Speaking at the Hay Festival, designer and TV presenter Kevin McCloud made a particularly good point. If people are careful to purchase locally sourced and organically grown food, why don’t they pay the same attention to where their jeans come from? This got me thinking, then I realised that the smartphone has the answer…
There’s no doubt that the shop-local and organic movements are impacting massively on how we purchase our food. We’re careful not only about what we put in our bodies (our food choices are the most directly harmful or beneficial choices we make each day) but also about where it comes from. We like the idea that the supermarket buys its milk from the farm just down the road – not only is it good for the local economy, but there’s less pollution involved with trucking milk all over the country.
But can we say the same about the jeans we wear?
I couldn’t tell you where the Cherokee jeans I’m currently wearing come from. I think that I bought them at Tesco, but I have to trust that Tesco didn’t beat small children to have them made.
I don’t know if the cotton used to make them was heavily doused in every chemical substance known to man to make it grow better, faster and stronger, or whether the farmer just let it do its thing with a minimum of interference.
I don’t know if they are Fair Trade or not.
And yet I know for a fact that the cup of tea I’ve just quaffed was made from Fair Trade, unbleached tea bags with milk from a farm less than 20 miles away.
The problem was that I just didn’t care.
I needed a pair of jeans that fitted my backside and my wallet.
I needed a pair of jeans that would last at least a year and not make me work overtime to pay for them.
I didn’t care about being at the height of fashion.
I just needed something to protect my modesty and keep the worst of the wind/rain off.
I didn’t think about where they might have come from.
In short, I didn’t give them the same attention as I give to a tea bag, pot of instant coffee or pint of milk.
I wonder how many other people are exactly the same?
The more I think about it, the stranger the situation becomes. Clothes often represent substantial investments – both financially and in the time spent in trying to find something that a) fits and b) looks good enough to be seen wearing in a well-lit room.
But we potentially spend longer worrying about the provenance of our tea bags and peaches than we do consuming them.
Is the problem that people don’t care? Or is it that finding the information is pretty awkward and time-consuming? After all, it takes time to research each and every jeans manufacturer, dig through their website (or call them) to get the information needed to make an informed choice.
It all sounds like too much work. Especially when you’ve got to check-out the T-shirts, shoes, socks and belt-buckle guys too.
So here’s a thought – QR Codes.
QR Codes – those funny square 2-d barcodes – are fast reaching breakthrough. So why don’t retailers look at incorporating them onto the pricing labels?
Each QR Code (one per product line and free to create) could point to a page somewhere on the web with the sourcing details for each pair of jeans on the shelf. Within seconds, the consumer could get a rating for the environmental impact their trousers are having.
Couple it to a GPS system and you could estimate roughly how far those jeans have had to travel to get to you.
You could find out what percentage (if any) of the cotton crop came from Fair Trade sources in the last year. And how much of that source was organically grown.
If jeans could reach parity with tea bags, imagine the impact that this could have in the sourcing communities. It would transform lives. It might saves lives. It could be nothing short of revolutionary.
The key is to make life for the consumer as easy as possible.
It’s too much work at the moment to research every item of clothing that you’ve got your eye on.
But if the information could magically appear in the palm of your hand, simply by scanning a QR Code with your smartphone, imagine how easy that would be. Imagine the changes that you could make to your purchasing patterns, ensuring that your jeans matched your tea bag for levels of commitment and global awareness.
I wonder who’ll do it first; because I think that people do care. I think they’re just too time-poor to worry about jeans as well as tea bags and milk…