Ethics: About the factories

Ethics: About the factories


As a young consumer I wasn't really concerned about where my clothes were made or who made them. What mattered was the price; the cheaper, the better. I would rather spend 500 NOK on five tops than 500 NOK on one top. My shopping was always done in big quantities at the bigger clothing stores and my wardrobe was more than overflowing.

I especially remember one of the girls I went to sixth form college with saying; "You're always wearing new clothes", and I thought to myself; "No, I'm definitely not!" I never had ANYTHING to wear...

Every day I would be faced with the same problem; spending an hour staring into my wardrobe trying to find the perfect outfit. It had to represent me and my personality. The outfit above all other outfits. The ultimate combination that would leave people gazing at me in awe and admiration as I walked in slow motion down the hallways looking like style perfection!

Despite my diligent efforts I would be left with the same feeling; The perfect outfit was always out of reach. I would repeatedly return to the stores to buy more... New tops, trousers, skirts and maybe a dress?

Nevertheless, after a week I would be faced with the same problem; Nothing to wear... A full wardrobe... An empty wallet...

A change had to be made and the hunt for the perfect wardrobe basics started. My thoughts were; buy less, but better. If each individual piece was of high quality with a classic cut they would last me season after season, not just a month after having been bought. Another important step was growing my understanding of how the fashion industry works. I became more conscious in my decision making and aware of who had actually made my clothing, realising that somewhere out there was an actual person working hard at sewing the clothes I had been buying for a price that left no question of whether their wages were in fact too low.

Today I work for the Norwegian clothing brand Mette Møller where I have learned so much more about the reality of the clothing industry. Most important of all getting the opportunity to see first hand that a sustainable and ethical production process is possible. I'm incredibly proud that we manage to do it and that I get to be a part of it, since I've experienced how difficult it can be to make the right decisions and how pragmatic the whole process from sketch to finished product really is.

Everything I've learned and all that Mette knows about the process will be presented in the blog series about "Ethics and environment". We'll start with the production and the factories we use.


The clothing from "Mette Møller" is produced in Lithuania. I use one facotry for the knitwear and one for "everything else", which is also called ready-made garments. I've used both factories for voer 10 years and I have visited both several times over the years. It's reassuring to know who is sitting at the other end. It is of great value that we over time have gotten familiarised with each other's ways of working.

Ever since the declaration of independence from Sovjet during the early 90's, Lithuania has worked to become a productive society and all working conditions are 

iden frigjøringen fra Sovjet tidlig på 90-tallet, så har Litauen jobbet seg opp til å bli et produktivt samfunn og alle arbeideres rettigheter er dekket under LR Labour Codes and LR lover. De forteller de beste endringene etter frigjøringen var at de nå fikk handle fritt med resten av verden, folk fikk reise hvor de ville og de fikk lov til å starte sine egne forretninger.

Dog har veien fra tekst på papir til virkeligheten ikke vært uten vanskeligheter.

Fabrikkens tidligere eier, som var født og oppvokst i Sovjettiden, forteller om en vanskelig start hvor hun flere ganger fikk besøk av ukjente menn på kontoret som ville ha penger for å sørge for stedets sikkerhet. I en periode var hun redd for å åpne bildøren da flere handlesmenn i hennes distrikt hadde blitt drept av bilbomber. De hadde i likhet med henne nektet å betale.

Heldigvis er de tider forbi. Den største utfordringen de ser de har idag, er å komme opp på det samme økonomiske nivå som resten av Europa.

På bildet under blir plaggene strøket og kvalitetskontrollerte.

In 2013 the factory got a new, norwegian owner and changed the name from Taunorva to Team Kameleon Baltic. If the working conditions were improved after the liberation and the laws reformed, there were still adjustments that needed to be made on order to meet the standards of the new owner. Extensive improvements of the production facilities were made, ventilation and heating systems were installed and new computer equipment was bought. Last, but not least, the workers got a 40% salary raise.

Further more, the employees get the opportunity of further education if they want. Their accountant is getting a university degree whilst working there. Their taylor has taken an english course, making the customer dialog easier for both parts. Their project leader has taken an NLP course, which was important for the communication flow between customers and personnel. 

Team Kamelon Baltic is a great place to be, both for the people working there and for me as a customer.


I've used the knitwaer factory Savitas Stilius for at least as long-as the ready-made garment factory. Thet are located in a considerably bigger building in Siauliai, which is situated 2 hours from Taurage. They also have updated mechanical equipment, but their facilities are somewhat more worn. My impression here is that it is not the management that is reluctant of a total upgrade, rather the resistance comes from the workers. They have wanted to move to bigger and better facilities outside the city on several occations, but this would involve a considerably longer way to work, which isn't ideal.

For the time being Lithuania is a low-cost country, but as so many other countries in this phase they're experiencing a brain drain. It is often difficult to recruit well qualified and trained workforce when most of their younger citizens are studying abroad. It is a catch 22 situation, when the goal of reaching the economic level of other European countries is dependent on these young people staying in their homeland.

The picture below is actually quite interesting. Four clever girls in a row. But these are four hard-working women, if they work closely linked together. One piece does not work without the other.

I (Mette), at the far left, design the clothes. By my side is Greta who I weekly, and at times daily, discuss samples and production via mail. Greta is an important part of the communication between "the head with the ideas" and "the head with the technical knowledge". Number 3 in line is the owner og Savitas, Janina, who is in charge of the whole factory. At the far right is the modeller Lina. She interprets the design and figures out the best and most expedient technical solutions.

The main goal is to get the design across, but just as important is managing to do so within the frame of costs. In order for this keep the business running it is important that we not only cover our costs, but gain a profit allowing us to develop further and be prepared for rainy days (as it does rain quite often). This situation is the same whether you're in Lithuania or Norway. Even though we all love to create something of our own and use our knowledge and skills, we have to be attentive and smart. The margings are narrow and there is no room for too many wrong turns.

The modeller in her everyday habitat :) Keeping the order of and interpreting all the ideas of big headed designers can be a challenge. Not all ideas are possible to carry out as wished. Nevertheless, the expert assessment must be interesting. Here Diana is well into the process.

In the picture Rasa is working with the kettle machine. Each of the small stich is attached to a single needle to knit pieces together or make finishing edges. On "The dress" this technique is used in two places as shown with the arrows. A stich is approximately 1,5 mm wide and tall, so you can imagine the amount of fiddling nedded here! This demands a gentle touch and a keen eye!

In the picture above we see Vida and Silvija. The situation at their sewing shed resembles the one at Team Kameleon Baltic and other sewing sheds all over the world. Are they well-of? How are they doing when I step out the door? Can I trust the information a management gives me?

Throughout the years I've used diffrent production locations. As a small player in a big industry I don't have that much power to demand improvements in places with obvious violations. The best thing I can do is choose not to use them. How do I know when something is not right? Some facts I can research, such as the current legislation of the country, but the gut feeling is just as important. When raising ethical questions you'll quickly get a feeling of which points are given vague answers, avoided or explained away. If you ask questions in a quizzical manner you'll get more "real" answers, rather than being confrontin and critical.

Personally I'm happy for the country's progress. We shouldn't wish any less for others than we wish for ourselves. Nonetheless, balancing the income and expences of a production is a greater challenge when for instance a 40% increase in expences cannot automatically be addded to my income. This is the main reason for why I've stopped selling through merchants. The clothes simply become way too expensive.

A couple of seasons parts of my collection was produced in China in order to be able to afford the part of merchants. It all went through a norwegian agent who had operated with production in China for several years and could vouch for the production site. I had no reason to doubt my agent. All my questions and wonderings were answered correctly and justified. Nontheless, I had a feeling something wasn't right. Even though I explained that I was a small player, there was soon a pressure on quantity. I had to make more, a lot more, if I were to expect the prices I had been presented with at the beginning. I had too many sizes, too many colours, an insufficient number of pieces, I had to sell more! Even though I had the frame of costs in place, I felt the grip of the design dissapeared and I was pushed into a speed and scale of sales I wasn't interested in.

Choosing to use these to factories in Lithuania is the most correct choice I can make today. I trust my collaborators and feel that I have more control over both the design and the costs. I don't get the opportunity to be available to those of you who want my clothing in stores closer to you when doing it this way, but I'm all the more confident I'm not a part of the bad side of this industry.

In the next chapter of our series "Ethics and environment" I'll write just as much and thoroughly about my choice of materials and how environmentally friendly they are. Look forward to it!