The Fable founder Sophie Doyle reveals how she keeps her business in check when it comes to operating ethically.
There is no doubt that the fashion industry needs to do better when it comes to both being ethical and environmental in its practices. Sweatshops, excess and unnecessary packaging and products that are not made to last are just some of the problems that the industry is famous for. However, more brands are coming up the ranks who are doing the right thing and who are striving to do better every day.
Here are some key actions that I took to keep my business ethical.
The Fable works with ethically accredited factories.
While I was not a fashion designer before I founded The Fable, I was well aware of the pitfalls when it comes to the supply chain. Not just when it comes to fair labour, wages and the health and safety of workers, but also in regard to where the fabric and materials are sourced for my products.
I was in India recovering from burnout when I stumbled upon a small, family-run ethical factory and decided to go in there to have a chat. From speaking directly to the managers and workers, I was able to learn a lot about what to look for. I also did more research outside of that, but that was a good place to start.
The Fable uses factories accredited by Intertek which is a leading ‘Total Quality Assurance’ provider to industries worldwide. The factory I use was audited and approved for its practices covering labour, wages, hours, health, safety, management systems and environment.
I have also personally visited the factory in China that I am working with on several occasions. I have spent hours working there with the team including the silk weaver, dying mill and with the tailors who put the final product together - so I am familiar with the conditions and the day-to-day operation. The tailors within the factory are also largely women, along with the pattern maker and the factory owner. I partly chose the team I went with for this reason.
I have spent a fair bit of time in the factories.
As mentioned, I personally have visited the factory that I engaged with to create The Fable. But I haven’t just been there once. I have been there several times, often for several days in a row. I wanted to see the operation inside and out, I wanted to work alongside them. The observations that I verify every time I am there are:
- The factory is clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated and there is also adequate emergency escape access in place.
- The tailors are all able-bodied, of a working age and working on their own free will.
- The majority of the tailors are women and have been working with the factory for over 7 years.
- The tailors take breaks during their working day and stop for an hour to have lunch together.
- There are indoor plants, and the tailors can have their headphones to music while they work.
- The workplace vibe is a happy one and the environment is positive.
Many businesses don’t think to check out the working environment of the factories they employ, however from my experience in India, with the lovely small factory that I worked with for the first two years of my business until we outgrew it, I knew that I wanted to see the place for myself and I also wanted to develop a good relationship myself with the team who were making my label a reality.
The Fable represents the opposite of fast fashion.
I created The Fable out of my love for silk shirts. Prior to founding the label, I worked on the marketing team for luxury beauty brands and the humble silk shirt was my uniform. I wore a silk shirt almost every day, however finding one with the right fit, a luxurious but durable fabric, and one I didn’t need to dry clean weekly was a challenge.
See, the silk shirts I wore cost me a fortune in dry cleaning (not to mention the chemicals dry cleaning uses), and if I tried to wash them in a machine, they would shrink or lose their shape. It was important to me that I made a product that was made to last, in colours that were exceptional, but timeless.
Part of being ethical and environmental lies in making products that are made to last and to transcend seasons. The repeat customers that I have should be coming to me if they want a new colour or to purchase a gift, they shouldn’t be returning because the product is worn and torn.
I am transparent with my clients.
From my “About Us” section on the website to the stories that are out in the media. I am very transparent about what we are doing and how our product is being made. We are not hiding the fact that The Fable is made in China, which is often frowned upon. In fact, we are proud of the factory we work with. We proudly share the practices, what we look for when working with outsourced companies, and pictures of myself working with the team over there. Being transparent builds trust.
I am also mindful of greenwashing when it comes to my advertising. While we do uphold sustainable practices - and we do look for certain certifications from the companies we work with - we won’t claim to have certifications that we personally don’t have, even if we work within that scope. While we know what we ourselves are up to, we won’t make claims that we can’t back up.
Having ethical and sustainable practices when it comes to any business is so important. Starting out, I wrote up some brand guidelines and a code of ethics that I wanted to uphold for my brand. It is second nature to me these days, but I still refer to that code a few times a year and edit it as new certifications and practices that are better than what I am already doing come to light.