Most apparel consumers have no idea how or where their clothes are made, and for a long time few have questioned it. But with the rising social consciousness of Gen Z, and their use of social media to demand more transparency from retailers, we may be witnessing a sea-change in the way that apparel brands operate.
On a humid morning in May 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, thousands of textile workers were ordered to report as usual to their twelve hour shifts at the Savar building, despite repeated warnings that the building was no longer structurally sound. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the building collapsed, resulting in thousands of casualties and over a thousand deaths, becoming the worst textile factory disaster on record.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Gen Z - who now have access to their own funds and make their own spending decisions - are changing the way we look at fashion through their refusal to condone such a flagrant lack of regard for humanity. As consumers, we have historically lived in a world of seemingly infinite fashion choices, but when it comes to knowing where our clothing comes from, we are left almost entirely in the dark. But the economic force behind Gen Z, who are asking those questions, is triggering a change in the way retailers operate and in how we consume our apparel.
Gen Z places a premium on quality products, and part of that perceived quality derives from knowing exactly where those products get made, who makes them, and under what working conditions. Importantly, they want to know whether the people making the products get paid fairly; supporting Living Wage employers is hugely popular with Gen Z, many of who will struggle to find such wages themselves.
In a youth driven social media-verse where consumers can ask tough questions in real time of the brands they shop with, there’s no longer anywhere for PR teams to hide their dirty laundry. It’s a good thing to see Gen Z calling out perceived issues with working practices, but it’s even better to see youth centric apparel brands responding positively to the young people demanding ethical transparency. Major players such as H&M and Zara launch annual ethical and sustainable fashion ranges, and even the oft criticised fast-fashion favourite Primark have upped their game in terms of transparency recently.
So, things are certainly changing for the better, yet few companies encapsulate ethical fashion entirely, especially among the bigger brands. It is instead the smaller, emerging companies, like Lucy & Yak, who are much more in tune with the demands of Gen Z (and humanity!) The Barnsley based online store made their name as a dungaree retailer and are branching out with more ranges and collaborations as they grow. Everything about the company screams ethical, from their ‘About Us’ telling of their scouring the planet to find a suitable factory, to their ethos of “The system is whatever we all decide to make it, so let’s make a system where everyone wins.”
Transparency is key for Lucy & Yak, and both their website and Instagram feed highlight their working practices and commitment to ethical fashion. From introducing us to their factories and workers, to promoting ‘ethics before profits’ they are really ticking Gen Z boxes. They even offered a Black Friday ‘sale’ with a difference: rather than a discount or freebie, 10% of all sales went towards sending girls in India to school.
Beyond this, Lucy & Yak go to great lengths to demonstrate the care and attention their workers in India receive from them, including building a brand-new factory with air-conditioning for comfort and solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint. They are also working on reducing all non-recycled materials from their packaging using biodegradable jiffy bags, and they’re experimenting with fabrics made from recycled plastics.
Tragedies like the one in Dhaka in 2013 have no place in modern society, but without consumers questioning the conditions in which their goods are made, nothing will change. Gen Z’s demands on retailers are paving the way for independent brands like Lucy & Yak to respond, and hopefully larger retailers will quickly follow suit. We are moving in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go; brands can get there guided by Gen Z’s social conscience, and the realisation that transparency is not only the right thing to do, it is also good for business.