Ethics committee

blog_ethical_issues_bHow much do you know about where your clothes come from? To be honest, even as a fairly ethical consumer in most areas (don’t even get me started on meat production standards), I’m not as careful as I ought to be about finding out the origins of the clothes I buy and wear. I know that many of us are the same. We wouldn’t dream of buying battery eggs, but dubious origin Primark specials? No problem.

Melissa and John (who own and run Kettlewell, and who let me fill this space with my ramblings on a weekly basis) are very clear that knowing where their clothes come from is a key part of what makes Kettlewell the business it is. Not just because of the human rights and environmental issues involved (although are by no means an afterthought), but because they firmly believe that a company that nurtures its employees and that tracks and checks every step of the supply chain of its raw materials, from finest Turkish cotton to industry-leading viscose from Austria, will produce the best quality garments for Kettlewell to sell on to its customers. Since Melissa and John don’t make a massive deal of the ethical considerations of their fabric (to them it is apparently unthinkable to manufacture clothes any other way), I’ve decided to blow their trumpet for them and talk a little bit about the ethics of their supply chain, and the motivation behind it.

“Good clothes start with good ingredients,” stated John firmly when I asked what motivated their decision to use their current supplier of jersey in Turkey, “we knew that as long as we had quality in the warehouse, we could sell it,” Melissa expanded. And for them, quality means a supply chain that they can guarantee, where small batches of clothes can be produced to exacting standards.

Having made mistakes in the early years, Kettlewell have settled with one production facility to manufacture all of their jersey clothing for the last 9 years. It means they know the origins of each garment, from field to finished product. And that means they know that:

  1. The cotton is of the finest Turkish origins.
  2. The fabrics are sourced by the factory owner; he is a former textile trader, and will not compromise on the quality of the yarns he buys.
  3. The viscose is from Austria and is world renowned as the finest quality.
  4. The miles travelled over the course of the garment production is minimal – the factories are in the same country as the cotton fields, the viscose is also European and shipment of the finished garments is only cross-Europe rather over from the Far East (it even means that the air miles involved in the inevitable backing and forthing that Melissa and John do while a new line is being produced are kept relatively low compared to flying to the other side of the world).
  5. Before the clothes are even made, the cotton fibres, and any other brought in materials such as elastane or viscose, are processed, spun and knitted in a factory where the workers are paid a living wage, where their environment is clean, breaks are taken at regular intervals and where they have the time to produce quality goods rather than churning out X yardage in a super-short timescale at the expense of quality.
  6. When the fabric comes to be made up into garments it is done so by workers who are again working in fair conditions and  who are therefore motivated to produce high quality garments that keep their employer’s reputation and order books buoyant.
  7. This commitment from the workers all along the production scale results not only in an ethically produced finished garment, but one which is made to a superb level of quality and finish – a win/win for everyone involved.

I love how, when talking to Melissa and John, it is immediately clear that producing a top quality and good value product to sell to their customers doesn’t need to be carefully balanced with, or done in spite of, keeping the supply chain ethical. The two are synergistic, working together towards the goal of great products that we as customers can be happy to wear both because of the ethical considerations and because, well, we’re wearing actually nice, well made clothes!

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