‘The day any of these brands decides to manufacture in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh is the day they sign their own death warrants’
An iconic international clothing brand whose co-founder has been a staunch critic of so-called manufacturing “sweatshops” has been sourcing T-shirts from Bangladesh despite advertising that the garments were made in New Zealand.
An investigation by The Spinoff website found that the labels used on WORLD clothing were misleading, and that a second label attached to the inside seam of their t-shirts read, “Made in Bangladesh”. This is despite the co-founder of the proudly New Zealand brand, the designer Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet, being a vocal critic of fashion houses who manufacture their products in less developed countries.
The Spinoff reported on Monday that WORLD’s stores in Auckland were stocked with their latest collection, including t-shirts adorned with sequins, and sweatshirts and sweatpants selling for NZ $199 (Tk20,000). The WORLD tag attached to every item read “fabrique en nouvelle-zelande” (Made in New Zealand), but the care instruction labels on the inside of the garments told a different story.
They said the T-shirts are sourced from AS Colour and made in Bangladesh, while the sweatshirts and sweatpants are also purchased from AS Colour but were made in China.
When The Spinoff visited a WORLD they found a sample T-shirt that did have the “Made in Bangladesh” tag on the collar which was identical to AS Colour tags, right down to the reference number which, when put into the US government’s Federal Trade Commission database for textile and clothing manufacturers and importers, linked directly to AS Colour. A spokesperson for AS Colour confirmed WORLD buys clothing wholesale through its online store. “I don’t think it really matters where a blank garment comes from,” the AS Colour spokesperson said. “You get them from manufacturers all around the world. It’s no different from any other surf brand or skate brand.”
The Spinoff reports that WORLD is not just “any other surf brand”, however. In 2015, it became the first fashion label to be endorsed by the United Nations, after developing a logo for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The logo has since been printed and sold on AS Colour t-shirts in WORLD stores, online, and in the gift shop at UN headquarters.
When approached by The Spinoff, L’Estrange-Corbet confirmed WORLD has been selling AS Colour t-shirts made in Bangladesh for “approximately seven years”, adding that the t-shirts “represent 1% of our annual garment production”.
The Spinoff found that at least 12 of the 133 garments being sold via the WORLD website, including the four UN logo t-shirts, were manufactured overseas.
L’Estrange-Corbet said WORLD once made their t-shirts in New Zealand but the factories they used had closed down. “We were unable to manufacture the garments here as there are specialist machinery required,” she wrote. “It was not a decision we took lightly.”
She pointed to AS Colour’s ethical credentials. “Child Labour Free (CLF) strongly supports and endorses AS Colour who are diligently working towards ethical sustainability in the area of supply chain transparency, ethical sourcing/supply and of course, the child labour free certification process.”
L’Estrange-Corbet’s supposed commitment to ethical commerce led her to recently criticize retail behemoths Zara and H&M. She said: “(They) all share the same manufacturing bases, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and whilst some of the factories may pay above their countries [sic] legal minimum wage, anyone with a single brain cell can work out, that this is slave labour”.
In an editorial L’Estrange-Corbet wrote for Apparel magazine last year on manufacturing, meanwhile, she talked about how global fast fashion giants had hollowed out artisanal manufacturing worldwide. She lamented what had happened to production in New Zealand, and about the way global luxury brands retained their value by dictating where their products are made. “The day any of these brands decides to manufacture in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh is the day they sign their own death warrants,” she wrote, “and are no longer considered luxury or even desirable.”