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The Jacket on Your Back Part 3

In the final part of our look at the origins and impacts of the goods on our shelves plus the myriad of information now available to the customer, we cover where the goods are made and whether it matters plus a summary of the questions facing the consumer.

 

Far Eastern Vs Western manufacturing
The majority of products sold in the outdoor industry (or any other for that matter) are now produced in the Far East, particularly China. For many years, the “Made In China” label was something of a byword for inferiority and in some cases, this may well have been the case. However, over the past couple of decades, as more big name brands have move production eastward, standards of production and quality control have increased dramatically. The driving force behind the production shift is not always entirely economical, though this undoubtedly plays a role.

 

There are other factors to consider:

As demand for products increases (in line with the uptake of outdoor sports among the population), supply must follow suit and as Asia has a young, willing and able workforce, there are simply more people there to do the job.

Many of the machines needed for the specialist fabrics and garment construction are, well just that; specialist and so there are only one or two in the world, mainly in the Far East where there is space to use them.

No longer are countries like China and Vietnam just sources of cheap labour but instead are at the forefront of technological advancement, they are leading the way in textile technologies.

Worker’s conditions are always a concern and labour welfare is increasingly being called into question, especially following the tragedies in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

Overcrowding and stereotypical sweatshops are still very much a reality for many but under pressure from consumers, many brands are starting to take notice. With wordclass training and facilities, workers and the factories are treated like huge families with healthcare, education and accommodation all provided plus many subsidised privileges.

Skilled factory work provides a way out of subsistence and rural poverty for many young people who can then send home money to their families and support themselves (See Fair Wear Foundation above).

Many companies with production in the far east now have full-time overseers from their HQs who live and work on-site, in the factory to ensure the high standards expected of the brand are maintained. By having somebody on the ground in Vietnam or China, they are better able to control product and worker welfare standards than a company that operates manufacturing remotely.

 

 

Romanian Vs Italian
Aside from Asian production, many customers have noticed an increasing amount of footwear being produced by in Romania. Many footwear brands originated in Italy, which has a long tradition of leatherwork and boot making but these brands are increasingly shifting production of some lines of leather boots over the border to Romania. The main reason for this is with the rapid increase in leather prices worldwide, savings have had to be made. The Romanian government has encouraged foreign investors with low business rates, ample space for factory development and a ready and willing workforce. The fact that Romania is also in the E.U., thus eliminating export duties etc and has lots of cows, is definitely a bonus! But the quality must remain the same and to this end, the brands have invested huge amounts of time and money in training the workforce and stringent quality control, all of which is much easier when the factory is only a short hop over the border from the brand headquarters.

 

As with the wider garment industry, much production has been shifted overseas, mainly to Asia. The majority of outdoor footwear produced in Asia for western markets is synthetic and aside from the economic benefits, the factories are just better at it and can produce higher volume.

 

So basically:
If you want environmental protection from your product: Look for Blue Sign and/or organic.

If you want protection of worker’s rights: Look for Fair Wear.

If you want humane down: Look for the Down Codex

If you want forward thinking and sustainable business ethic: Look for Worn Wear/Common Threads Partnership.

If you want quality: Look at the product as a whole, not where it was produced.

If you want ethical animal products: Look for registered merino, leather, down and wool suppliers (often, if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is; there’s been a cost cut somewhere.)

 

Many of the changes in manufacturing processes have come about as a response to consumer demand. It is choices made in store that will ultimately filter down to the the producers. Demand fair, clean and safe products and supply will follow. The industry is by no means perfect but awareness and consciousness-raising exercises such as the Down Codex and Blue Sign are a sign of progress. This is by no means comprehensive and written from a layman’s perspective, where possible I have provided links and I really do encourage consumers to read around and try and make as informed a decision as possible.

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