See No Evil… or Maybe Not

October 12, 2017

Arket. Remember that name as perhaps a seminal moment in the history of responsible retailing.

Then again, a year or two from now we may not have a clue what in the world Arket was supposed to be.

Arket is the newest brand offshoot from the folks at H&M, the fast fashion retailer that is doing its part to turn the apparel business upside down and taking its initial steps to do the same for the home business.

The premise of Arket — I guess it’s a variation on the word “market” though it could mean something else entirely weird in the company’s native Sweden — is that today’s consumer not only wants a fashionable, reasonably priced product, she wants to know the provenance of said product and that it has been responsibly manufactured.

In the retailer’s marketing materials, you will lose track of the number of times it uses the word “transparency.”

Go to the Arket site — and that’s where you’ll have to go since the brand is not currently being marketed in the United States — and after seeing a pretty picture of the garment, you can click on a box that shows you not just the country of origin but also the name of the company that made the product and where its factory is located.

So it’s absolutely fascinating to see that the Linen Cushion Cover, item 571011-380, was made by the Shanghai Donglong Feather Manufacture at its factory in Shanghai. Even a few years ago, this level of information and detail would have been impossible in the global sourcing business.

But OK, now what? Armed with this information, what exactly is the consumer supposed to do with it? Unless Shanghai Donglong Feather Manufacture had been exposed in a big “60 Minutes” report last Sunday (which has not happened to my knowledge) how many Arket shoppers will know what to make of all of this? Is the company a responsible manufacturer? Does it employ workers of a proper age, treat them well and operate a safe factory in which they can do their jobs?

Arket supplies none of this context. Nor does it account for the fact that often clothing and soft home products are subcontracted out to other manufacturers, sometimes even to other countries. There are no links to third-party monitoring or compliance organizations that might have more information on the supplier.

And you know what? None of that matters.

What’s important here is that H&M is raising the bar and creating a new standard of awareness for shoppers. Just as country of origin tags, fiber and fabric content labels and even washability instructions — even when they too are flawed or sometimes downright deceptive — have educated consumers about the products they buy, Arket’s sourcing details will become one more piece of the purchasing decision. It’s a big change that will take hold regardless of what ultimately becomes of Arket.

Another consequence of all of this? Don’t be surprised to see factories in Asia suddenly getting more user-friendly names. The Good Cushion Company has kind of a nice ring to it, don’t you think?