A business such as ours only exists because it is seen as an ethical option that rivals the fast fashion practices of so many mainstream clothing companies. Ethical businesses are actively sought out for this very reason. We want to take a stand against fast fashion and say ‘this is not okay, I will not support it!’ By voting with our wallets, we can initiate change; and this is something many of us are happy to pay a little bit more for. But how much do we know about fast fashion? Have we done research into this or worked in one of these businesses, thus experiencing it first hand? ‘Fast fashion’ is this big ugly phrase that we love to oppose… but are we simply opposing it because someone else said it was bad? What does fast fashion look like on the inside, and more accurately what does it look like in New Zealand?

I’ll be honest… I have never been on the inside. I have done countless amounts of research, but I have never had the opportunity to see it first hand. And I am not only talking about the sweatshops in Asia; but also the operations of these businesses in New Zealand. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to speak with someone who has worked for these businesses domestically for several years and can shed some light on the way they operate. Her roles included being responsible for running a portfolio of stores for a particular brand. For privacy and legal reasons, we will not be mentioning her name or the name of the businesses involved. However, many of you can speculate on the clothing brands this may represent.

This post will be the second interview style post we have done (after the interview with No Nasties founder, Apurva). We are extremely thankful to our interviewee for taking the time to answer these questions, and we hope it can provide some good insight for you! I want to start by saying that this is not from someone who was a disgruntled employee by any means. Yet despite being thankful for the opportunities provided to her, she is open enough to give an honest review of their New Zealand operations. It’s a refreshing point of view, as many people in and around these business work hard to defend them and hide the issues. Keep reading to see exactly what being a fast fashion brand in New Zealand means and looks like.

Why did you initially start working in the fashion industry? Was it simply a job, or did you seek out a role with a fashion business?
I have always been career driven and passionate about people management. When I first joined, working in retail was not about the product but about climbing the corporate ladder.
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Would you class the businesses you worked for as being under the ‘fast fashion’ label, and if yes, why?
Yes, extremely – a very high turnover of product. Stores would have 1000s of units arriving weekly and at times daily. To keep up with ongoing trends and competition some items [prices were] reduced rapidly – sometimes even before they hit the shelves in New Zealand.
 
You got into a managerial role and had some control over purchasing. Did you know much about the products you were purchasing, how transparent the supply chains were, and how the suppliers were treated?
While I knew about the cost of garments and their country of origin – the details around their manufacturing was never transparent. There was a lot of pressure pushed back on suppliers if garments didn’t meet the company’s quality expectations. Recalls due to quality issues were regular occurrences and must have cost the suppliers millions due to the volume that the business ordered.
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With fast fashion issues coming to light in recent years, were you ever questioned by consumers about your practices? If yes, how did the business respond?  
[We were questioned] many times. When we did, we would reference our independent auditors overseas, we would sell this story just like we would sell our product! Convincingly, and confident that everything is great. There was never any photos or description given around the working conditions of the individuals making the product. This was a very vague territory and I had heard of suppliers that would work with other factories to meet the brands demands for a cheaper price. So, who would know what kind of auditing actually happened. The suppliers are desperate to get these high-volume jobs and large corporations will hunt for the cheapest options. To add to this, we were also questioned regularly by animal rights activists due to selling Leather, Angora and wool products – all which were sourced overseas.
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The negativity towards fast fashion businesses zeros in on their treatment of workers in the manufacturer process (i.e. sweatshops in Asia). On the domestic front, what are they like to work for? Does the cheapness they display in manufacturing extend to their operations in New Zealand?
With New Zealand employment laws, my view is it is a very different world, and we are protected to a degree. Although, with the introduction of online retail stores and the options to purchase from overseas it is a very tough environment to work in. Having worked in the industry for a long time, I would say most stores are selling product cheaper than they were 10 years ago. However, rents and wage costs have risen considerably. So, with smaller profit margins this has really made all retail stores think about where they can reduce costs (Suppliers being one). Many businesses work under immense staffing pressure with high expectations to get stock and tasks completed.

We know what fast fashion is by now, but the main focus has been on the manufacturers. Although understandable, very few people have gone into detail on what these operations look like in New Zealand. A quick interview, still some of these findings are very striking, and will surprise a lot of people. For me, I was alarmed to realise that some products were heavily discounted before they even reached the shelves in New Zealand. I assumed that products were reduced only when they weren’t selling well. However, they are received and put on the shelves, with the intention for them to disappear instantly. This, unfortunately, is what fast fashion now looks like. Consumers have an insatiable appetite for clothing, and these brands are capitalising on this!

More than that though, the people in these businesses are under immense pressure to continue to move outragous quantities of clothing. They are yet another cog in this massive over consumption machine. And why are both the workers okay to push these products, and consumers okay to purchase them? The lack of transparency plays a part, but the real reason is that the brands act “convincingly and confident that everything is great.”

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