Fashion

How transparent are garment labels? Five realisations

by Simone Preuss
May 29, 2019

Everyone talks about transparency in the fashion industry but is it a reality? Hang tags for example, the small, annoying things that feel scratchy at the neck or lower back. They are useful and the first source of information for a potential customer in the store (unless he or she already found information online beforehand). But how much information do they actually reveal when it comes to the country of production, suppliers and other information? In an informal check, FashionUnited looked at garment tags of fashion brands at an average mall in Europe. Here are the findings in five realisations.

The eye test

The first realisation: Please take a magnifying glass or reading glasses with you because most of the tags sport such fine print that even customers with the best eyesight would have difficulty deciphering them. One exemption were clothes by Superdry - the brand’s tags were readable even without glasses; otherwise, no points for brands here.

The search game

Much text but little information. That is what the labels revealed. Much could be read but the question to most of the brands would be - where is the relevant information about the country of production? Because one has to look for it, among care instructions, company offices and the like. An exception was Superdry again - the brand did not hide this information but displayed “Made in” proudly in an extra label attached to the collar. Orsay as well - though the brand places this information on the care instruction label, at least it is prominently displayed on the first page (yes, care labels are like little booklets with various pages). Otherwise, no points for brands here either.

The language test

Many brands do not only hide the information about the country of production on the care label, which can be sewn in on the side and whose closer inspection draws the attention of store personnel - but also among the same information in many languages, often dozens. As useful as this may be if one wants to learn a foreign language, as irritating it is when one just wants to find “Made in” information quickly. No points here either.

The geography test

How well did you do in geography in school? Because you will need all your knowledge when scrutinising labels for production countries - everything is there from B for Bangladesh to V for Vietnam - China, India, Cambodia, Morocco, Myanmar, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Tunesia and Turkey to be precise. And this was a list of garments found in an average mall - which means, it is not complete.

To be fair, it should be mentioned here that the country of production alone is no indicator of production conditions. In China, for example, wages of garment workers have risen in the last five to ten years, often reaching a living wage. And there are garment factories with excellent working conditions and wages in Bangladesch, India, Pakistan, etc. But when one takes different factors like country of production and price (see below) together, then the label is a good indicator: If a t-shirt made in Bangladesh costs 2,99 euros, then one can guess at the production conditions and that no margins remain under this time and pricing pressure.

The lie detector test

FashionUnited did not carry a lie detector, of course but we did not have any scruples to look at garment closely and find all tags, even the most inaccessible ones. Particularly clever: Pilini. The brand tried to put wool over consumers eyes with - handwritten - labels that promised “fully made in Italy” (even for t-shirts, which should arouse the suspicion of even the most naive or well meaning customer). A further look at the care label revealed: “Made in PRC”- China. Some brands trie to avoid the issue with labels that point to the design instead of the production, “Designed in Italy”, for example, or “Crafted in France”. What is next, “Conceptualised in my bathroom in Tuscany”? But seriously: It is worth reading labels carefully.

The price check

One piece of information is easy to find and that is the price. It can mostly be located on the hang tag attached to the collar or at the waist. Or sometimes it screams from neon-coloured signs in the store: “three for 19.99 euros“, “t-shirts: 4.99 euros“, “get 3, buy 2“ or something like that. When dealing with dumping prices - especially when it is not a seasonal sale - one should be careful because no money is left for profit margins here either; especially none that could be reinvested into better wages and working conditions for garment workers.

Conclusion: One should look closely when buying clothes! Consumers should invest time, in any case to read labels carefully, when they want to make an informed choice. Or target clothes of brands and retailers that start with transparency from the labels themselves, for example German fashion brand HUND HUND or Swedish fashion company ASKET (not to be confused with Arket), which mentions the country of production for each part of a piece of clothing like buttons, yarn, cloth, etc.

Labels of the following brands were randomly selected: Esprit, Guess, Housebrand, LC Waikiki, Mango, Marc O’Polo, Orsay, Pilini, Sinsay, Superdry, Tally Weijl, Tezenis und Tom Tailor. They were selected based on a visit to a randomly chosen mall in a medium-sized European city, thus not aiming for completeness.

Homepage photo by Henry & Co. from Pexels, others by FashionUnited.