Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Practical guide to ethical fashion shopping

Posted by Amanda Villaruel | | |
It seems impossible to shop ethically, right? Given the circumstance that most shops don't provide you with the information that you need to make ethical choices, unless you've made some extensive research before entering the store.

On most clothing tags, you'll find no information on the production, if the factory workers were given a living wage or if they had to work overtime to make the shirt you're holding in your hand. The only information you're given when you're standing in the store, is country of origin and type of fabric.

So, what should you do? Boycott the garment industry? Stop shopping entirely?

Many people would agree that boycotting would be a death sentence for millions of garment workers, considering that the industry employs approx. 60-75 million people worldwide.1 In Bangladesh alone, the industry employs around 4 million people, which makes the garment industry of great importance to the country's economy.2
Guide to ethical fashion shopping
Guide to ethical fashion shopping

Then how do you shop ethically?

A. "If you pay a little more, we can live a little better"

This quote caught my attention when I read Naked Fashion. The first step to shopping ethically, is accepting that ethical fashion will not be cheap :-)

Certain ethical fashion brands provide lower prices than others, but essentially, you will rarely find cheap clothing that was produced ethically. It's obvious that if we want the true costs embedded in the price, including costs of labor, transport and production of materials, we can't expect to find cheap ethical fashion ;-)
The challenges of ethical fashion
Guide to ethical fashion shopping

B. Research your favorite brands and make a list

Start with the brands you already know. 
  1. You can check out how your favorite brand is performing at Fair Wear Foundation.

  2. Do they have a social responsibility report? 

    A social responsibility report might indicate that the company is working towards ensuring better working conditions for the factory workers, which might seem promising. But this is really no guarantee of whether the textile workers are treated according to labor rights conventions and standards.

    You need to determine what is good enough for you, based on what the company tells about their production.

  3. The company may add credibility to their ethical policy if they:
  • Provide supplier factory lists, 

  • Goes into details about their markup like Everlane does in their online shop and 

  • Explains how the factories work and introduces you to who actually made the clothes. People Tree as an example shows you who makes their products. Nudie Jeans does the same and provides a production guide. Certain online shops have established an easy way for the consumer to identify ethically-produced clothing using symbols in their product pages, such as Norway-based Just Fashion. See the examples below.

If you want more information, then just ask the company! The smoothest way would be to contact them directly on Facebook, or send them an e-mail for you to have things in black and white.

Everlane shows you the true costs - ethical fashion
Everlane shows you the true costs - ethical fashion

Who made the products of People Tree - fairtrade fashion
Who made the products of People Tree - fairtrade fashion

Just Fashion operates with various symbols - symbol with the heart stands for "Labour welfare"
Just Fashion operates with various symbols - symbol with the heart stands for "Labour welfare".
Each brand explains the production. 

The other day I discovered that one of my favorite brands, Acne Studios, has some of its production in China.3 Italy is their biggest production country, and according to their report, they're looking into increasing their production within the EU.

Is this practice good enough for me?

For now it is, since the brand has something that no fast fashion brand can ever provide and that is excellent quality ;-)

C. Look specifically for ethical fashion brands

You can start by checking out the ethical business directory at Ethical Fashion Forum that includes Braintree, Collective and Raven + Lily, or 30 ethical fashion brands you need to know.

Also a good place to start is my post about Sustainable fashion brands from A to Z or 10 earth-friendly and ethical basics under $30.
Look for ethical fashion brands.  Here you have Armed Angels, Braintree, Nudie Jeans, People Tree, Raven + Lily and A/BARENESS.
Look for ethical fashion brands.
Here you have Armed Angels, Braintree, Nudie Jeans, People Tree, Raven + Lily and A/BARENESS.

If you have the time, you might also read the report from Clean Clothes Campaign in partnership with Asia Floor Wage Alliance, that lists Europe's leading clothing brands and whether they were ensuring a living wage at the time the organizations were conducting the survey. Please know that the report is from March 2014 and that some of the brands listed might have shown more or less transparency in the past few years.

Either way, the report shows how much work that is left to achieve living wages for textile workers and how complicated the process is.

D. Shop for Fairtrade

Some people claim that the only sure way of knowing that the garment is ethically produced, is if it's certified Fairtrade. But not everyone agrees with that. Read this post written by Clean Clothes Campaign.

Whether it's the truth or not, the Fairtrade certification is maybe the best we've got so far to determine whether a product was produced under ethical conditions. No brand or garment is perfect from an ethical perspective, it's about determining what's good enough for you. Sorry if I'm repeating myself... but obviously I'm trying to make a point :-)

So, what is Fairtrade?

As an example; if a cotton t-shirt is certified Fairtrade, it basically tells you that the cotton farmers were paid a minimum price for the cotton and they were guaranteed the right to join a trade union. The Fairtrade standards also set requirements for a safe working environment, and set conditions for ordinary working time and use of overtime.4 

Take it to next step and learn more about ethical fashion

Whenever I want to learn something new, I normally choose films and documentaries about that particular subject and sometimes books if there are pictures in it. I don't know about you, but I can't handle a big wall of text.
Book: Naked Fashion by Safia Minney
Book: Naked Fashion by Safia Minney

So, here are a couple of good resources about ethical fashion:

  1. The True Cost - documentary film, available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon and VHX. You can also read my review of the film.

  2. "Naked Fashion - The new sustainable fashion revolution" - book by Safia Minney with Emma Watson, Vivienne Westwood, Orla Kiely and more.

  3. "Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion" - book by Elizabeth L. Kline.
These are the ones I personally recommend. Otherwise, check out 15 eco-fashion books that uncover the garment industry's dirtiest secrets.

You're done with Guide to ethical fashion shopping, continue to read:
How to deal with environmental guilt.

Eco-alternatives to coats and jackets.

Sources used in this post:

Have your say about what you just read :)

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