Look Good With a Conscience: FIB’s Guide to Ethical Fashion

In a world where fashion is fast and disposable, how do you know where to spend your hard-earned money?  

Image Courtesy of socialtailor.com / Studio Panoulis

The globalisation of clothing production and the explosion of online shopping sites in the past decade has given fashion-conscious Westerners the chance to buy cute clothes at affordable prices. Unfortunately, our bargains often come at the expense of some else’s pay cheque.

For context: Over 90% of clothing sold in Australia is imported, and Bangladesh is the second-largest supplier of Aussie clothing. The current minimum wage in Bangladesh is around $88 AUD per month, a number which has not increased since 2013. Popular clothing brands who source ready-made items from factories in Bangladesh include Zara, Kmart, and Supreme, just to name a few. Whilst fast-fashion brands are increasing transparency regarding where their clothes are made, most still have a long way to go towards paying factory workers a proper living wage. According to research by Oxfam, the sad truth is that we would have to pay just an extra 1% for major brands in order for those companies to cover their employee’s cost of living. 

It’s obviously possible to shop ethically without breaking the bank. So here’s FIB’s easy guide to ethical shopping in Australia.

Brands to Take Note Of:

Thread Harvest
An online marketplace launched by Australian Jay Sharma in 2014, shopping responsibly has never been easier than with Thread Harvest. With its sleek website and affordable prices, you can even browse by which cause you want to support, with options to select brands that are committed to paying a living wage or Fair Trade approved.

Cotton On
And associated brands, Cotton On Body, Cotton On Kids, Rubi and Factorie
Another great Aussie business, all brands in the Cotton On family received an A Grade according to Baptist World Australia’s 2018 Ethical Fashion Report, based on their policies, transparency and worker empowerment. The Cotton On group is working towards paying all of their employees a living wage, rather than just minimum wage, and they have published strong codes of conduct regarding working conditions for their supply chains.

Image Courtesy of Cotton On Group

Australian maker of funky jewellery, footwear and bags is also rated A- on the Ethical Fashion Report, a markup from their B- rating in 2017. MIMCO have a strong reputation for upholding workers’ rights and paying employees a living wage, something that can be difficult to do for organisations that source materials from multiple international suppliers. They are also part of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a United Nations program dedicated to working with communities in African countries to uphold fair working conditions.

Surprised? I don’t blame you. While sneaker brands such as Nike and Reebok made atrocious sweatshop conditions infamous back in the 90’s, Adidas have responded to public pressures over the decades by making a concerted effort to treat their workers better. The sneaker and sportswear giant have a rating of 72 on the Good Shopping Guide, and according to CHOICE the brand pays its workers 18% above minimum wage, as well as providing extensive safety training and social and accident insurance. 

Courtesy of Patagonia Youtube

Specialising in outdoor wear, all Patagonia clothing comes with a lifetime “Ironclad” guarantee, meaning that you are able to repair or replace damaged clothing for free or at a reduced cost. They received the second-highest rating for labour conditions in the Ethical Fashion Report, and as members of the Fair Labor Association Code of Conduct, this brand is going above and beyond to ensure their workers are safe and well-paid. Their “worn wear” range encourages customers to reduce waste by extending the life of a garment.

Let’s Get Ethical: More Ways to Be Fashionably Responsible

Of course, the best way to be an ethical consumer is to reduce consumption which, sadly for the shopping addicts amongst us, means buying less clothes. The shocking truth is that 6000kg of clothing is dumped in landfill every ten minutes in Australia — that’s 864 tonnes every day. So think twice before throwing your clothes away, and remember that there are so many options out there than buying into the fast fashion game, including clothes swaps, vintage stores and resale through apps like Carousell.

But if you reeeeally need a new outfit for that party this weekend, there’s a bunch of ways you can find out if your clothes are produced by an ethically conscious company. Download the app Good On You, and you can check out how brands perform according to different categories such as sustainability or employee empowerment. For every major fast fashion brand, there are a heap of smaller brands committed to sustainably and ethically sourcing their clothes. You can find a list of these on websites such as Fashion Revolution, who are running a social media campaign for ethical clothing with the hashtag #whomadeyourclothes. If you have a little more time, look at Oxfam’s Naughty or Nice list, where you can help hold big brands accountable by asking them to disclose information about their supply chains. Shop smarter, not harder.

Who are you favourite ethical fashion brands? Let us know in the comments.