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The practices historically employed by the fashion industry to keep prices low and compete in the global market include using sweatshop labor and dumping hazardous chemicals in rivers that people use to bathe in and wash their clothes. These practices went on unchecked for many years. Disregard of human rights and safety led to such disasters as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 and the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed 146 and 1,138 workers, respectively. Events like this have opened the international community’s eyes and caused them to demand that companies take responsibility for ensuring the human rights of their workers and environmental impacts of their products are accounted for. This has led to a new era of corporate responsibility. Companies like GAP, Inc. now publish a Social and Environmental Responsibility report. Nike, Adidas, and H&M publish the names and locations of all the factories they use around the world.

One company takes this concept to the extreme. Honest by, founded by Bruno Pieters, is committed to 100% transparency. This means they tell the consumer absolutely everything about the garment they produce -from the materials used, to the factory it was made in, the carbon footprint of the garment, and exactly how much each element cost. Honest by raises the standard for the fashion industry.

But transparency in product sourcing and production isn’t enough for consumers. Long disillusioned by unrealistic images of beauty in advertising, consumer have also demanded a stop to Photoshop manipulation of models in advertisements. One such demand came from Julia Bluhm who, at the age of 14, started a petition on demanding that Seventeen Magazine “give girls images of real girls!” She delivered the petition, signed by over 84,000 individuals, to the executive editor of Seventeen Magazine. The magazine responded positively and published a “Body Peace Treaty” vowing to refrain from changing girls’ body and face shapes, to publish a diverse definition of beauty, and to build up girls’ confidence and self-esteem. The magazine also partnered with The National Eating Disorders Association and Healthy MEdia: Commission for Positive Images of Women and Girls.
Another counter-movement is the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which puts forth images of real women enjoying the skin they’re in no matter its shape, size, or color. Additional movements work to empower girls to appreciate their bodies and focus on health, rather than unrealistic body types deemed ‘perfection.’ These groups include the efforts of organizations like Girls on the Run and the Girl Scouts.

There has yet to be a company that combines both these elements. I challenge the sustainable fashion industry to go ALL the way and create a company that is 100% transparent and that markets to real people using real people in their advertisements. Only then will we have a fashion industry that is truly environmentally and socially sustainable.


In a project I conducted with two research associates –Jason Harper and Shaquille Odom, I analyzed the social impacts of ‘Honest by’ due to marketing techniques employed by the company. To read the full essay, open the attachment below.

Rachel Wintz,
Sep 14, 2014, 8:01 PM