participate in campaigns like Fashion Revolution. I've always been thrilled to spot a Made in Belgium label in contemporary fashion labels, for instance, thinking that at least that's a good thing, only to be told recently that it's not a guarantee. The garment might still be made somewhere else entirely, under who knows which circumstances, and just finished in Belgium, warranting the Made in Belgium label. xxx

  4. Very interesting information that you got from the different companies! It's cool how many did respond, but as you said a bit strange that some of ones that manufacture in the UK aren't more vocal about it. I feel like this is a very real concern for many people, given how many posts I saw about it on Instagram. I don't buy a lot of modern clothing, even repro, but it made me think about the things that I do buy new, like shoes and underwear.

  5. Thanks for sharing this round up post! I saw your pics on instagram, and saw that a few companies had responded, which is great, but was a bit surprised that more aren't sharing that they are manufacturing in an ethical manner!

  6. Very thought provoking ... and it's great the companies are held accountable by direct consumers, it was a great idea to ask each one of them about their production.

  7. I love that this is a thing in the fashion community, and I hope more people pick it up and run with it. That said, I love the investigating you did here! I greatly applaud you! Also, I didn't know Freddies moved manufacturing. When I got my first pair back in 2012 they were made in Turkey.



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