Living wages: utopia or future of purchasing practices?

Living wages are a hot topic within the fashion industry and have been for some years. Since 2020, we have been conducting a living wage pilot study with Mini Rodini, ARMEDANGELS, and Kings of Indigo, together with and at our shared supplier, Mergü, in Türkiye.

The definition of a living wage is the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet basic needs, and allow for some savings. In many developing countries, there’s a significant gap between the National Minimum Wage and the actual cost of living, defined as the living wage benchmark. This is a problem in the developing world since a lot of global production happens in these countries.

Most brands don’t own the factories where they make their garments. Nudie Jeans is no exception. Not owning the factories prevents us from paying the workers directly, so we pay for the product and the difference between the wage minimum and a living wage. It’s an “every brand for themselves” situation, and even though our share makes a difference, the next brand is free to do as they please. And we like to think of ourselves as an example, and hopefully other brands will follow.

Together with three like-minded brands, and Mergü, the Turkish supplier we all share, we started a unique pilot project to collectively make a difference for the workers there. Striving for perfection from the get-go was not something we hoped for, but already seeing some positive results. We talked to Muammer Yılmaz, the owner of Mergü, to get his thoughts about the pilot and its effects.

What does a project like this mean to you?
— It’s very meaningful that Mergü was considered a suitable partner for this project. The project is, of course, a benefit and privilege and an opportunity to make a difference for other suppliers. In our research, we realized how much a living wage contribution would increase the workers’ quality of life. The payments are definitely a confidence boost for them and for Mergü since we are the only company in our area who have a living wage project.

What about immediate feedback from the employees — what do they say about it?
— I assume they will put pressure on me to get more orders from your side since that would increase the living wage contribution and improve their situation. All jokes aside, they are pleased about it and have no negative feedback.

And what about future challenges?
— With your routine, we feel that there’s a robust infrastructure within this system. At the moment, we don’t see that Mergü will face any significant difficulties. We see the benefits and how the living wage project keeps our employees happy, motivated, and more productive. It’s definitely a positive vibe that you can feel.