Is Radical Transparency the Future of the Fashion Industry?

IF YOU SEND a direct message via Instagram to Story Mfg.—a clothing brand based in Brighton, U.K.—you’ll likely get a response from one of its two founders, Saeed Al-Rubeyi or his wife Katy Al-Rubeyi. If you shoot the brand an email, Mr. Al-Rubeyi will likely answer you directly. The couple employ just a handful of other people, which partly explains this hands-on approach to customer service, but it also reflects their commitment to transparency when it comes to their production and business practices.

On Instagram, Story regularly shares with its over 90,000 followers everything from previews of upcoming parkas to behind-the-scenes photos from the dye-houses it uses in India and even mock-ups of scrapped designs. Story’s website includes a section called “Processes” where the curious can read how a jacket was dyed with bark from the babul tree, or watch a video of an artisan in India hand-crocheting one of the brand’s scarves.

While the fashion industry has been historically secretive, a crop of brands are pulling back the curtain to reveal more about how their clothes are created. At the conclusion of Prada’s most recent men’s runway show (held digitally due to the pandemic) the label’s designers Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons answered questions about their respective inspirations from international students. On the website of Noah, a scrubbed-up menswear brand based in New York, customers can find a fabric guide that outlines in minute detail where the label’s windowpane-pattern suit fabric hails from or what makes its poplin-shirt fabric so special. Meanwhile, the website for the popular direct-to-consumer label Everlane has long listed the locations of the factories that produce its basic tees and hoodies.

Often, these revelations only go so far. A brand’s site might specify that an item is made in Portugal, but not show the actual inner workings of that factory. Another label might turn to Instagram to effusively outline the inspiration behind a jacket, but not show how that jacket is made.

A truly open-book approach to running a label is rare. But that’s close to how the Al-Rubeyis conceived Story from the start. Before the couple even produced their first pair of jeans in 2014, they were already discussing the design and where they planned to produce it on Care Tags, a forum for fashion obsessives. “Katy and I are going to India to meet with people who are involved in making our fabric, visit our mill, hand weavers, and traditional dyers,” the post reads in part.

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