As a company, we would like to take a moment to discuss our stance on something that is (rightfully) receiving growing attention in our cultural consciousness: Ethics and Sustainability in the Fashion Industries.
Some of you may be thinking, “But you don’t sell clothes, you sell fabric.” This is true, and while the nature of the textile industry in particular has insulated it somewhat from the more dramatic economic disparities present in garment manufacturing, this does not recuse any of us from the need for transparency, education, and action.
When Burnley and Trowbridge started in the 1980’s the world was a vastly different place. We worked primarily with American textile manufacturing (even our European sourced linen was finished here in the US.) Over the last few decades, the domestic textile industry has seen a paradigm shift, and the move away from domestic manufacture has necessitated a change in the way we procure textiles. As a small business that serves a niche market, our customers rely on us to source high quality product that is difficult to obtain elsewhere. The demise of domestic manufacture propelled us to develop long standing relationships within the industry which today act as our gateway to the global market. While this has allowed us to continue to provide the quality and variety our customers expect, it also has limitations.
For instance, we may not always know in which specific mill a product was manufactured. However, we do work with our suppliers to learn as much as possible about where a bolt was sourced, which often includes information such as country of origin. We work to find the most direct route to purchase product from countries such as Ireland, Belgium, Italy, and occasionally Poland and the Czech Republic. We are not a large corporation and because of that we do not wield the same economic power which that brings. However, we do promise you that we do our best with what power we do have.
Our exclusive products are an example of this. For these products, we have carefully formed relationships, working directly and on a personal level with our manufacturers in other countries. These relationships are long standing, and we are assured that our manufacturers are treating employees in a fair and equitable manner. This is a regular talking point for us during our bi-weekly/monthly check ins. This is also part of why our exclusive products come with a higher price tag, and we often turn a smaller profit.
Ultimately, we recognize that the fashion industry (like so many others) is problematic, and we acknowledge that the current structure of the industry creates many obstacles to a completely sustainable/ethical supply chain. As a small business, we have and will continue to take steps to be conscientious participants and encourage our customers to do the same. As individuals, this means engaging in civic action to encourage lawmakers and governing bodies to implement regulations that promote sustainability, equitable wages, and improved conditions for workers. Most importantly, this also means being educated and conscientious consumers.
Until the demand for a better industry is heeded at a regulatory level, the luxury of ethically and sustainably places them out of reach of many. Until sustainable/ethical practices become the standard of industry and are readily available and affordable to all, our work as agents of change is not finished.
As a good friend recently reminded us, remember to punch up!.
Below, we have included a few resources that we feel present the realities and complexities, alongside some ways that consumers can push for meaningful change. We realize many of these relate specifically to garment production, but as that is the largest destination for manufactured textile goods it has become the primary focus of the movements pushing for sustainable/ethical goods.
Infographic taken from https://hbr.org/2011/10/the-sustainable-economy