We receive lots of inquiries from brands who want to create a positive social impact but have no idea where to start looking for an ethical garment manufacturer. The guide below will help your search!
First things first…
Be sure of what you are looking for. You will need to make sure your requirements for manufacturing match with a suppliers capabilities. What quantity, fabric/materials, price, certifications are you looking for? What services will you require; designing, pattern making, sourcing, etc.? These are all things you will need to think about when choosing an ethical garment manufacturer.
Where do I start?
- The Ethical Fashion Forum
The Ethical Fashion Forum is an amazing resource. Their SOURCE database lists ethical manufacturers all over the world and is a great place to start:
- Certification Databases
If you’re dedicated to finding a manufacturer that is certified with a specific organization, you can look at their websites or contact them directly for lists of their members. WFTO is a great example, you can search through their membership database (and find us!)
There are third party companies who can help match you with the type of supplier you are looking for. More and more of these companies are popping up to help you find your perfect manufacturer.
- Tradeshows and conferences
These places are a perfect networking opportunity to get to know people with indepth knowledge of the industry. All under one roof!
When deciding on an ethical garment manufacturer think about…
- The country you want to manufacturer in.
Be aware of the political and social environment of the country. One of the key reasons you may want to go into production with a company is because they’re in a developing country, but it is worth noting that this can impact your project further down the line. Understanding the processes of the country and realizing that there could be situations outside of your manufacturer’s control is very important. This will help to ease possible tensions that could arise in the future and to keep a peaceful working relationship.
- The product you want to create.
Manufacturers have different strengths and levels of expertise, ask if the factory has experience making your type of product and whether they can show you examples.
- The fabric and materials that you want to use.
There may be a country that is known for a specific type of material or craftsmanship. For example, Dhaka fabric is traditional to Nepal and widely used by our customers as it supports the local industry. It also reduces the carbon footprint of your product by using fabric that is available locally.
* Remember, levels of English will vary. Communication is very important. Always remember to be respectful and patient. Developing a relationship built on trust and respect will mean both parties reap the best possible rewards.
How do I find out if they’re really ethical?
- Ask a lot of questions!
Transparent or ethical companies normally encourage questions and will be happy to answer any that you may have. If they’re marketing themselves as an ethical garment manufacturer then they should be especially glad to answer any queries. Try to think of all of your questions in advance to save time for you and the company.
Questions you may want to ask…
- What do you do to protect the rights of your employees?
- Are they paid a living wage?
- What safety regulations do you have?
- Is everything made in house?
- Where do you source your fabrics from?
- What kind of relationship do you have with your suppliers?
Factories may outsource some of their work, for example screen printing or embroidery. Workers that are not employed directly by the factory aren’t protected by the same rights as those that are, even if they’re working with a certified factory. If you know you will need these kinds of services then ask in advance who will be providing them.
- Ask if you can visit the factory.
It’s always a great idea to visit the factory that you will work with. Understandably this is not always possible, but simply asking the question can give you an idea of how transparent the company is.
- Ask to see their code of conduct.
Factories must be compliant with local laws and should have guidelines in place. You can also ask if they have previously been audited. If they haven’t, it doesn’t mean they’re not ethical, but it’s good to know.
- Ask if they are certified.
Ask if the factory has any certifications and whether the fabrics that they use are also certified. There are many different certifications in the industry, they vary from environmental, to health and safety, to working conditions. They also differ from country and continent. You don’t need to know them all inside and out, but doing some basic research is beneficial.
And finally, be prepared for the cost of ethical manufacturing.
Ethical production is usually a little bit more expensive. Paying a living wage, providing benefits to employees, and fostering a healthy and happy work environment costs more. It doesn’t cost the earth, but it does mean paying a fair price for your product. Unfortunately, due to the insatiable appetite for fast fashion, many consumers believe it’s reasonable to pay $5 for a t-shirt when in reality this is not sustainable. Someone, somewhere is paying the price for cheap clothing.
Paying extra per piece may impact your profit, but refusing to pay a fair price means that many factories decide to cut corners. Those corners can be a lack of basic health and safety equipment, low pay, and forced overtime. It’s important for brands and consumers to understand the necessity of ethical manufacturing, so that they can do their part in demanding the industry wide changes that are needed today.
If you’d like to go into production with a Fair Trade, ethical garment manufacturer then please get in touch with us!