The fashion industry is notoriously opaque. According to this year's Fashion Transparency Report by non-profit brand Fashion Revolution, only 15% of major brands disclose the total quantity of products that they make annually. As a result, the industry is rife with overproduction, wastage and dead stock (items that aren't expected to ever sell). However, more and more clothing companies are starting to open their doors to the public – shining a light on their production processes and helping customers decide whether products justify their price tag.
Factory tourism in Portugal
Transparency has been one of the central pillars of Portuguese organic clothing label ISTO since it launched in 2017 – in fact, it's what the ‘T’ in its name stands for (the other letters stand for ‘independent’, ‘superb’ and ‘organic‘). The company has always shared its cost breakdowns and suppliers, but now it's opening factories up to the public. For the first factory tourism trip – dubbed ‘factourism’ – it's taking 100 people (at the company's expense) on a tour around Lisbon to meet three of its manufacturers. The initial trip will plot the production process of a single white T-shirt, with plans to expand to other products if factourism is a hit. ‘We want to demonstrate the quality and the ethical conditions that all our suppliers work in,’ says co-founder Pedro Palha. ‘We want to show how we're doing things differently and, in the end, allow clients to make better purchasing decisions.’
ISTO transparency stats
• 48,000: Estimated items of clothing made in 2022.
• 7%: Returns or exchanged.
• 30 days: Average payment terms for suppliers (30 days on receipt = 30 days after ISTO receives the stock).
• 14: Number of suppliers.
• Six: Number of steps in the production chain to make a T-shirt.
• 23.8%: Profit margin on ISTO's popular Work Jacket in 2021.
Buying into how a suit is made
Purchasing a workwear suit from Batch LDN gives customers a front-row ticket to the making of the product. The made-to-order suits take eight weeks to arrive, with the brand on a mission to manufacture only what's necessary to avoid waste. ‘Asking people to wait for something [once] they've paid for it is very difficult,’ says co-founder Julian Osborne, ‘but we've flipped that on its head and turned it into an opportunity to educate customers [on] the value of clothing.’ As their suit is being made, Batch customers are updated via email and video content at eight different touchpoints – from picking cotton in Italy to meeting the seamsters that work on the suit, all the way to the final press and quality control. ‘To get people to keep coming back and buying into what we're doing, we need to take people on an experiential journey,’ says co-founder Sam Matanle.
Batch LDN transparency stats
• 100: Number of suits in the first batch.
• 3,500: Number of suits Batch LDN wants to make in year three.
• Upfront: Initial payment terms with suppliers.
• Five: Steps in the supply chain for the workwear suits.
A fashion brand pioneering price transparency in Poland
Since 2015, Polish fashion brand Elementy has openly discussed the costs that go into each item. Co-founder Bartosz Ladra happily admits that the brand has a markup of 2.5 times the production costs of each item. So, if it costs 100zł ($21) to make a T-shirt, it sells it for 250zł ($52). Bartosz says this enables the brand to grow sustainably – investing in decent salaries, new collections and the rental cost for its two stores in Warsaw.