When ‘Made in’ Rendered Irrelevant; Transparency is the Key

Gone are the days when the ‘Made In’ label suggested the quality or origin of products. Many consumers know that, for example, a bag can be ‘Made in Italy’ if only 20% of assembling is done in Italy. And the remaining 80%? Only God and the company know. The latter is not required to disclose. With the abundance of Chinese shops in Italy and high-tech factories in China where skilled artisans earn above minimum wage and labor in good working environments, one can never derive meaning from the ‘made in’ label anymore.

Consumers today are savvy. They are demanding that brands be more transparent. As long as workers are treated fairly in ethical conditions and the products have a high standard of quality, then consumers will support those brands.

The global e-market that includes etsy.com, where artisans around the world are treated equally, paved the way for many brands to thrive when they disclose their production and supply chains. Mother House, a leather and jute bag label from Tokyo, started with the mission to lift artisans in Dhaka out of poverty by providing above-average wages and health insurance. Mother House’s website featured their artisans from the beginning, offering a personal connection between craftsman and consumer. That’s where customers buy into a brand’s philosophy. This model is profitable, too. After celebrating its 10 year anniversary, today the company employs more than 180 artisans and reported sales exceeding 1B Yen (EUR8.8M) and operating profit of more than 100M Yen (EUR880,000).

Some brands take transparency to the next level. Bruno Pieter, a former art director at Hugo Boss, launched his company Honest By, which he defines as “the world’s first 100% transparent company.” Honest By gives details like the source of materials, pricing, suppliers, how much each person make in the supply chain, and even the wholesale and retail markups. The success of these brands, along with many other, proved that customers are willing to support brands as long as they are fair to makers and transparent.

Perhaps the way forward for brands is to trade in the heritage and ‘Made In (developed nations)’ card for the transparency card, and to bring to light the heritage and artisanal craftsmanship as a way to gain customers’ trust and loyalty.