How the SA 8000 and Other Standards Are Shaking Up the Fashion Industry

Environmental, social and ethical pressures on the global textiles and fashion sector emerged in Europe in the early 1980s. The main driver was consumer concern over the safety of the materials. However, in parallel with this trend, a minority group of ethical consumers demanded “chemical-free” and low environmental impact clothing and fashion goods. This resulted in the European and later the U.S. organic labeling system being extended to include criteria for clothing and textiles, such as organic cotton. As of 2007, the sector was the fastest growing part of the global cotton industry with growth of more than 50% a year. Regarding safety standards, the Oeko-Tex standard has become highly popular in the industry. Although unknown to consumers, it tests for chemicals such as flame retardants in clothes and categorizes goods according to their likely exposure to humans (e.g. baby clothes must adhere to the strictest standards for chemicals). Thus the issue of chemicals in clothing has become largely one of liability risk control for the industry with the consumers obviously expecting products to pose no risk to their health. Organic and eco fashion and textiles attracts a far smaller, but fast growing group of consumers, largely in Western Europe and Coastal U.S.

Of far greater concern to the global fashion sector is the issue of worker welfare. The issue was highlighted by pressure groups such as:

Global Exchange in the U.S. targeting Levis and Nike and others.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s anecdotal evidence began emerging from labor activists in the U.S. and Europe concerning the supply chains and overseas factories of leading U.S. and European multinationals. A key target was the world’s leading maker of denim jeans Levi Strauss, but more significantly Nike, the world’s largest sports shoe marketing firm. Global Exchange launched its Nike Anti Sweatshop campaign, focusing on the firms sourcing in China and Indonesia.

A good deal of negotiations and stakeholder meetings led to a generally accepted code of practice for labor management in developing countries acceptable to most parties involved. The SA 8000 emerged as the leading industry driven voluntary standard on worker welfare issues. SA 8000 supporters now include the GAP, TNT and others and SAI reports that as of 2008, almost 1 million workers in 1,700 facilities have achieved SA 8000 certification. TheFair Trade movement has also had a significant impact on the fashion business. The standard combines a number of ethical issues of potential concern to consumers – environmental factors, fair treatment of developing country suppliers and worker welfare. The Fair Trade label has show explosive growth.

Albeit on a very small scale and not always at the top end of the fashion industry, many niche brands have emerged which promote themselves primarily on sustainability grounds. People Tree in the UK states that it “creates Fair Trade and organic clothing and accessories by forming lasting partnerships with Fair Trade, organic producers in developing countries. Leading fashion journal Marie Claire ranked its “top 10” eco brands in a recent issue. The key issues remain chemicals in clothing (certified by organic and Fair Trade labels), worker treatment (certified by SA 8000 and Fair Trade) and increasingly mainstream environmental issues such as climate change. The world’s largest fashion brand Louis Vuitton recently acquired a small eco fashion label. It is clear, however, from the example of Nike and Levis, that certain issues are here to stay, such as a demand by Western consumers that leading brands manage the issue of worker welfare in their supply chain properly.

Controlling Sales of Counterfeit Shoes

As the number of counterfeit shoes continues to increase, trading officers around the world are working overtime to keep the counterfeit market under control. Shoes were the number one clothing item seized by United States customs officials and Homeland Security officers in 2008.

Selling and purchasing counterfeit goods is illegal, and both vendors and consumers can be prosecuted. Arrests of tourists purchasing fake designer pumps and handbags along the Italian Riviera have become increasingly frequent. Most of the time consumers know when they are purchasing a fake; they seek out a pair of fake Gucci pumps or fake Chanel ballerina flats as an inexpensive alternative to owning the real designer item. But as the manufacturing of counterfeit items becomes more sophisticated, an increasing number of consumers who think they are purchasing the real deal are actually being duped. Many counterfeit shoes to hit the US market are actually manufactured at the same factories where the genuine shoes are made.

New Balance, for example, went to court with one of the owners of its factories outside of Hong Kong after they discovered the factory had been making hundreds of thousands unauthorized “New Balance” shoes. Counterfeit shoes that are manufactured at the same factory as the genuine product are said to be made during the “third shift” or “midnight shift”. The nickname is apt. Often a Nike or other brand name factory will shut down in the evening and then reopen in the middle of the night to produce counterfeit shoes using the same equipment.

In September of 2006, United States Homeland Security officers seized more than 135,000 counterfeit Nike running shoes. These 135,000 pairs of shoes had a reported retail value of 16 million dollars. The shoes were being smuggled into the United States from China in 15 large shipping containers. Six people have been arrested in this international counterfeit scheme, which included smugglers from China, Mexico and the United States. They had hoped to smuggle the shoes into the United States using fake documents. They are now facing up to 5 years in prison and a fine of 250,000 dollars. The US Homeland Security and Justice Departments are describing this as one of the largest counterfeit smuggling rings uncovered in recent history.

Nike and other companies who outsource their labor to Asia are prime targets for counterfeit manufacturing schemes. In addition to the counterfeit shoes being smuggled into the United States in large quantities, the fake shoes are often imported (sometimes unknowingly) by individuals who purchase them over the Internet.

Ecco Shoes That Improve Posture

Ecco has a simple philosophy: The shoes must follow the foot.

When you wear a pair of shoes that allow the foot to lead, it can change the way your body feels, acts and responds. These shoes can improve your posture, even when you’re standing still.

In 1963, Karl Toosbuy sold his car and home and moved to Bredebro, Denmark, where he opened his first factory for his new company, Ecco Sko A/S (later renamed Ecco). Early work focused on flexible durable soles for incomparable comfort. By the late 1990s, the company began offering men’s and women’s shoes. By 2000, Ecco’s single-largest market was the United States, where today it goes head to head against shoe giants Nike, Reebok and Adidas.

The company calls its products “physiological footwear.” Because of their design, these shoes can activate body support and postural muscles so you walk more upright and get an enhanced workout. Instead of making the foot mold to the shoe, Ecco builds its shoes to follow the normal form and function of feet. Response to the 56-year-old company has been positive. Today it is one of the top shoe companies in the world and is one of the leaders in the field of comfortable footwear.

One of Ecco’s most popular lines is its MBT footwear – which stands for Masai Barefoot Technology. When explaining the process, Ecco suggests you remember the feeling of walking barefoot across a natural surface. There’s nothing smooth about a grassy surface as it usually has more “give” than a concrete surface. Walking across these variations in the surface can cause you to constantly shift your stance, so your foot stretches more, your gait changes and your posture improves.

Basically, MBT technology allows us to walk the way our ancestors walked back before the day of shoes. It also:

tones and strengthens muscles in the feet, legs, buttocks, stomach and back
improves circulation and increases muscle activity
relieves tension in the back and joints
absorbs the shock in our joints and discs
helps us stand more upright

Ecco’s line of sport shoes – MBT footwear – jump-started Ecco in the footwear business. These shoes come in athletic styles, boots, casual shoes, clogs, sandals and dress shoes for men and women. They are all made using Masai Barefoot Technology.

The classic Ecco shoe is the MBT Men’s Sport black nubuck and mesh model, which comes in black with a white stripe around the back heel. This model comes in a variety of colors and stripes, including solid black.
Ecco also makes a walking shoe that closely resembles the sports shoe, but made of smooth leather that wraps the foot. This model also comes in white with navy leather trim.
Ecco didn’t forget about the outdoorsman, either. Its Kifundo chocolate leather boot has the same MBT sole. The leather rises to the ankle and has five eyelets for lacing.
Resembling the Kifundo boot is the Fanaka Gore-Tex chocolate nubuck. This model doesn’t rise quite as high on the ankle as the boot, making this waterproof model a bit dressier. It is available in rough brown leather and smooth, black waterproof leather.
For a dress shoe, men may want to try the Tariki – Walnut Oiled leather shoe. Still within the MBT family, this shoe has four laces and comes in a rich burnished brown.
For casual days, Ecco makes several men’s sandals – all MBT models. The men’s Kisumu sandal in chocolate nubuck has the special sole for walking and two thick straps that provide ample support to the foot. It is also available in two variations: black nubuck and black nubuck with grey trim.Women wanting the support of MBT shoes have nearly as many selections to choose from as the men. They can choose from athletic shoes similar to the men’s models – like the Chapa in ebony suede and mesh, as well as coffee brown, birch nubuck and mesh, and chili (red) nubuck and mesh.
For some color and fun, try the Lami Mary-Jane in purple suede. It sports grey leather trim and a Velcro strap to break up the purple. Like the shoe, but want to tone down the color? It also comes in caviar black leather.
Want something dressier? Take a look at the Tunisha Mary-Jane in grape leather. The smooth leather and buckled strap adds to the dressier look, but the sole gives you the same great walk as sportier models. The Tunisha is also available in smooth black.
Getting out doors in the warm weather? Try one of the MTB sandals for women: the Kisumu sandal in black or chocolate nubuck – or the black with white trim Panda model (also available in anthracite, which is silver with deep purple trim).