Belgian fashion designer serves up luxury in total transparency

By Catherine Boitard, AFP

ANTWERP, Belgium — The hallmark of luxury is exclusiveness and mystery, but Belgian fashion pioneer Bruno Pieters wants to break tradition and offer high-end buyers “transparent shopping from A to Z.” In 2012, he created “Honest by,” a Web-only fashion label that gives the shopper an intricately detailed breakdown of a product’s elaborate supply chain that can circle the globe, even if Pieters favors the local. In the regular world of fashion, “you can sell a 50,000-euro (US$67,000) dress without being aware that the product was made by children,” said Pieters. “In the fashion world, few ask themselves the question.”

But the question became a burning one after the catastrophic collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh killed 1,100 people in April.

The disaster shocked consumers, putting the spotlight on the often appalling conditions for workers making garments and, activists hope, creating a desire in shoppers to consider every link in the worldwide supply chain. At “Honest by,” click on a piece of clothing, and a long list appears, itemizing supplies and workmanship that made the shirt or suit possible, prices included. The client “can verify the origin of materials, where the clothing is made and at what price,” said Pieters, standing in his workshop in the heart of a hip neighborhood in Antwerp, Belgium’s main commercial hub and a major port. Click on a green silk tunic and the shopper, comfortably surfing at home, sees not only where the fabric comes from, but the buttons, stitching and labels too. All added up, the tunic costs 225.87 euros (US$300) compared with a wholesale cost of 69.14 euros. The mark-up, clearly stated on the website, is the company’s premium for creating the item.