Ethical Standards and Responsibility
1. Behind the Scenes
Fashion is a blessing and a curse; depending on what you want to make of it. At vol(t)age we have always been thinking of fashion as pure bliss, a way of self-expression, a not-so-guilty guilty pleasure. That’s why we have decided to set our supply and production chain in such a way that we can say that we tried and still try to become the most responsible version of ourselves. That does not mean we claim to be a sustainable fashion brand, as we certainly have a long way to go. But, we are committed to keep trying.
The very beginning of vol(t)age dates back to 2011, when we started with our hand-made accessory collection. That was a few years before the Rana Plaza incident, described as “the deadliest working accident in modern history”. It was in 2013 that a garment factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh and took away the lives of many. vol(t)age started producing with a sense of responsibility before the peak of discussions about sustainability in fashion in 2018 and the growing consumer trend for responsibly-produced fashion.
We started producing beautiful, galvanising pieces aligned with our values and our ethical code based on Respect and Transparency. Everyone involved in our supply chain deserves our respect and our consumers deserve to know the answers to the burning questions of our times regarding the products’ origin and composition. We are and we will stay transparent and we will give you the answers to #WhoMadeMyClothes and #WhatsInMyClothes in the sections below. We know that we are not perfect; we know that sustainability is a heavy word to use and we want to be careful before using it. Let’s be honest: our sustainability concerns are as many as the sourcing and production restrictions for a brand of a rather small size. But we will not let that stop us: we aim to keep improving and keep finding ways to make our smart-shirts more sustainable season after season in order to serve our conscious customers the best way we can.
2. Start with Respect
Respect for everyone involved in our fashion microcosm includes more than the people who produce our clothes and textiles. We believe that the fast fashion system is abusing not only the people who make our clothes, living creatures and the biodiversity, but, to a great extent the people who wear those clothes. The people who love fashion find themselves manipulated in various ways: they are pushed to overconsumption, are being conditioned to aspire to look and feel like somebody else and, they are told it’s ok for clothes to cost as much as a cappuccino.
But, we all know that clothes cost more than that. By paying fair salaries to everyone involved in the long and complex fashion supply chain to the extent of our knowledge; we preserve the livelihood of workers from the cotton fields to the cutting rooms and confection of clothes.
We make the garment workers our priority: our smart-shirts would not exist without them. That’s why we have partnered with a family business in Portugal, a production facility of medium size with a long history of responsible production. We pay regular visits to our production site, which guarantees good working conditions and fair salaries and we are proud to see our smart-shirts taking shape after taken care of the skilled hands of the women working there. At the same time, we want to empower our clients by offering high quality products that will last for several seasons. Let the wardrobe therapy begin!
3. Producing Responsibly in Portugal, sister power
Choosing our production partners was an important choice to make. We believe in products made in Europe, as working conditions are traditionally better on this side of the earth. Europe is home and it allows for quicker lead times due to less time spent in transportation, resulting in less CO2 emissions. The relationship with our production partners is an equally important part of our business and we want to be able to visit them whenever needed.
But, where in Europe would it be? Portugal was an obvious choice for us: there is a huge Portuguese community in Luxembourg and we have worked before with local seamstresses with Portuguese roots and love the quality of their work. Being a company run by two sisters, we were delighted to get introduced to a responsible family business with 35 years experience in the business at Guimarães run by four sisters respectively. It was a match right away!
4. Composition of Materials
The smart-shirts are the centrepieces of our collection. Inspired by beauty, love, art philosophy, yoga and self-reflection, our smart-shirts had to look and to be smart at the same time. That’s why they are made with the softest material we could find, a blended material that is lightweight, breathable and resistant to shrinkage and pilling.
After testing several textiles, we decided to go with a cotton and modal blend produced on site from our production partners in Portugal. The blend also includes some elastane to give it the right fit. This unique blend is not only locally produced in Portugal, but also made from yarns sourced by local suppliers from nearby towns such as Famalicao, Trofa and Barcelos.
We have a preference for natural fibres because they harm biodiversity much less and they respect the need of the human body to breath. Cotton and modal both qualify as natural fibres: cotton is growing in the cotton fields and modal is a man-made natural fibre coming from the pulp of the beech tree following a chemical process with minimal impact to the environment. By blending these two, we came up with an enhanced textile: soft, luxurious yet resistant. What we are offering you with our smart-shirts is a garment that will last longer and will look as good as new after many wears. Staying conscious of recycling difficulties with blended materials at the present time, we keep scouting the market for better, even more sustainable options to work with in the future without compromising the performance of our garments.
5. Who Made Your Clothes
Now let us answer one of the most important questions every single conscious consumer is asking these days: Who Made My Clothes? Proud as we are for our production partners and every single woman and man behind our Smart Shirts, we would love to share the story of our small production site in Guimaraes, Portugal. A father of four daughters founded it 35 years ago and it still runs by his daughters now grown-ups. The family business structure remains and with the help of around 50 garment workers the facility does its own fabrics and knits with weaving machines. The cutting facilities feature a smart cutting system to minimise waste. The textile left on the cutting floor is not going to waste. Recycling companies collect it in order to turn it into carpets and insulation material.
85 per cent of them are, as usual in the ready-made garment industry, women around the age of 40 and the rest are men. They all live in the area and mostly commute to work. A couple of them are working in the factory since the very first day it started operating with continued enthusiasm for the craft they have learned and they try to improve every day.
In this fashion production site, organisation is optimised and people come first. When the workload gets heavy and 8 hours of work are not enough to finish the order on time, the machines will run for a little longer. The overtime will not be lost; extra hours are counted for in a bank of hours and can be used later in the form of days off.
We are thankful for the many creative people that work in our production line: we are thankful to Emilia, Fernanda, Marco, Sameiro, Angela, Antonio and many others that bring the smart-shirts into life. From weaving the textiles, to making patterns, sewing, quality control and shipping the smart-shirts change a lot of hands and we will keep auditing to make sure that these hands belong to people who like their job and transmit the joy of creation to every single item they produce – and we hope you are feeling the good vibes as the proud wearer of our products.