Let's be honest. China doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to ethical fashion. The word "sweatshop" has been bandied about more times than we can count -- and often for good reason. There's not one person that hasn't heard a horror story involving workers being paid a pittance for hours of intense labor. We're all familiar with these tales, but what about the flip side?
Based in Laos and China, KTC (standing for Knowledge, Technology, Craft) is a fashion manufacturing company with a difference -- they put people first. "We know we're only as good as the people that work for us. We need to be ethical and follow our slogan -- business is people," Gerhard Flatz, the infectiously charming Managing Director tells us in his Heshan factory. As Crane.tv walks through the factory corridors, eats lunch with the workers and strikes up an impromptu game of table tennis with some local youngsters, it's clear that KTC is doing its utmost to debunk these tired stereotypes, and is benefiting the local community in the process.
Chatting with Flatz, we learn that one of their most ambitious initiatives has also been one of the most successful. In 2005 KTC took over a near derelict local school after discovering that many of the workers in their local factory were illiterate. Almost ten years later the school is flourishing, teaching 900 children everything from reading and arithmetic to basic sanitation. Seeing hundreds of delighted children line up with toothbrushes in hand one wonders why more companies haven't taken a similar approach to KTC. "We're proud that this school is now one of the most respected government schools in Laos," Flatz tells us, "and we're benefiting from a future skilled workforce."
And the factories themselves are a breath of fresh air -- literally. "It's important in this sub-tropical climate to keep our factories air-conditioned," Crane.tv are told as we buckle under the unfamiliar heat. "KTC is not automated. We live from skilful workers and happy people. We believe that only a happy person can produce good quality." It's sentiments akin to this that garnered KTC a place within the Fair Wear Foundation last year, a body dedicated to improving the lives of workers in the fashion manufacturing industry the world over.
"China, in the performance wear market, is the absolute number one in the world," Flatz concludes, "and I believe that they need to be treated with respect ... The world has to live with China now."
Text by Holly Fraser for Crane.tv
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