What's in your hands?
I love ethical products. You know, the ones with ‘Child Labour Free’ stamped on them, or some kind of assurance the environment won’t suffer any further as a result of my purchase. The ones that can stand up and say with confidence they know what conditions their products were made in, and who they were made by. I love it because I know what’s in my hands is so much more than a t-shirt, a handbag, or a pair of sneakers: it’s my power as a consumer to choose, and the opportunity to impact the lives of people working in oppressive conditions to make these products.
What’s in your hands is that same power.
But if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent a fair bit of time asking yourself the question – where to go? Where is the affordable ethical fashion that isn’t downright hideous? For some of you brave souls, the idea of trawling malls (or Ponsonby Road) for half a day trying to figure out where the good clothes are is relaxing. Heck, it’s even enjoyable. For the rest of us, we want to know where to go for the ethical, affordable clothing before we put aside half a day with the vague hope that something will come of it.
Granted, we do have to accept that making the world a better place will cost. It costs to make environmentally-friendly clothing that won’t clog up our landfills. It costs to pay workers all the way down the supply chain a living wage so they can send their kids to school. But it doesn’t have to be utterly unrealistic; it doesn’t have to cost $400 for a plain white t-shirt.
If it’s ethical, affordable fashion you want, and you’re looking in the right places, there are options. So on behalf of all of us, I went looking. I dived in so that you wouldn’t have to, and now, it’s time to chat. Make yourself a cuppa, grab a seat, and let’s talk ethical fashion.
Where to begin?
If you haven’t got your hands on Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Guide, let that be your first stop!
In a nutshell, the Ethical Fashion Guide grades fashion companies from A to F on how well they protect their workers from exploitation at three critical stages of the supply chain, giving you the power (and the know-how) to shop ethically. Companies are assessed on the policies they have in place to address the risk of worker exploitation in supplier and subcontracted factories, the degree to which they have traced and disclosed information about their suppliers, how they manage supplier relationships, whether they have audit processes in place, as well as whether workers are paid a living wage and have the opportunity to make their voices heard.
It’s one of the best tools you can use to see what your favourite brands are doing to protect their workers, what they’ve committed to and what they’re following through on, because we all know actions speak louder than words. This year’s report assessed 114 companies representing more than 400 brands, from kids brands to outdoor wear, women’s clothing, men’s clothing and sports outlets. Let me introduce you to the A team from this year’s Guide.
Ethical brands you know
Women’s brands: Audrey Blue, Outland Denim, Cotton On, Factorie, Kowtow, Supre, Country Road, Sheridan, Trenery, Witchery, Zara
Men’s brands: Outland Denim, Cotton On, Factorie, Nudie Jeans, Zara Kids brands: Cotton On Kids, Bonds, RIO
Sports brands: Icebreaker, Kathmandu, Patagonia, RREPP, Adidas, Champion, Gear for Sports, Lululemon, Platinum, Reebok, Sportscraft
Add to that NZ-owned companies Common Good (formerly Liminal Apparel) and Freeset, and you’ve got yourself a bunch of outstanding brands to buy from that are both ethical and affordable. Sure, nobody’s perfect, but they’re making an intentional effort to move towards a future without exploitation, and Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion project manager Claire Hart says that’s something we can all celebrate. “Supply chains in the fashion industry can be lengthy and complicated. One item of clothing could have passed through multiple factories or even countries before the final product is on the shelf for the consumer.
“It’s really commendable when companies are making a concerted effort to trace their suppliers through each stage of production and are able to let the consumer know who is making their clothes, and under what conditions they are being made in.” Hidden gems you need to visit
The Loyal Workshop Places stocked: Crave Café, Texan Art Schools Newmarket and The Bread and Butter Letter Price range: $80-$280, excluding advocate packs. Average price $180
So we’ve covered the mainstream brands, and if you’re looking more along the lines of quirky, boutique, vintage clothing, or much-loved accessories, I’ve got a few more stores I want to introduce you to.
First stop? The Loyal Workshop. Here you’ll find the finest collection of top-quality leather products, from satchels, to wallets, belts and wristbands, handmade by oppressed women from the poverty-stricken, red-light community of Bowbazar in Kolkata, India.
Having been sold, trafficked and forced into the sex trade, each of these precious women have their own story to tell of poverty, trauma, abuse and hopelessness. When Kiwi entrepreneurs Paul and Sarah Beisly started The Loyal Workshop, these artisans were given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
After visiting Kolkata in 2002, Paul and Sarah started learning the language, researching, building a team, forming friendships, sourcing local ethically-made leather, and finally opened their first workshop in 2014.
Four years on, The Loyal Workshop continues to exemplify the way business can be a powerful means of instigating change in community. Their dream is to see a world without slavery, and from their corner of the world, they’re doing all they can to achieve it.
“We are passionate about seeing an industry shift in our life time,” says 37-year-old Sarah.
“What is considered 'normal' business practice needs to be challenged. The Loyal Workshop exists to challenge other businesses that it is no longer sufficient to aim for profit at all cost. A triple bottom line of profit, people and the planet needs to be the new normal in the fashion industry. And we are living proof that it can be done!”
You’ll find their products stocked at Crave Café, Texan Art Schools Newmarket and The Bread and Butter Letter* – another hidden gem y’all need to know about.
*Not a bakery, in case you were wondering.
Rose Hope co-created the ethically-made New Zealand store BABL in 2011. Photo: supplied.
The Bread and Butter Letter (BABL) Located: 225 Karangahape Road Price range: $20-$45 for clothing items. Average price $30
Located super close to AUT, The Bread and Butter Letter (BABL) features a charming collection of ethically-made NZ products, from vintage clothing and socially-conscious accessories to home décor, gifts and stationery. The thriving store is creating a home for conscious consumers, one product at a time, so you can walk away with that rad sweater, maxi dress or cute pair of earrings knowing your purchase is supporting local and championing ethical.
It was early 2011 when friends Rose Hope and Sarah Firmston banded together to open BABL in Eden Terrace, before re-opening in 2013 at the new location on K’ Road. Now in her fourth year of working fulltime at the store, 28-year-old Rose has been uniquely positioned to see the tide begin to turn on consumers’ desire for ethical production, and believes wholeheartedly that the public will become greater influencers in the world of ethical fashion in the near future.
“Injustice is still happening in the industry, and from the consumers point of view, I think it’s because people are either unaware or don’t think it can change, but that’s not true. We’ve seen our customer base change to become more conscious, we’ve had customers informing us of the moral reasons behind why they buy, and they’ve challenged us on some things, too.
“I think it’s a sign of the times that [the store] is doing really well. People are wanting to be intentional with their purchasing power and know they’re doing something good.” Managing the store has been comparable to a litmus test with the view of where society is heading, says Rose, and it’s most important that the dialogue around ethical consumption continues.
“Conscious consumerism is a big topic. A big, hard, messy conversation we would rather not have. I sometimes wonder why we are still even talking about it because change seems so obvious! But then I remember the 21-year-old me, having meaningful, eye-opening conversations for the first time with those around me who were patient and gracious enough to give their time and encouragement to teach me. It reminds me that I need to be facilitating that conversation further.
“In 10 years I think it’s going to be a different landscape. Consumers will get mad, ethical progress will continue in companies and it will be the public who turn the tide. For us, it’s really exciting to be a part of that change.”
ReCreate’s workers in Cambodia are given living wages and 30-hour work weeks. Photo: supplied.
ReCreate Clothing Online: www.recreatestore.co.nz, coming to stores soon! Price range: $65-$130, excluding kids wear. Average price $90 (but you can grab sale items for as little as $20, so keep an eye out).
For those of us who wish winter would come and go as quickly as possible, it’s easy to believe spring is just around the corner, and so is the secret I’m about to let you in on. Newsflash – ReCreate Clothing (one of my FAVOURITE ethical fashion brands) is expanding from online only into stores near you this September. It’s cute, affordable, ethical, and will be stocked in all four of Flo & Frankie’s Auckland locations, as well as Staple & Cloth on Ponsonby Road.Their story begins in the disadvantaged community of Dey Tmey, Cambodia, where New Zealander Erica Gadsby and her husband had worked for eight years, running a volunteer organisation that connected young New Zealanders with great organisations in developing countries. Knowing the people of Dey Tmey had few opportunities for employment and were particularly vulnerable to being sold into slavery, Erica and three of her friends started ReCreate. The fashion label offers employment right in the heart of the Dey Tmey community with a sewing, training and production centre that helps to empower the people of Dey Tmey.Five years on, and this beautiful business is transforming the lives of its workers, their families and the entire community with its longstanding commitment to ethical standards, worker empowerment and eco-friendly, quality garment production.
Working conditions include living wages, a 30-hour work week, full sewing training, paid leave for sickness, holidays and maternity care, as well as assistance sending kids to school – not to mention an ongoing and regularly reviewed strategic commitment to organic, sustainable production.They’re all about being kind to the environment and being kind to the people. It’s the kind of business philosophy Erica would love to see consumers getting behind when it comes to purchasing power.
“To me, I feel like it just comes down to our perception of price and quality. It wasn’t so long ago that people would buy carefully, at a higher price, and look after things really well. Now, there is so much access to inexpensive goods, but the largely unseen cost of poor quality, waste, environmental damage and human cost through unethical production is so high.”
So I hope this helps you. I hope you recognise the power you have as a consumer to show fashion companies what you value. I hope you realise what’s in your hands is the opportunity to choose and to impact the lives of those who work in unsatisfactory conditions to produce what’s in your wardrobe. I hope next time you shop, you do it with them in mind. And I hope you’re part of turning the tide. Because if anything is worth fighting for in this life, it’s people.