Benetton was my favourite brand as a kid. Together with Sisley, (well, and some other Italian and French brands), it was for me the epitome of quality and style. This was due to the fact that the “Made in Italy” brand was huge back then. It still is, but now it comes at a price that few people can afford, but this is a totally different story.
I grew up in a small town in central Greece which lies between the mountain of the Centaurs and the port from which the Argonauts took off to their dangerous journey. The sea was inviting me to faraway destinations already from that age, but I only had my bike to go after my big adventures. Curious and adventurous, I loved clothes, nevertheless. I loved quality clothes and I have a growing interest as to how, where and from what they were made of, clearly thanks to my mother. I’ve written more on my affair with garments & Co on Trusted Clothes. But, let’s focus on my Benetton story.
Like I said, Benetton was producing mostly in Italy back in the nineties and customers cherished the quality materials and the craftsmanship that could guarantee a long garment life. Fast Fashion was not out and about quite yet. We loved buying items that would last for a while, items in which we could appeal to our teenage crashes or would let us go to church on Sunday looking like a femme fatale and feeling quite ok about it (true story).
As a student in the big city, I forgot all about Benetton and my heart started beating for Mr Zara and the Inditex Group, still producing a fair amount of their garments in Spain by that time. Then, at a certain point I was not paying attention, things got out of control. Every other major clothing company started producing in China, India, Turkey, Morocco, Bangladesh, Cambodia. Every other major clothing company started focusing on capital accumulation and obscene, excessive profit (not sure just exactly how Marx’s ‘surplus value’ is related to that) and forgot all about fair trade, good working conditions, respect for the environment, health safety regulations and the like.
Where does Benetton come in here? Benetton, the brand I always admired for its creative and provocative marketing campaigns, its visual bravado for love and equality, its Social Responsibility Strategy, the UNHATE Foundation and so on so forth, exactly that Benetton which fascinated me, it perspires that it was doing exactly the opposite of what it was preaching: it was producing in sweatshop conditions and it was polluting the environment without batting an eye. That Benetton was later found to be producing in the Rana Plaza factory the very moment it collapsed, killing more than 1.300 workers who were making clothes, without even having the decency to admit it, initially.
Benetton paid the compensation to the workers in the end, but let’s not forget that no compensation is ever enough for people who lost their loved ones in the disaster or will stay crippled for life. At least, we can be content for one thing: this atrocious incident marked the beginning of the Fashion Revolution, a non-profit movement campaigning for transparency in the fashion industry, which has become a global consumer movement that slowly but surely is bringing the change in the fashion industry. Only last year, Fashion Revolution managed to animate 70k consumers into asking brands the tricky question #WhoMadeMyClothes. I am proud to be an active member of this movement, as I have co-organised the Fashion Revolution Day in Thessaloniki, Greece last April.
So, who made my clothes last season, Benetton? After some on site research i.e. visiting an actual shop, I’ve noticed a new tendency. Production has moved to the Balkans, it seems (three first labels read: Made in Serbia , Made in Croatia, Made in Romania and only the last one Made in India), probably due to concern over bad working conditions and public outcry. At last. Or, it can also be that some of Benetton’s clothes sold in Greece, or Europe for that matter, are sourced nearby to minimise transportation costs; I wonder how and if things have substantially changed for Benetton’s clothes makers 3 years after the Rana Plaza incident. And, admittedly, customer trust doesn’t come easy once your heart is broken.