The ‘Made in’ Label Controversy: Investigating Supply Chains in Luxury Fashion

As soon as we hear the word ‘Luxury Fashion’, high-end brands to the likes of Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent …comes to mind, leaving a lasting allure. If you ask me what luxury fashion is, it’s the silhouette that speaks of grandeur, the ‘Haute Couture’, the timeless inventiveness, and the impeccable detailed craftsmanship that’s whimsical and gives an ode to heritage. It’s like Hubert De Givenchy said: “Luxury is in the Details.”

Listening to Givenchy, in this article we tangle ourselves in the threads of luxury fashion, not the couture but the supply chains that birth the ritzy ensemble.

The luxury couture that blows the minds of many on the runway, and is sold for hundreds and thousands of dollars with the ‘Made in Italy’ and ‘Made in France’ tags, have a safely guarded secret not known by many.  

Every luxury brand keep in the dark the hands that weave them and the roots that produce them. The high-quality and exclusive European Couture, at the heart, has India as its producer – the nation of rich heritage & culture and exemplary craftsmanship.  Even if the couture is produced in Europe, at the end, the manufacturing – the reality of that business – takes place in India.

India is Luxury!

India’s contribution to luxury fashion spans empires. Its rich and ancient history at its core also has luxury. India has been home to many royal families and wealthy merchants who adorned themselves in exquisite jewels and fine clothing to show their societal status and wealth.  

In the early years, the golden bird was also the major producer of luxury goods, including textiles, spices, and precious stones, which were traded around the world. It was during the colonial era, that India was robbed of the luxury industry, when the British exploited the resources and imported cheaper textile.

Why choose India?

India has been blessed with fine craftsmanship’s – embroidery, beading and appliqué of the Indian artisans. The nation’s embroiderers were traditionally mostly Muslim men who had migrated to Mumbai from rural parts of the country. They’re known by the Urdu word ‘karigar’,or artisan. 

Embroidery has consistently served as a symbol of distinction, distinguishing the elite and the royal court from other social strata. Even when a creation originates in Paris, with ateliers in Paris, Italy, or England, India has undeniably emerged as the cornerstone of the embroidery industry when it comes to handling embroidery.

Another reason of choosing India is the price. Luxury fashion brands easily get the finest of craftsmanship for the cheapest of price in India. In the current landscape, two distinct types of textile facilities exist:

Firstly, there are export houses operating in secure and well-ventilated environments.

Secondly, subcontractors operating within smaller factories (these are more in number).

In cases where order volumes are substantial, Indian embroidery export houses often distribute these orders among multiple subcontractors across the city. At times, they collaborate with up to a dozen subcontractors to fulfill a single order. This tier represents the base of the supply chain, where working conditions tend to be less than favourable. Some artisans, in an effort to reduce expenses, even resort to sleeping on the factory floor after completing their daily tasks.

Since the 1980s, luxury brands have heavily depended on India for a significant portion of their embroidery work. Yet, fashion executives hide the Indian contribution to the making of their exquisite couture, and are hesitant to put the ‘Made in India’ tag when they should be, by law.

The Transparency Conundrum

High end luxury brands shy away from a transparent supply chain as they believe it will harm their business. Putting on the ‘Made in India’ tag worries fashion executives about the western stereotype of questioning quality and the optics of sourcing goods from places where working conditions can be poor.

The global fashion industry is based on exploiting workers. It’s not a random occurrence, but rather a deliberate plan, that most fashion is made in places where workers have limited freedom to join associations and struggle for their rights. So, when it comes to hiding information about supply chains, there’s a false belief that being open about it would hurt business. There’s a misconception that revealing where and by whom your clothes are made would be commercially risky.

And, this is the reason that the progress on transparency in the global fashion industry is still too slow. The average score in transparency of 250 of the world’s largest fashion brands creeps up by 2 percentage points to just 26%. For the first time in 2023, two brands scored 80% or higher. However, 70 out of 250 brands (28%) still score in the 0-10% range, reveals this year’s Fashion Transparency Index by Fashion Revolution.

This is saddening as enhancing transparency is crucial to safeguarding the individuals who produce our clothing, as they are frequently among the most susceptible individuals within global supply chains.

While more than half of the major fashion (52% on the Index) disclose their first-tier supplier lists, the second-tiers are still unknown. The overall average score in the Traceability section is 23% but nearly half (45%) of brands tell little to nothing, scoring just 0-1% overall in the section. If brands do not know or disclose the facilities where their clothes are made all the way along their supply chain, they cannot be held accountable for their human rights and environmental impacts. We cannot fix what we cannot see.

However, the Dior Fashion Week in Mumbai, India for many marked the initial step of being transparent about the supply chain. The stunning runway presentation marked a joyous tribute to the rich heritage of Indian craftsmanship and the skilled master artisans from Chanakya Ateliers in the city. It has initiated a butterfly effect, changing the fashion brands are thinking and is putting India forward. highlighting India’s craftsmanship and embroidery work now is not only a sense of pride for luxury brands but is also now forming the base for the rise of ‘Made in India’ in luxury fashion.

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