Why Buy Ethical?

fashionrevolution.org

I haven’t written a proper post on why we should consider the ethics behind the clothing we wear because I didn’t want this blog to be a constant feed of downer information. The realities of the fashion industry aren’t pretty and they can be overwhelming to take in. 

BUT…I think it will be helpful to get some key truths out in the open, especially for those of us who want to know the reasons why we should take a deeper look into the clothes we buy. The truth is, by not paying attention to what we buy and wear, we repeatedly support human exploitation and the global climate crisis.

It Wasn’t Always This Way

Clothes weren’t always cheap and brands didn’t always release dozens of collections and styles per season. In the late 1990’s/2000’s, the fashion industry began to be bombarded with fast fashion. According to GoodOnYou, “Fast fashion can be defined as cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed to meet consumer demand.” 

Instead of a designer/brand producing one collection per season, brands like H&M, Gap and Zara now release new items weekly, sometimes daily. How can styles change by the week!?!?! When we see new items for sale and different style trends in store windows or in our inbox, it can make us believe that we NEED to buy these new items to stay relevant. When a garment cost $10 – $40, the risk of purchasing is minimal. Who cares if the shirt loses shape after 3 washes…it was only 10 bucks!

With the rise of fast fashion, our consumption (and waste) has become absurd when compared to our ancestors. Anuschka Rees, in her book “The Curated Closet” compares our purchasing habits to those of our parents/grandparents, “The average person in the 1960’s bought fewer than twenty-five new garments a year and spent almost 10 percent of his or her income on clothes. Nowadays, we buy close to seventy new pieces a year – more than one per week – but spend less than 3.5 percent of our income on clothes.” 

Ok, 10% of our income on clothes seems like a lot. I’m not saying we should all be spending that much. But…I think we get the point that we are buying way more than we need, way more than people used to buy and yet we are spending way less. How is this possible?!

Cheap Clothes Are Not Cheap

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity explains, “Cheap clothes are not cheap. Someone always has to pay for them. And that someone is a worker.” 

Cheap clothes are not cheap. Someone always has to pay for them. And that someone is a worker.

Kalpona Akter

It still takes time, raw materials and energy to sew a shirt. You can almost always assume that if you didn’t pay much for the garment, the worker who produced it didn’t get paid fairly to make it. “Although wages have increased in some countries where clothing is made, many people in the supply chain are still paid too little and struggle to afford life’s most basic necessities. Women textile and garment workers frequently face sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Trade unions and workers’ ability to organise and fight for their rights continue to be hamstrung by employers and governments.” (Fashion Revolution, 2020)

The Wage Indicator Foundation found that in Bangladesh “the legal minimum wage is €16 per month, while the actual living wage for a single person is €72 per month and €142 per month if someone has a family to support. This means that a Bangladeshi worker would need to be paid 4.5 times more than the current minimum wage to afford a decent living standard and almost nine times more to support a family.” (Fashion Revolution, 2020).

Not only are workers not paid well and subjected to abuse and terrible working conditions, sometimes they aren’t paid at all. According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, garments are the second product that is most at risk of modern slavery and imported into G20 countries. Slavery.

Global Slavery Index 2018, Walk Free Foundation

Throw Away Culture

To meet demand, factories are forced to produce clothing at lightning speed. “As a result, we have seen more frequent and deadlier factory disasters while the amount of textile waste created each year has skyrocketed, rivers have been polluted with chemical run-off from textile dyeing, entire bodies of water have been sucked dry from cotton agriculture, microplastics from our polyester clothes have proliferated our waterways and ancient forests have been destroyed to produce viscose and leather.” (Fashion Revolution 2020). 

We have likely all bought into recycling our paper and plastics and are trying our best to reduce waste in general. But why are we still throwing out clothes like they are food wrappers?!

What Now?

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the horrors of the fashion industry in this blog. It gets worse. I know it can be super discouraging to hear of yet another social injustice that needs to be stopped, but fortunately we can all make small changes to support garment workers worldwide.

Get Informed.

There is much more to know and learn about the realities of the fashion industry. It’s important to know what is happening in order to know what changes need to be made. The following resources are a great starting point:

The True Cost – a ground-breaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?

Fashion Revolution (www.fashionrevolution.org) – A global organization committed to seeing “a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people over growth and profit.” Fashion Revolution has amazing resources to learn about the fashion industry and what we can do to be part of the solution. 

GoodOnYou (https://goodonyou.eco) – The world’s leading source for fashion brand ratings. GoodOnYou is available as an app where users can search a directory to find out the ethical standards of fashion brands. GOY also has some solid resources to guide ethical consumers.  

Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last – Vivienne Westwood

There is no one solution to stopping the fast fashion industry. We all have different realities and needs that will affect how and what we buy. Regardless, there is something for everyone to do. Vivienne Westwood coined the phrase “Buy less, choose well, make it last.” 

We should try to only buy what we need and when possible buy garments that we know are made to last. 

We can take the time to learn about the brands we buy. We may be surprised to find that we’re paying the same price for a non-ethical garment than we could for a more ethical alternative. 

Borrow, buy secondhand, buy local, buy fair-trade certified.

Mend our garments, wash them less and take care of them. 

Little changes can make a huge difference, especially if we do them together.

Do Big Retailers Sell Ethical Clothes?!?

When we think of sustainable and ethical clothing we often think of small independent shops and online boutiques. For the most part this is where a lot of ethical gems are found, BUT with the growing interest and demand for ethical clothing some major retailers are starting to carry a few forward thinking brands!

So which brands and where?!

Let’s start with the grocery store…Whole Foods to be exact. Not only can you get an impressive amount of fair trade food and home goods here (bananas, coffee, chocolate, tea, roses, spices, sugar) you will also find some fair trade certified threads. I was just at Whole Foods picking up pizza (they have delicious and cheap fresh pizza for takeout) and snapped some photos of their clothing racks. At the moment they are carrying PACT Apparel (socks, underwear, sweaters, tanks, tees, dresses) and Gypsy & Lolo hats. I actually had some birthday moola and picked up a lovely sun hat from Gypsy & Lolo (see pic). I’d been looking for an ethically made sunhat for two years! It was a big moment. They also carry Synergy clothing sometimes. Both Synergy and Pact are great brands to go to for lounge and sporty casual wear. They’re affordable and both Fair Trade Certified 🙂

Simons is the next stop. This store can be super overwhelming when you first enter because it’s ginormous. I usually ask a clerk to direct me to the brands I’m looking for or else I’ll get lost. This season at Simons you can find a small collection of Yoga Jeans (Made in Canada), Up! pants (Made in Canada) and Othersea bathing suits (Made in Canada). I’m somewhat disappointed that Simons isn’t carrying more Canadian clothing seeing that they are one of the few Canadian owned retail chains left. Hopefully we will see more options in the future!

SAIL, another Canadian owned retail store, largely focuses on outdoor/sport gear, but surprisingly carries a nice variety of women’s ethical clothing. This season you can find full collections from Message Factory (Made in Canada), Patagonia (Ethically made, some FTC), Prana (some Ethically made), Fig (some Made in Canada), tentree (Ethically made), Toad & Co (Ethically made). SAIL is worth a visit if you’re in the market for casual wear. Fig even has some work friendly items available.

I put together a quick chart below to show which brands you can get at which major retailers. Watch for another blog on which local run Canadian shops have ethical clothing options! Follow the blog to keep in the know!

Mountain Equipment Co-opPrana, Girlfriend Collective, Organic Basics, tentree, Toad & Co, Patagonia, Wigwam, MEC brand, Synergy
Whole FoodsPACT, Synergy, Gypsy & Lolo
Sporting LifePrana, Patagonia, Yoga Jeans, Jerico, tentree
SAILPrana, Message Factory, Patagonia, FIG, tentree, Toad & Co
SimonsUp!, Yoga Jeans, Othersea

Summer Summer Summer!

Summer Summer Summer!

It has been months since I’ve updated my blog and I’m excited to get back into sharing my journey to ethical fashion with anyone who will listen! 

Now that we’re into our lovely warm weather in Ottawa, I’ve switched my closet over to my summer wardrobe! Yay! My summer capsule is a mix of old (non-ethical), second hand and new ethical items. I’m still battling the old headaches so my research has been limited over the last few months… but I have done some digging and “style” searching to further develop my personal style.

It’s been a weird season for us all. Between COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement, it can seem like things are crashing all around us. It’s hard to know what to do in response to all the hurting. I continue to search for ways to listen and love. My eyes have been open to my own prejudices the last few weeks and it has been humbling to say the least. I know I can do better at valuing the uniqueness of all people, particularly those who may look different than me. I have a lot of work to do, but I can honestly say I am committed to doing better.

While focusing on ethical clothing during this season may seem frivolous, I see it as a way to brighten up the darkness and focus on upholding the rights of garment workers worldwide.  

New Designer and Brand!

Instead of sharing my entire summer capsule wardrobe, I want to show you a few outfits which include newer pieces I picked up from new to me designers/brands. I realized pretty quickly with my first few posts that my main purpose for this blog is not to share style advice (I don’t have any!) but more to share where and how you can purchase clothing ethically in Canada 🙂

My first few posts and video showed very basic/casual items that I had purchased in 2019. While my style is definitely not fancy, I have recently realized that it has a feminine flare to it. I like to think I’ve taken some risks with recent purchases and really paired down what makes me feel comfortable and pretty. If I had to define my own style in a few words they would be: comfortable and simple with a hint of femininity.

Side note: If you’re looking to pair-down your wardrobe, start purchasing items that have been ethically produced and or you just want to feel better about what you’re wearing, take a look at my fave ethical style blogger Signe from UseLessHere she put together an awesome video that walks you through how to find your own personal style.

Now back to the clothes! My first outfit features my new fave Canadian designer from Quebec, Cherry Bobin. All of Cherry Bobin clothes are designed and manufactured in Canada with natural fabrics. I’m wearing the Tshirt Dallas from her 2020 Spring/Summer collection. I bought this shirt in-store at the Flock Boutique in Ottawa (which is now open!) but it can also be purchased on her website. This shirt may not seem like a step out of the ordinary, but it’s my first cropped shirt and I LOVE IT! On the bottom I’m wearing a basic black mini from tentree. I purchased this skirt in 2018 at Mountain Equipment Co-op so it’s no longer available. For anyone interested in the style, this season tentree does have a casual short made of Tincel that mimics the style of my skirt.

tentree is one of the brands that I would consider okay (but not amazing) when it comes ethical production. They are definitely rocking the environmental component of ethical production but are lacking in ensuring the people involved in the fabrication of their clothes are fully respected. I’ve recently decided to include tentree in the list of brands I buy from because they are making great improvements towards becoming more ethical. Not all brands start out amazing!

While surfing the Cherry Bobin website I quickly discovered that they sell their previous seasons’ at an extreme discount! I’d been looking for a blush top to add to my summer capsule and I found this beauty in the 2019 Spring Summer Collection. This 2019 T-shirt Mantra has little birds on it which I think adds a great detail without being too cutesy. Oh and the fabric (bamboo rayon) is SO SOFT. This tee comes in a variety of colors and patterns too. On the bottom I’m wearing my tried and true Rachel Skinny Yoga Jeans which is part of my year round basic wardrobe.

As you may have already realized, I’m really into Cherry Bobin this summer! I just love the balance of pretty and practical her clothes bring. In this third outfit I’m wearing the Matcha Top

 in black. This super cozy tee falls perfect on my not so perfect stomach and it’s reversible! And finallllllllly…I found a light pair of jeans that I feel great in. After ordering and returning many other pairs, I found my match: 721 Levi’s High-Rise Skinny Jeans. I purchased these online at Mark’s Work Warehouse – they have great deals on Levi’s. I sized one down on these jeans as they have significant stretch to them. I decided back in the winter that I wanted to get a light pair of jeans but couldn’t find a pair with any Fair-Trade or Made in Canada brands. I decided to go for Levi’s as they are doing “okay” when it comes to treating their workers well. I do feel good about this purchase. While Levi’s as a brand doesn’t align perfectly with my purchasing values, they are making great efforts to improve their ethical standards which is an amazing start for a major brand.

Other Noteworthy Purchases

Lastly, I purchased a few practical items this Spring that I’d been trying to find for quite some time! 

Patagonia Women’s Torrentshell 3L Rain Jacket

First, I love the color of this rain jacket and also just love how water repellant it is. Patagonia is totally kicking butt and leading the way with ethical production. I try my best to support the brand whenever possible. My husband bought one too…we are slowly becoming twins and it is a problem. I think I’ll be using this jacket for the next decade 🙂 I sized up on it so I can fit cozy sweaters under it without issue.

Cariuma OCA Low Off White Canvas Sneaker

For those who know me know I have HUGE feet. Size 13 womens to be exact. On top of that I’ve got some other crazy feet issues that limit what type of shoes I can walk in. I spent most of last summer sporting some beautiful New Balance runners – I wore them with dresses, jeans, skirts…you name it! Comfort over style for this chicka – at least when it comes to my feet! While my New Balance sneaks weren’t the most stylish, I started to see a lot of girls wearing white “old school” looking sneakers with a variety of outfits. I set out to find a pair of my own. As I started to search the good old web, Google picked up on my search and started sending lovely advertisements to my Facebook account. This is how I was introduced to the Brazillian company Cariuma. In the past I’ve really left my ethics at the door when it came to buying footwear because I have such a tough time finding shoes that fit in the first place. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Cariuma is doing “okay” when it comes to respecting the environment and the people involved in making their products. I ordered the OCA low online and they arrived in a few days! I’m loving these shoes…and they even fit my lovely orthotics and carbon plate. BONUS!

I’ve recently put together an Ethical Brand Directory. Don’t forget to check it out!

It’s time for some JEANS

We’re nearly 1.5 months into 2020 and I am just starting to plan some of my clothing purchases for this year. I am in desperate need of pants – mainly casual pants at this point. I currently have two pairs of blue jeans and one pair of black that are getting quite a bit of wear. I am hoping to pick up at least two pairs of pants in the next few weeks.

In 2019 I had decided to only purchase clothing that was either Fair Trade Certified (FTC) or Made in Canada or the USA (Check out What I bought in 2019). This year I plan to stick to my ethical purchasing habits, but expand my purchasing criteria beyond FTC products or Made in North America. Through recent research I have found that there are a select group of companies who are producing clothing while respecting the people involved in their supply chains without being under at third party certification process like FTC. Obviously seeking third party certification is extremely costly and can be inaccessible to smaller producers. That being said, if and when I venture to purchase a non certified product, I will be sure to do loads of research on the company to ensure ethical production standards are being maintained.

Now, I’ve started my research for jeans and have narrowed my search down to the following brands:

  1. Prana (www.prana.com)
  2. J Crew (www.jcrew.com/ca)
  3. Yoga Jeans (yogajeans.ca)
  4. MUD Jeans (mudjeans.eu)

Some of you may be surprised to see J Crew on that list – I was too! At the moment, J Crew has started a line of Fair Trade Certified Factory Denim that is selling at a reasonable price. Now, on a whole J Crew is not known for its ethical production standards and it is clear that this Denim line is one of their first steps towards appealing to consumers who care about the ethics behind their clothing. As you may know, this brand does not have a good rating on Good On You. I’m torn…is it good to support their efforts towards making ethical clothing? Or should we only support companies that have a mission focused on ethical production? What are your thoughts?

Due to cost MUD Jeans are out this time around. The jeans look great and the company is amazing but the overall cost of the jeans (including pricy shipping to Canada) would be over $200.00 CND AND if I wanted to return them I would need to pay to ship them back.

Now Prana is a tricky brand for me right now too. I really the style of this brand for casual items. I first was drawn to them because they have a FTC line of clothing. Unfortunately their FTC line is minimal this season. After further research into the brand, it appears that the company is doing a fairly good job ensuring the human rights of those involved in the production process are respected. If you take a quick look on Good on You you’ll see that Prana is only listed as “It’s a Start”. If you look at the breakdown of the ethical categories they score Great in Labour. Now I 100% think animal rights and the environment are important – but as I explained in previous posts the most important thing to me is how the people involved in the production process are treated. The crappy part about Prana right now is that they closed their Canada warehouse which means shipping and returns are more expensive :(. BUT you can buy some Prana things in stores in Canada (Mountain Equipment Coop carries the Kayla pants right now).

Last but not least Yoga Jean, made right here in Canada, are a great option! The price is reasonable, I like the style and returns are easy. I have one pair of Yoga Jeans now and find they fall down quite a bit. I’m hoping to remedy this in my next pair. Tip – they sell Yoga Jeans at Simons if you want to try them on and have an easier return process.

SO what did I buy?!

Kayla Jeans (Indigo) – Prana
$54.95
Purchased at: Mountain Equipment Co-op (Ottawa)
Link: HERE

Medium Indigo Rachel Skinny Jean, by Yoga Jeans
$168.00 Size 29
Purchased at: Simons (Online)
Link: HERE

Now – both of these jeans look similar, I know. But I really needed some basic jeans. I plan to keep the Yoga Jeans for more “going out” occasions and the Prana ones for everyday. The blue jeans that I have now are about ready to be retired. Video coming!

Who Made Your Clothes?!

When I first dove into the world of ethical fashion – I was so overwhelmed with deciding what and what not to buy and trying to figure out which brands were actually taking steps towards ethical production and which ones were just using fancy words (ahem: SUSTAINABLE) to make us believe they are top notch.

fashionrevolution.org

Now if time permits, good old research starting with a brand’s website is a great way to discover more about a company. I’ve found that the companies with nothing to hide often post extensive details on the production and supply chain of their products (check out Patagonia’s website to see what an A+ for transparency looks like). BeWaRe: The companies that are not doing their share to ensure their products are produced fairly (fairness for the humans involved in the fabrication practice) will use non committal words like sustainable and environmental. They will be very vague about how they are actually following through on ethical committments. Be sure companies are walking the talk by digging a bit deeper. For example, find out if they publish their full supply chain, what formal commitments they’ve made, and how they monitor their factories and suppliers.

For those who can’t or who don’t want to sit at their laptop for hours reading, there are some amazing organizations that have done a lot of this dirty work for us. I use both resources highlighted below regularly. They have been game changers for me

Good On You App (https://goodonyou.eco)
Good On You is the world’s leading source for fashion brand ratings. The team at Good On You explains their work best:

We pull all the information together and use expert analysis to give each brand an easy-to-understand score. With Good On You, you can discover the very best fashion from around the world and learn everything you need to know about ethical and sustainable fashion.”

GoodOnYou.eco

Good On You scores brands in three main areas: Labour, Environment and Animals. It then uses the scores given in each of these areas to provide an overall score. This app is so simple and handy when you’re in the middle of a store. I can’t count how many times I’ve searched a brand on the app before buying a garment. The app is completely free – download it wherever you get your apps.

Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Report (https://baptistworldaid.org.au/resources/2019-ethical-fashion-guide/)

This amazing report is created to help consumers vote with their wallets! Much like the Good On You app, this report rates companies based on their ethical performance.

“The grades awarded by the Ethical Fashion Report are a measure of the efforts undertaken by each company to mitigate the risks of forced labour, child labour and worker exploitation in their supply chains, as well as protect the environment from the harmful impacts of the fashion industry. Higher grades are given to companies with ethical sourcing systems that, if implemented well, should reduce the extent of worker exploitation and environmental harm.

http://www.baptistworldaid.org.au

Both of these resources originate outside of North America which means you will notice that some key brands from Canada and the US have not yet been rated. When you search for a brand on the Good on You App that they have not rated, they provide the option for you to suggest the company for rating. Do it! The more we suggest the brands we see in Canada and the USA the better.

Other Resources and Websites

  1. Fashion Revolution (http://www.fashionrevolution.org) – Fashion Revolution is a global movement and this sites provides great resources on how to advocate for ethical clothing production and valuable information on the ethical fashion industry in general.
  2. Fair Trade USA Clothing Guide (https://www.fairtradecertified.org/shopping-guide/fair-trade-clothing-guide) – another great guide that highlights some of the popular brands found in the USA that are participating in the Fair Trade. Important Note: most of these brands, if not all, have created Fair Trade certified clothing lines, meaning only some of the clothes they produce are being certified. For this reason, you will see some brands in this guide that score very poorly with Good on You and the Baptist World Aid Ethical Clothing Report.

Happy researching!

What I bought in 2019

My ethical clothing haul

I learned so much about purchasing ethical clothing this past year. I found some stores and brands that I love and I’m excited to share them with you. Below you’ll see a video where I so professionally (bahahaha!) model my purchases. I clearly missed my calling.

I didn’t include all the clothing I purchased in 2019 in this video – I specifically left out the socks and underwear I picked up but I will be sure to discuss these in future blogs 🙂 I roughly calculated what I spent on all my purchases and it came to just under $1,000.00 CND. This may seem like a lot or not depending on how you shop – for me it was less than I would have spent in the previous year on non-ethical clothing.

Closet breakdown – it’s a mixed bag of ethics!

When I made the commitment to purchase ethically I was tempted to throw everything away in my closet and go on a huge shopping spree. I quickly realized that this would 100% go against my commitment to ethical fashion as it would be extremely wasteful and not to mention EXPENSIVE! Instead I evaluated my closet for each season and made a list of what I think I needed/wanted in the coming year to fill the gaps. You’ll notice in my video that I mostly purchased tops this year – that’s what I needed!

If you’re interested in seeing my entire 2019 ethical haul and where to find each item, check out the doc below. Unfortunately not all items I purchased are still available – but most are 🙂

If you have any questions about the items in this blog just give me a shout!