A deep, detailed, difficult customer question never happens when it’s convenient.
Many customer care teams enjoy the quieter times after Christmas and the Women’s Fashion Weeks. It’s a good time to take a holiday, roll out some much-needed training, or upgrade IT.
And then, it’s #FashionRevolutionWeek. And social media is full of important questions which are tricky to answer. Especially in 220 characters.
Subject: Who made my clothes?
Dear ________ [Brand name],
I am you customer and I love your style. However, I am concerned about the working conditions and environmental degradation in your supply chain.
There is a notable lack of transparency beyond the first tier of manufacturing where millions of people around the world are working to make the fabrics and raw materials in your products. In support of the Tamil Nadu Declaration and Framework of Action, Fashion Revolution has found that only 1 of 62 major brands and retailers disclose a list of all the suppliers that make the textiles used in their products.
Please tell me #WhoMadeMyClothes? and how you are taking action to address human rights across your whole supply chain. I urge you to publish a list of all the textile production sites in your supply chain, offering a view into the conditions faced by the people who make your products.
Even if you work for a responsible brand and you already know how to reply to a customer query, these kinds of questions can seem really daunting…
So here’s a step-by-step guide on how to handle #whomademyclothes well.
Aim to respond within one hour. If you don’t know the answer and need to do some research first, then tell the customer and keep them in the loop on your progress.
Head of Proud Pads, Laura Niehorster, contacted REISS in 2017. More than eight months later, she’d still not heard back about this shirt she loved. “I was annoyed as I would have bought it if they’d told me something positive,” she told us. “The clothes are expensive enough, so I feel we should at least be able to expect good customer service.”
To find out, you may need to do a bit of research:
Be transparent. Tell the customer where you’ve found the information. Then break it down into everyday language.
For example: “Your [model name] [type of clothing] was made in the [factory name] factory in [country] in [year]. [number of people] work in that factory.”
That’s the level of detail Claire Aston, co-founder of Together Street, liked about the response she had from Oliver Bonas in 2017:
Hi Claire, thanks so much for messaging us. We are going to follow this up our Ethical Trading Manager for more information and we will be back in touch soon. Please let us know if you have any other questions in the meantime. Thanks, Team OB.
Hi Claire, At Oliver Bonas, we have a company motto “Work Hard, Play Hard and Be Kind”. We aim to “Be Kind” in every aspect of our company life. As a design-led British retailer, we strive to do business in a way that has integrity, is ethical and doesn’t negatively impact others or the environment. We have developed an ‘Oliver Bonas Supplier Code of Conduct’ (Code) to ensure that the high standards we set for ourselves are replicated throughout our supply chain.
This Code (which can be found here [link]) is designed to communicate our minimum ethical standards we expect from our suppliers. Our Code is based on the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code which is an internationally recognised code of labour practice. We ask all factories we work with to sign this Code before working with them. We then check our suppliers are complying with this code by auditing, visits by our ethical and buying team and collaborating with international initiatives with other retailers.
Our clothing is made predominately in China, India and Turkey from a range of suppliers from large factories to smaller artisan producers. Our Jessie heart print dress you photograph below was made in a factory with 160 workers in Shenzen, China in 2015.
Thanks Team OB
“I was happy with the speed of their response,” she says, “and the amount of detail they included. The thing that still niggles me is that ethical codes of conduct are one thing, but knowing that a brand is actively monitoring whether those codes are being adhered to is another.”
Which takes us to step 3:
Codes of Conduct can be very powerful — or they can be toothless tigers. It all depends on whether factories are regularly and independently checked for compliance with the code. Most conscious fashionistas are savvy in this area, and they demand more than a reference to the Code.
Your customer cares.
Your factory workers care.
Since you’re reading this, we bet that you care, too.
And yet, we still see many customer care responses that sound indifferent.
Surprisingly, even from big brands whose policy changes all seem to point in the right direction. Take these messages from Marks & Spencer (2017), for example:
OK, this one’s a whole-company effort — customer care teams usually can’t do this alone.
Brands like Patagonia, Where does it come from? and Rapanui let customers trace their garments through the entire supply chain online. This kind of documentation fuels positive conversations about your policies, essentially giving you free marketing when customers share the info on social media. And the fact that information is so easily available makes it almost unnecessary for people to get in touch with questions — a nice way to cut customer care workload.