Photo: Jesse Caplan

Fashion ethics comes at a cost for businesses: panel

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Sylvia Lorico 

At a Ryerson panel on the fashion business, designers and entrepreneurs said it’s hard for new businesses to choose between using garments produced cheaply abroad and locally-produced ones that are expensive, but more ethical.

Ryerson’s Fashion Zone and Social Ventures Zone held the panel on Wednesday evening at the Student Learning Centre.

The panel focused on the challenges and experiences of local clothing designers based in Canada. Panelists included Jeremey Panda, head of the Peace and Cotton printing company, Shelley Haines, a contract lecturer at Ryerson University, Alyssa Kerbel, founder of organic kids-clothing company Mini Mioche, and Mary Young, founder of a self-named company that sells lingerie and loungewear. All the panelists are directly involved with the Canadian fashion industry.

Young said she prefers using goods produced in Canada to foreign goods.

“What’s really important to me is that I can actually go to the factories where everything’s made and I can see how it’s being done,” she said.

“I can see that there’s windows, sunshine, that everyone gets a lunch break and that I have more control over quality in making sure everything is done to my standards.”

The trade-off is cost. Young said it can cost about $20 to produce a bra in Canada. She said such a bra would then sell for a higher price than many people are comfortable paying, despite the quality.

“Some people are purchasing two t-shirts at $20 when they could just buy one at $40 and it would last just as long,” Haines said.

“That mentality needs to change. We don’t need these overflowing wardrobes. We can get by with fewer garments.”

According to the panelists, one way for sellers to lessen the impact of higher production rates is to sell online, rather than in big stores.

The panel also discussed finding ethical suppliers.

“There’s no all-governing body. You have to believe that a source is credible. It’s a big problem,” Panda said.

Panelists suggested entrepreneurs find a mentor who is experienced in fashion to teach them about business and finance in the fashion industry.

“It’s not always about making the most profit, which some of these big companies are doing because they are driving down cost, but (about) how you can make money while keeping your employees happy at the same time,” said third-year Ryerson fashion design student Kevin Li, reflecting on the panel.

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