Apr 15,2022 | Steven Fleming
Why I am Blogging.
March and April are slow times for me. Australians have stopped thinking of swimwear, and Americans haven't yet started. Rather than fretting, it seems productive to reflect on all I have learned through this venture, and in so doing, share my experience with others. It's something I can do to push the slow fashion movement along. We should all understand what lies behind a sustainable and ethical purchase, while those with a passion to start producing clothing on-shore, should have honest accounts, such as mine, to learn from.
With this post I will deal with a shortcut to gaining credibility, that every new maker of a product considers. We’re all tempted to pay for accreditation, of some sort, as if this will provide instant legitimacy to our brand.
My opinion, is that honest producers should generally treat these as scams. I would rather build consumer trust in my own logo than sidle up to any accreditation body, whose business does not involve building physical things. What they are building, is a reputation, as something they will eventually sell.
Accreditation is a racket, if you ask me!
Give me some money, and I will stop anyone breaking your windows. Don't give it to me, and I'll break them myself.
That's a "protection racket".
Give me some money, and I will say your products are safe. Don't give it to me, and none of the people I have been working to frighten, will ever buy anything from you.
That is what I call an "accreditation racket".
If you have ever looked into green accreditation, professional accreditation, ethical accreditation, organic accreditation, or anything else of that sort, you would already have a sense that accreditation is an industry. In fact, it is booming, and as it keeps on expanding, it is smelling a lot like a racket.
It is sad having to lump all accreditation schemes into one basket, but there are just too many bad actors. Also, structurally, so many of them are conflicted in the same way. They subsist from fees paid to them, by the businesses they’re supposed to accredit. That makes them perversely incentivised to accredit businesses that cheat or scrape through, rather than exemplifying best practice.
My Own Experience
My own experience with accreditation (all of it conflicted, but not all of it bad), began when I was an architect. Coming from a working class background, it took me a while to get my head around professional accreditation, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification, and of course green building accreditation, as each was encountered in the course of my work.
My experience was not just confined to one country. I was a government architect in Singapore, was registered for a very short time as an architect in Norway, and worked (if you can call it “work”) as an architectural conference presenter all over the world. The systems of accreditation I witnessed, were fundamentally the same, wherever I went.
When I was an academic, I saw the rise and convolution of accreditation as it is imposed on curricula by universities and professional accrediting bodies. Now that I am involved in the rag trade, I’m seeing the accreditation phenomenon manifesting itself in ways that are out of control.
The first thing I realised, was that applicants are able to cheat.
Maybe it is because I am from a lower-than-low, working class background, that the first thing to strike me about accreditation schemes, is that they seem designed as invitations to cheat.
Anyone who has applied for accreditation, unless they were Polly Prissypants and never got in trouble at school (like I was in trouble each week) would have thought, “I could just lie! How would they know?”
Consider a type of accreditation that any first-world manufacturer would likely consider. They would likely investigate some kind of "made in [this country]" accreditation scheme, that would vouch for their made-local claim, for a fee.
The key evidence any such body is likely to seek, would be a photo of the factory where we are making our products.
You or I, because we’re nice people, would do what was required, in good faith. A cheat though, would just ask their contact person at their factory offshore, to send them a few photos from there. So long as they only chose closeups, and not photos of some vast space that would raise questions (if, say, an assessor typed the business’s address into Maps.Google.com and saw it was only a house), the cheat would be fine. It wouldn’t even matter if the photos showed all Balinese workers, since we all know factories, in the first world, are staffed by crews on temporary work visas. White folk know how to froth coffee. They don’t have the skills, for instance, to sew.
There is Zero Policing!
If accreditation bodies had to do likewise, that is, send photos of their workplaces to us, we would know they were struggling, just keeping their lights on. If we didn’t see kitchen tables, it would be offices as shabby as those ones that get leased to tax-time accountants’. Those photos would tell us, there was no way on this earth, that those accreditors would be doing a spot-check.
And why would they? They get their money from those they accredit. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, as you don’t go policing your clients.
The question to be asking, if you’re starting a business, is if you want to be paying for the use of these bodies’ logos, when cheats could be using them too?
In the case of locally-made accreditation, why would any of us pay anyway, when, for no fee, we can prove the same thing with videos shot on our phones! Post one a week to TikTok and voila: you just became your own accrediting body.
Most Accreditation is a Cynical Rort
By starting with the example of “locally made” accreditation, I have picked on a kind of accreditation body, that in my opinion, operates with all best intensions, and that is very well established, which helps. A lot of the newer accrediting organisations, I reckon, are just cynical rorts.
Any of us who have looked to have products accredited as sustainable, ethical, all natural, recycled, etc. etc., would have stumbled upon some real shonkies, working out of car boots—if not Nigerian prisons. They don’t ask for photos, just verbiage on forms. To write that verbiage, all we would need to do is steal a few buzz words, those we'll find on their own websites.
In what universe do we imagine these accrediting bodies will actively police their own applicants, when those applicants pay them, as clients? It would be the same world where I actually stop hooligans breaking your windows. “Fairy Land”, I believe it is called.
When you see that organisation-X, requires you to be accredited by organisation-Y and Z, to obtain accreditation from X, the horror realisation comes to you, that these buggers are all in cahoots! Organisation-Y will require accreditation from X and from Z. You don't know where Q fits in the scheme, but they've got their hand out as well. Then you learn X, Y, Z, and Q, are part of some guild, which is a signatory to a charter, all of it completely made up by a hand full of schemers, whose kids are all in the same school.
Why Aren’t They Illegal?
Back when I worked in highly regulated, and highly accredited industries (i.e., construction, and later, higher education) I would have looked at the accreditation rackets operating in the industry I'm now a part of, and assumed they would be illegal. However, now that I have been in the fashion industry for some time, I realise they’re a product of a laissez faire landscape.
If gaping holes are left in an architect’s education, and if buildings aren’t approved in relation to codes, users of those buildings can die, from smoke inhalation or falls. Legislation, and at least some accreditation, help reduce deaths.
By comparison, the fashion industry is super low risk. Faulty protective clothing and children’s sleepwear can be lethal, but most types of garments can be treated as frivolous art. An industry that is allowed to shred jeans and sell cellophane ball gowns, can be forgiven, surely, if it happens to spawn a few rorts.
These cynical observations have led me to the view, that my brand’s reputation, is my own responsibility to build up. I have told you how I prove to my buyers that my manufacturing has not been offshored (you can watch clips of me sewing on TikTok).
As for my concern for the planet, that is inherent in all that I do. It's not something I would overstate though. My halo is like any Green Party parliamentarian’s halo: an insult to those living in the third world.
It will require a whole blog post, but my biggest dilemma is my potential ignorance of human slavery, across all my supply chains. I have provided a brief note on that topic, below.
A Note on Slavery in Supply Chains
The single biggest failure of globalisation, is that unknowable quantities of human slavery, now permeate even the most Christianly homes. By latest estimates, 20% of the lithium and cobalt, in all our rechargeable batteries, gets tossed in the mix, from places using children as slaves.
Large companies (not small ones) are required now by law to submit non-slavery declarations each year. However, with the exception of a few companies with expressed missions to fix this, most companies lodge perfunctory, two-page statements, that basically say, “We don’t know!”
The best we can do as consumers, is to cut ALL consumption, not only of electronics, but other main culprits, like furniture, clothing, and food we haven’t personally grown.
In short, proponents of globalisation have dragged us into a seething hot mess, that seems impossible to drag ourselves out of. If you have any suggestions at all, please leave them below.