Baptist World Aid recently published their fashion report assessing the state of offshore production in the industry for 2016 grading companies according to Policies, Knowing Your Suppliers, Auditing and Supplier Relationships and Worker Empowerment. Factory X that owns Gorman (along with Dangerfield and a stable of other brands) got a big fat F. That sickening grade was for non-compliance in the report rather than a reflection of their production and supply chain practices. Gorman fans – that legion of inner city creatives, office workers, students and their mums, myself included – anticipate each collection and brand collaboration with a keen sense of interest and wear the brightly patterned, wah wah printed clothes with a sense of sisterhood (in fact that's the Gorman Masai print pant from Summer 2014 that I'm wearing on the homepage). Sure we swap stories about the garments poor and, in fact, worsening quality that is mystifyingly proportionate to its increased cost. And yes, we are irritated that the brand has gone too wide diminishing its social cache. In short, just first world problems.
But actually they are not only first world problems but those of the developing world where almost all of our clothes are made because we wear these clothes and we share the world with those that make our Winter16 threads. We in fact wonder all the time who makes makes our clothes, what conditions they work in, and what kind kind of wage Liao (see above) takes home. We have WTF moments trying to make sense of Kmart selling a t-shirt made in the Republic of China for $5 while Gorman is selling a t-shirt for $99. Take away the lobster print and are they so very different? And while we are on the topic of overseas manufacturing, why does every other local brand broadcast that it is "Proudly Designed in Melbourne, Australia" all the while burying manufacturing details in the FAQ section: Hobes, Sack Me etc like offshore manufacturing is something to be ashamed of?
What happens if you 'own it'? Gorman found out this week with its first social post #whomademyclothes, a unmitigated public relations disaster (only 697 mostly negative comments and counting). It's hard to know where to start on this misstep. The timing was inauspicious though this was not the only problem. Without getting too Roland Barthes about it this was an image with ambiguous "signifiers". Forget for a moment the fluro lighting and industrial setting (our worst fears confirmed workers toiling away without access to natural light). It's difficult not to associate the image with a hostage made to hold up a sign by his captors. Not even in Mandarin. Not by his own hand. It just reads wrong.
Still, I don't want to lay all the blame and shame at Gorman's pretty feet. Is not the shame ours to share? Is the reluctance to state the country of production of our garments and homewares only a reflection of our own discomfort – not about the loss of a manufacturing base in Australia, that ship has long sailed – but about the human cost of our insatiable material consumption. Oh it's a wide, wide gap between Gorman's slick art directed campaigns, that cheery fun vibe in my local Fitzroy store and the factories of mainland China.