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

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!