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April 25, 2014
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Do you know where your clothes come from? Screencap from "The Story of Stuff". Source: storyofstuff.org.

"Made In": It's a claim that gets thrown around a lot these days. Whether produced in a foreign country or piecemealed together in your homeland, the story of our clothes is nebulous at best. But the company Fashioning Change continues to make that story more transparent, with the launch of their "ethical knockoff" clothing line, KCA.

The word "knockoff" might very well be the only thing that isn't so clear about Fashioning Change's new venture. After all, KCA currently boasts simple styles - ranging from solid-coloured t-shirts to infinity scarves - that appear to knock off nothing more than the basic tee and its wrap-around complement. But it's the term "ethical" that couldn't be more explicit, as it brings with it a promise about the product's origin, and gives a whole new meaning to the words "Made In."

Fashioning Change KCA QR code
Fashioning Change's KCA pieces include a QR code, 
unlocking the supply chain story behind each piece.
Source: fashioningchange.com.

Indeed, for a product to say it was actually "made" in any given country, it needs - according to the US Federal Trade Commission - be "all or virtually all" produced in the specified nation, but with a slew of exploitable exceptions to this rule. Beyond that, said item could have been manufactured by a company that contracts sweatshops, uses production that poisons garment workers, or doesn't pay its employees a living wage. And when it comes to our clothes, all the above is sadly all too often the case.

This excessive lack of information is a problem that Fashioning Change founder, Adriana Herrera, doesn't take lightly. For that reason, the girl who grew up inspecting clothing labels to determine their buyable-ness, saw an opportunity for her online startup to go one step further in its efforts to improve supply chain transparency and change the way we think about the source of our clothing. And thus, KCA was born.

KCA is the first in-house brand of Fashioning Change, whose website puts ethically made products - created by a variety of labels - up against their less-principled, big-name and often more expensive counterparts. Shoppers can search the Fashioning Change site based on a variety of criteria - from their personality and style characteristics, to brands they typically like. The objective: "to help shoppers make better purchases and create bottom-up change in the fashion industry."

Furthering that vision, KCA - and its so-called "ethical knockoffs" - was created in response to, says Herrera, "large flash and trash companies rip[ping] off styles from the runway and produc[ing] them using unethical manufacturing practices." KCA garments, on the other hand, will appeal to the same consumers, but offer them, she continues, "stylish clothing that is Made in the USA at accessible price points and protects health, the Earth, and human rights."

However it's not as simple as just selling ethically-made clothing. Explains Herrera: "8 out of 10 shoppers want to make purchases that are good for them, the Earth, and that promote happiness for all people." But, she adds, "the problem is they don't have access to information that helps empower them to make these decisions."

8 out of 10 shoppers want to make purchases that are good for them, the Earth, and that promote happiness for all people....the problem is they don't have access to information that helps empower them to make these decisions.

Enter the QR code tag. Used these days for everything from package tracking to product marketing, the Quick Response Code allows smart phones to link users directly to websites, phone numbers and more. In the case of KCA, scanning the square pixilated box on each garment unlocks its story - from what it's made out of, to the types of dyes used, and where it's from - a natural next step for the San Diego business that differentiates itself as a tech startup, not just an online retailer. Not unlike the website itself, the QR code technology enables Fashioning Change to bring even more awareness to purchase decisions, making them both easier and more meaningful.

And if shoppers get onboard, then perhaps the KCA line could be destined for more than just monochrome shirts, scarves and onesies. "We'll expand the line based on what shoppers want and what trends inspire us." They've got the infrastructure and vision to support it, too. Explains Herrera: "Prior to founding Fashioning Change, I domestically manufactured eco-friendly and ethical handbags. We have the expertise and network to easily create and grow the line." 

Does that mean that, with the growth of this endeavour, KCA pieces could end up being true knockoffs, taking the designs of bigger companies and reproducing them - perhaps unethically or even illegally - as their own? Hererra responds by saying that their collections are only knockoffs "to the extent that they are great designs that rival pieces from flash and trash brands."

And, in this case, what Fashioning Change is doing might not only breed competition, but change the way we make purchases, bringing new significance to the term "Made In." Small as it may seem, that's not just good for consumers, but good for humankind.

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