I have waited a week to write this post. Though I have shared my views in other forums, I think it's a good time to check in with the KINGDOM. fam and explain what has been going on over this past week.
Last Wednesday, Baptist World Aid released their 2016 Australian Fashion Report. I trust this resource greatly as I have had the opportunity to meet one of the head researchers of this report, as well as participate in a presentation that they did about the report and how the research is undertaken. I can assure you that the research is thorough, accurate, fair, and extremely comprehensive. It isn't just a case of calling around to see what shop assistants think, and it isn't the case of making assumptions based on policies on company websites either (the methodology for this research can be found in Section 03 of the report). Therefore, when Gorman's parent company, Factory X, received an F rating in this report, I was justifiably disappointed - and evidently, so were many others.
I acknowledge that Gorman/Factory X received an F-rating for not participating in the report and not providing any information. However I should state, whilst I am still extremely disappointed about Gorman/Factory X's F grade in the report, I am predominately dissatisfied with their response in the days that followed.
As some of you may recall, I've been a big Gorman fan since the early days. Their designs and aesthetic fit me to a T, and I've always enjoyed everything that they have produced in the past. Therefore, a friend added me to the 'Gorman Buy and Sell' Facebook group a while ago, and I joined the ranks alongside 6,264 Gorman fans. This Facebook group has been set up as a space for members to sell, swap, and buy secondhand Gorman items, as well as to generally appreciate the brand and geek out together.
Whilst the group is a very positive and lively marketplace for the most part, it has also recently become a space for members to discuss their rights as consumers and their level of satisfaction with the products that they are purchasing. Topics have included how to wash Gorman items (as dyes have been poorly fixed and start to run upon washing), the quality of the materials and manufacturing, as well as the quality of items in relation to retail price. The members of this group are many, and they hold a lot of influence. This was evidenced when Gorman directly emailed the administrator of the Facebook group after the Australian Fashion Report was released. There response was as follows:
"Thank you for your enquiry asking about our social and ethical position here at gorman, we have our policy on our website for public viewing and can be found here: http://www.gormanshop.com.au/sustainability/
You may be interested to know that all of our suppliers are required to sign and comply with our code of conduct agreement which we have just added for your reference.
As part of that agreement they must provide unrestricted access, without advance notice, to all premises, to their employees and we audit our suppliers regularly to ensure that they are compliant with our policy and standards. *Gorman* do not and will not manufacture in Bangladesh. We manufacture exclusively in China & India where we visit regularly. External audits are conducted on the factories that make our products.
To view are audit report that suppliers must adhere to please click here: http://www.gormanshop.com.au/…/20160421_factory-x_factory_a…
In response to the Baptist world aid organization's recent grading in the media - please note that we were not obligated to respond; we made the choice not to reply as we are satisfied with our ethical standards and are continuously revisiting and striving to improve. The publicized "F" grading that was released for Factory X's social and ethical position reflected a mark which was given from a non response not based on our manufacturing standards.
We believe that as a business, social and ethical responsibility needs to be addressed on a continual basis.
Thank you for your concern, we appreciate it.
My immediate response was outrage. Allow me to explain why.
01) Firstly, instead of making a public statement, Gorman first chose to send a low-key email to a select group of consumers, which seemed like a somewhat sneaky approach to damage control. As I said before, the members of that group have a lot of influence, and trying to silence them first instead of being upfront with everyone did not show a lot of integrity.
02) At the time of their email, Gorman's public 'social and ethical position policy' had almost nothing to do with their actual clothing. It spoke of their Gorman Organic range, which "technically... doesn’t only use ‘organic’ materials specifically", and the rest of the policy addressed non-clothing related things such as shop fit-outs, packaging and swing tags. This page on their website has since been updated to add a 'social and ethical compliance policy' section, however I would argue that it is too little too late, and that their policy still remains vague.
03) They mentioned auditing their factories, however the attachment that they sent us was merely a blank template of a form that might be used in the auditing process. There were no results included, which defeats the purpose.
04) Mentioning that "*Gorman* do not and will not manufacture in Bangladesh" and yet "manufacture exclusively in China and India" does not provide any reassurance. Their attempt to gain support by mentioning Bangladesh during Fashion Revolution Week (which is also the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse that occurred in Bangladesh in 2013) fell short of the mark. The reason being that saying that you've boycotted Bangladesh literally means nothing. Even though the factory collapse occurred in Bangladesh, we need to remember that Bangladesh itself was never the problem. The conditions of that factory (and most likely many others) in Bangladesh weren't satisfactory, however, even in 2013 when the tragedy occurred, boycotting Bangladesh was never the solution. In fact, companies were encouraged not to boycott Bangladesh because that would result in the decline of one of the country's main industries, and that's obviously not helpful to a developing country that is already struggling. Instead, we should be fighting for greater rights for those workers as opposed to abandoning them.
05) Although Gorman said, "We believe that as a business, social and ethical responsibility needs to be addressed on a continual basis," they still lacked transparency by choosing not to participate in the Australian Fashion Report. If Gorman were proud of their policies and practices, then they would have had nothing to lose, and everything to gain by responding to Baptist World Aid's invitation to be in the report.
Many others in the Facebook group had similar views, which resulted in a lot of disappointment amongst consumers, as well as decisions to stop buying and supporting Gorman until they improved their standards and practices. Moreover, many people weren't happy about the disparity between the retail price of the item and the cost to manufacture it in either China or India (which could be an attribute to the decline in quality that customers had noticed). However, as I mentioned earlier, I was primarily dissatisfied with this situation as a response to Factory X's F-rating in the Australian Fashion Report. This was a very poor PR move, and it was not enough to explain themselves.
Then when I thought the situation couldn't get worse, Gorman posted the picture above onto their Instagram profile on Tuesday night. The post shows factory worker, Liao, holding an 'I made your clothes' sign, which is a sign linked to an initiative of the Fashion Revolution campaign. In light of the initial debacle, the decision to post this photo was insulting to everyone who was, and is actually trying to change the fashion industry - particularly to those who are involved with the global Fashion Revolution movement. Though above all, this was insulting to Liao himself, and if this post was not a genuine reflection of his experience, then this post would have most definitely exploited him as a worker. Again, this was a horrific PR move that resulted in a swarm of extremely negative comments, as well as a lot of media attention.
After Gorman received the flood of comments (which is still increasing), they posted this response:
Whilst their comment made it sound like they had good intentions, one would only have to know that they were misguided as Fashion Revolution Week had already ended the week before. Obviously we should always be advocating for social justice in the fashion industry year-round, however, you'd think that intentional prior planning to join the Fashion Revolution campaign would have at least led you to participate during the actual week of the campaign, as opposed to afterwards in light of negative media attention.
Obviously I am very dissatisfied at the moment, along with many other consumers. If Gorman are serious about being socially and ethically responsible, I'd like to call for them to reassess their social and ethical policy to make it more specific (e.g. list the factories that you work with, assure us that you are paying your workers a living wage, explain where your raw materials come from etc.). Secondly, I'd also like to call for Gorman to either move towards manufacturing onshore in Australia, or to reassess their retail prices to reflect the true cost of manufacturing, as well as the quality and standard of their items. Thirdly, I'd like to call for Gorman to be audited by a third-party in order to preserve objectivity and integrity, and then for those results to be available publicly.
Until Gorman indicates any sign of improvement or any desire to make significant and meaningful change, I will personally be boycotting their brand and encouraging others to do the same.
As a final thought, I'd like to encourage you to sign this petition to ask Gorman to produce in a more ethical manner, and then share it with your family and friends. Individually, we're not going to be able to achieve much, however if we speak up together, we might have a fighting chance.
Keep asking questions, keep living with integrity, keep advocating for justice, and keep believing that there's something better.