We all know that there’s a kind of essentialism that happens in conversations about sustainable fashion (and beyond). It’s a shorthand that artificially groups together very diverse groups of people and lumps them according to a single or several defining features. This episode is an open discussion of two such terms: “brand” and “supplier.”
The discussion brings together people that have each, in their own ways, inhabited “gray zones” between these two terms or defied stereotypes about what these terms colloquially signify:
- Sharon Tsang, founder of Anew Studios – a boutique sustainable sourcing and consulting company catering to small and medium sized fashion brands. Sharon’s parents are from Hong Kong and she currently lives in Hong Kong, but she has also spent significant time in Canada. Her entry point into the world of fashion was initially on the brand side in Canada, though she now occupies an in-between space.
- Manufactured Podcast Co-Founder Jessie Li. As regular listeners will know, Jessie is originally Chinese, though currently based in Cambodia. She started her career working for a third-party inspection company in China (listen to her talk about that chapter here). She then went on to work on the brand side as a merchandiser for buying office in China (listen to her talk about that chapter here) before ultimately working on the supplier side for a factory in Cambodia – which is where we met.
- Then there’s me. I’ve only ever worked on the supplier side, as a garment factory manager. I’m a white woman born to Dutch and American parents; my educational training is very “Western” – I have a degree in human rights from a university in London.
We start the discussion by sharing what comes to mind when we hear the term “brand” and the term “supplier.” Though we each have different answers, we all struggled to find adequate technical differentiators.
This led us to the question: if distinguishing between a “brand” and a “supplier” is, from a technical perspective, so difficult, then why are these terms to central to the sustainable fashion conversation? Which then led us into a conversation about power. We tentatively conclude that brands (and retailers) are lumped together because they are in a position of power. Suppliers, in contrast, are not. What gives brands their power? Is it the nature of the commercial relationship? Or something deeper? Like history? And their ability to tell stories that resonate with particular groups of people from particular parts of the world?
Want to dig deeper ?
The Danger of a Single Story – a Ted talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.
How Racism Shapes Fashion’s Approach to Sustainability – Kim van der Weerd