Shopping for clothes: a spiritual pursuit for some, pure agony for others. The ideal item, worthy of purchase, must fulfil a seemingly endless list of criteria: sizing, colour, style and price, to name a few. Against this backdrop, complicating our choices even further by adding ethics to the list seems complex, messy and, perhaps, just too hard.
Yet as 21st century consumers we are responsible for the way our clothes are produced. Now, more than ever, we have access to the cruel truths of the fashion industry – countless documentaries and reports have detailed the industry’s detrimental social and environmental impacts. In particular, we know about the industry’s outrageous labour practices, and that buying from offending brands implicitly supports this exploitation.
So how do we ‘shop ethically’?
Baptist World Aid, who have come up with the online tool The Ethical Fashion Guide grades brands based on the integrity of their supply chain – from raw materials, inputs and production to manufacturing. Each stage is assessed according to four standards: policies, suppliers, auditing and supplier relationships, and worker empowerment. In addition to this, some clothing brands such as Well Made Clothes explicitly state online how well individual items meet their own criteria. In this case, these include fair labour conditions, whether the clothes are hand- or locally-made, sustainable production and vegan-friendliness. It’s a good idea to check a brand or item’s results and work out what they mean before making a purchase. Though it’s not often you find a brand or item that covers all bases, at least customers are well-equipped to make their own ethical decisions.
There’s even more to shopping ethically: ideally, we’d not just be buying ethically produced goods, but less clothes altogether. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 501 thousand tonnes of leather and textiles were sent to landfill in Australia in 2009 – 10. This is an average of 22.7kg per person. Taking such figures into account, buying clothes second-hand and cutting demand for new clothes is also an important facet of ethical clothes shopping. Not to mention how much cheaper it is!
It is true that, at this point, ethical brands are generally more expensive than their fast fashion counterparts due to higher (but fairer) production costs. But rest assured – ethical shopping doesn’t always translate to financial strain, especially if you apply the principle of buying less individual items of better quality. Besides the brands already accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, below are some other great places to start.
Alternative Apparel // Casual
With a great variety in basics and a clear focus on ethical production, Alternative Apparel makes clothes certified by WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production). Under their principles, factories must satisfy international workplace and environmental standards, ensuring not only the quality of their clothes, but also that of their workers’ lives.
Urban Renewal (Urban Outfitters) // Casual
Urban Outfitters – perhaps synonymous with the word ‘aesthetic’. The company has also branched out to create Urban Renewal, a brand that remakes and recycles vintage clothing equally as chic as their original line. No two items are exactly the same as a result.
Threads 4 Thought // Casual and Active
If you’re looking for some good basics, then Threads 4 Thought is the place to go. With a focus on tackling the current fast fashion crisis, the brand provides customers with a range of closet staples made purely of eco-friendly materials. Though their prices usually lean slightly towards the higher end, their seasonal sales (currently up to 75 per cent off) definitely attract those working within a tighter budget.
Everlane // Casual, Semi-Formal and Accessories
Another great website with endless options for different occasions. The brand aims to facilitate as much communication as possible with their shoppers, especially in promoting transparency and factory working conditions. Customers have access to comprehensive descriptions of their production plants including information on the workforce and materials used.
Eco Edit (ASOS) // Casual and Formal and Accessories
Probably the most frequented online shopping site amongst university students, ASOS has expanded beyond belief in the last five years. What many do not know is that the company has a whole section dedicated to ethical fashion called Eco Edit. Selling clothes from 45 different brands, they only feature items that meet their ‘People’ and ‘Environment’ criteria. With a user-interface familiar to many this is definitely a great place to start.
People Tree // Casual and Formal and Accessories
Need a break from ASOS? Then People Tree is the next best thing. Working with Fair Trade producers, garment workers, artisans and farmers in the developing world, the brand aims to uphold their ethics through the clothes that they make. Their website also details every step of their production processes, as well as the social and environmental impact their operational decisions have had so far.
Boody // Underwear
Number one rule when shopping for underwear: it must be comfortable. Qualified with an Ecocert (global Organic Certification), Boody provides customers with garments made from organically grown bamboo, operating with great transparency regarding their labour and sustainability policies. If bamboo isn’t your thing, Wearpact is another great underwear brand that makes their products with organic cotton instead, while prioritising the health of their workers.
Op Shops in CBR // All You Need
There are more than a few op shops here in Canberra. The Green Shed, closest to campus, is perhaps the most well-known to ANU students. If you’re after more variety, try Vinnies or Salvos, with stores across Canberra including Belconnen, Dickson and Queanbeyan. Vinnies also holds a Monster Warehouse Sale every year – an event as highly anticipated as Christmas in the op-shopper community. For a full list of op shops in Canberra, click here.
Ultimately, as major influencers of supply and demand, we must push for the ethical treatment of workers and the environment in the fashion industry. The most effective way to do this is by showing the major brands and industry leaders that, as consumers, we want ethically made clothes. While discussing the issues surrounding the industry is important, it is taking action that actually engenders change. So step out of your comfort zone and make a difference. It’s time we fuel the movement towards ethical shopping.