A few months ago, I covered the launch of a pioneering sustainable fashion website, Source4Style, which helps fashion designers find sustainably produced textiles. Recently, the launch of a new fashion label, Honest By, moves the sustainability of the fashion industry forward even a step further. The company doesn’t just use sustainable materials in their products; Honest By reveals the full picture of how its clothes are made including where the materials come from, how the products are manufactured, how much they cost to make, and how much they’re being marked up.
For each product, extensive research has been conducted into every aspect of the construction and materials sourcing process, which involves tracing the origins of the fabrics and trimmings used to make sure that all the elements are being produced in a responsible manner. This includes gathering information on every element of the product production including the details about the factory where its made, verifying its sustainable attributes and certifications, and collecting energy use, emissions, and cost data. This information – down to the safety pin, thread, and hangtag – is provided in great detail for each piece of clothing that’s available on the website.
These strict sourcing and production guidelines might lead one to suspect that the materials and design of the clothes would be less than “on trend” (hemp, anyone?). But actually, the new line is quite fashion forward – with a price tag to match. Honest By was launched by Belgian fashion designer, Bruno Pieters, who designed its first line of clothing, and who previously worked as art director of Hugo Boss‘s avante guard line. Prices start at 248 Euros ($325). According to the cost information on the website, that price includes 9,74 € for materials, 51,42 € for manufacturing, and a wholesale and retail markup of two times each. All pieces are limited edition and sold exclusively through the Honest By website.
In an interview, Pieters said “Honest By is the first company in the world to share the full cost breakdown of its products. The word Honest refers to the way in which the Honest by store operates, with an 100 percent transparency policy. The concept behind Honest By offers other designers a public platform to share their own design processes; utilizing the extensive research Honest By has already conducted on organic fabrics and suppliers.” Twenty percent of the profit made on designer collaborations is given to a charity chosen by the designer while the other 80 percent will fund its growth.
By engaging different designers to utilize the company’s research into responsible fabrics and processes, Honest By has the opportunity to get more of the fashion industry on the sustainable fashion bandwagon. And it’s admirable that the company is sharing all this data with customers. But if the company is going to bill itself as “100 percent” transparent, there is additional information they should be disclosing, including the details its finances and compensation.
I also have to wonder, what’s the real motivation behind this transparency strategy? Is the idea to demonstrate what it actually takes to produce clothing that’s both responsibly produced as well as fashionable? The information may give consumers a sense of security in knowing that their clothes are being made responsibly. But is charging such a high price for those clothes really responsible? Or does this approach reinforce the perception that sustainable products are only accesible to the wealthy? Bargain basement clothes pricing that puts pressure on labor standards is wrong, but is responsible, elitist luxury right?
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.