The revolution that has swept the food industry is expanding to retail: origins matter.
With fair-trade coffee and organic fruit now standard on grocery shelves, consumers concerned with working conditions, environmental issues and outsourcing are increasingly demanding similar accountability for their T-shirts. The issue has been brought to the forefront by the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 800 people.
And some retailers are doing what was once unthinkable, handing over information about exactly how, and where, their products were made.
Everlane, an online boutique, last week added paragraphs to its Web site describing the factories where its products are made.
Nordstrom says it is considering adding information about clothes produced in humane working conditions.
An online boutique breaks down the number of workers involved in making each item and the cost of every component, while a textiles company intends to trumpet the fair-trade origins of its robes when Bed Bath & Beyond starts selling them this month.
And a group of major retailers and apparel companies, including some — like Nike and Walmart — with a history of controversial manufacturing practices overseas, says it is developing an index that will include labor, social and environmental measures.
New research indicates a growing consumer demand for information about how and where goods are produced. A study last year by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard showed that some consumers — even those who were focused on discount prices — were not only willing to pay more, but actually did pay more, for clothes that carried signs about fair-labor practices.
“There’s real demand for sweat-free products,” said Ian Robinson, a lecturer and research scientist at the University of Michigan who studies labor issues. Consumers “don’t have the information they need, and they do care.”