OPINION: The old travellers’ tale sees naive visitors to Egypt buy antiquities from the local marketplaces.

Upon their return home, or even before then, a more astute traveller (or perhaps an unusually honest local) informs them that those “antiquities” are manufactured in China by the thousands and sold to unsuspecting tourists who dutifully take them back home to impress their friends.

I’ve been thinking of fake antiquities in the context of what seems to be happening with increasing frequency in the modern marketplace.

The other day a friend of mine sent me a message asking if I had come across a Christchurch-based business. Said business, that I’d not bumped into before, prides itself on being an “eco-streetwear brand” – whatever that means.

Anyway – I’ve been in the rag trade for close to three decades. I’m part of a 30-year-old business, Cactus Outdoor, that prides itself on making the toughest apparel and backpacks on the planet.

A few years ago we acquired Albion Clothing who, for close to half a century, has been doing its part to maintain a vibrant apparel manufacturing sector in New Zealand. I may not know much, but when it comes to actually making apparel here in New Zealand, I think I’m justified in claiming expertise.

And so back to the eco-streetwear brand that I mentioned. Given that every year there are fewer and fewer genuine brands here in New Zealand, I was surprised to see a new brand in my backyard that I hadn’t come across.

I made my way over to the website and was dutifully informed that the brand is, indeed, an eco-streetwear operation straight out of Christchurch using (apparently) sustainable materials and with a focus on making high-quality apparel using sustainable materials.

To double down on their eco bona fides, they apparently even plant some trees and use compostable packaging.

Where to start?

So, just in case you wondered, pretty much anyone can go on one of a number of Chinese-based websites and order apparel with their logo on it.

So long as you can meet the minimums for production (and, since in most cases people are buying stock standard hoodies and tees and the like, the minimums are tiny) you can conjure up a brand.

If you’ve got a friend who is artistically inclined (or, if you want to really economise, you’re happy just to use your brand name as a design, maybe with the advanced flourish of flipping a letter backwards or something similar) you can send your supplier artwork which will then be screenprinted on your items of clothing.

What you are doing is sourcing stock garments and bunging a label on them. You are partaking in a global supply chain where the thing itself is less valuable than the brand story.

You are to genuine apparel manufacturing what Fanta is to hand-squeezed, locally grown, artisan-packed orange juice that you sip on while walking around your local farmers’ market. You are anything but authentic, sustainable and conscious.

You are not designing, you likely know nothing about apparel, and you certainly are doing nothing even remotely resembling manufacturing.

You’re also, and I have to stress this, perpetuating an environmental travesty that sees low-quality finished garments sourced from a supply chain on the other side of the world, that in all probability leverages poor environmental and labour practices. No end of planting trees as a part of your brand proposition, changes that.

By now, readers might think that I need to chill, that I’m a little intense about this topic. Granted, I feel very passionately about the stuff, and for two reasons.

Firstly, and admittedly selfishly, I’ve been trying to sustain a marginal business here in New Zealand that actually does what these pseudo-brands purport to do.

Imagine spending decades having people assume that “Made of New Zealand” means that products are actually made IN New Zealand.

Imagine fast-fashion brands who use dodgy factories in Vietnam but who can afford to buy meaningless certifications that somehow “prove” they’re friendly to people and the planet. Over time you too would get sensitive about these things.

The second, and less selfish reason, is one based on people and the planet.

Buy a cheap pair of jeans made in the Far East and there’s a fairly good chance that there’s a river near the factory that is poisoned and lifeless due to the toxic dyes being used. There’s also a good chance that the workers who sewed those jeans are working in awful conditions and paid very little. These supply chains and the apparel they produce, commonly termed fast fashion, are an abomination on so many levels.

I’ve spent time in the Middle East and have had my fair share of hawkers offer “genuine antiquities”.

Thus far I’ve managed to avoid the temptation to purchase them. We should all try and do similarly with our clothing purchases.

Ben Kepes is a Canterbury-based entrepreneur and professional board member. Almost everything he wears is made right here in New Zealand.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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