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Gen Z wants transparency about where their clothes come from

by John Wheeler
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    Most apparel consumers don’t know how or where their clothes are made. But with Gen Z social media users demanding more transparency from their favorite apparel brands, we may be witnessing a sea-change in the way that fashion retailers operate.

    On a humid May morning in 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh — despite repeated warnings the eight-story factory was no longer structurally sound — thousands of textile workers were ordered to report as usual to their 12-hour shifts at the Savar Building. At some point in the morning rush-hour, the building collapsed, resulting in thousands of casualties. It was the worst textile factory disaster in known history.

    As consumers, we live in a world of seemingly infinite options for buying retail clothing. But when it comes to knowing the specifics about where fashion comes from, consumers are left almost completely in the dark. Only a few notable exceptions — companies like Everlane — are working to improve this.

    Gen Z places a high premium on quality products. Part of that quality derives from knowing exactly where those products get made, who makes them and under what working conditions — as well as how much they cost to make. In a youth-driven social media-verse where consumers can ask tough questions in real time from the brands they shop with, there’s no longer anywhere for the PR team to hide the dirty laundry. Gen Zers might be many things, but naive isn’t one of them.

    It’s a good thing to see Gen Z customers demanding greater transparency from their favorite clothing brands. But it’s even better to watch Z-favorite apparel brands responding positively to young people demanding ethical transparency.

    Few companies have embodied the shift towards increased business transparency better than Everlane. The San Francisco-based company is living proof that ethical transparency — combined with quality products — carries mass appeal for young consumers.

    In the retail clothier’s own words: “At Everlane, we want the right choice to be as easy as putting on a great T-shirt.” While it’s certainly a compelling message for Gen Z, Everlane’s talk is backed up by its day-to-day actions — actions which the company takes great care in helping  customers understand exactly where their dollars are going.

    Everlane’s marketing strategy is integrally tied to the company’s ethics. The stance is clear: There shouldn’t be any dividing line between selling clothes and being responsible about how those clothes are made.

    Everlane’s website showcases the various clothing factories it partners with from around the globe, providing in-depth information about each factory, worker morale, the ethics of factory owners and the story behind why Everlane chose to do business with it. The company’s Instagram feed is a striking blend of fashion elegance and corporate social responsibility.

    Case in point: A 2017 Black Friday post doesn’t talk about “deals” or “sales.” Instead, it goes into detail about actions Everlane has taken to benefit its factory workers: solar panels installed in its China-based silk factory; free groceries for factory workers based in Los Angeles; and free organic meals for its denim workers in Vietnam.

    Everlane’s website also goes to great lengths to illustrate the degree of care and compliance it requires from its direct suppliers. The company audits its partner factories using a third-party accredited firm with only a 10-day warning period. Over the course of an audit, if there’s any indication of unfair work hours,wages or a subpar working environment, there are serious consequences to pay — the most obvious being possible termination of the business relationship.

    There shouldn’t be any room for tragedies like the one in Dhaka in 2013. But with Gen Z consumers demanding change from retailers, and with companies like Everlane responding to those demands on a global scale, there’s the growing realization that not only is transparency the right thing to do, it’s also good for business.

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