As Eileen Fisher, clothing industry magnate said last year “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world...second only to oil.”
You may have even watched a documentary on young brits going to experience sweat shops for themselves or read an article about Primark's and Mango’s workers dying in Rana Plaza.
And perhaps you felt overwhelmed, unable to know where to turn to for your next fashion fix or just a simple pair of jeans. Like many, you’re used to cheap clothing and you weren’t sure how to react to the news that Uzbekistan is the fourth biggest exporter of cotton globally and the government of Uzbekistan uses one of the largest state-sponsored systems of forced labour to harvest it. You weren’t sure how to make a positive change when the disconnect between what was seductively sitting in the brightly lit shop and the journey it has taken to get there is so large.
Similar to becoming vegan, you worried that you would have to dramatically change your behaviour so you wouldn’t be complicit in the violent damage a t-shirt was unwittingly causing. Maybe you worried that you would end up paying unaffordable prices for a hemp chemise you didn’t really want.
Luckily none of this is necessary.
The answers are here.
The rules of ethical purchasing is try to buy something when at least one of the following is achieved:
Recycled, Made Locally, Naturally, Sustainably and no Sweat Shops.
This can be done most easily by charity shopping when you rescue unwanted textiles, give money to charity for them and then come home with something fabulous at a third of the price of it’s original retail value: Win win.
But there are times which call for buying something new. (Usually when charity shops are closed and you want to cyber shop.)
Top Five Ethical Brands Which Won’t Cost You A Fortune
Accessories: Green Tulip
This is one of my favourite go-to places for lovely gloves and if you fancy it, sleek reusable bottles and lunch bags. This website hosts brands that fall under different categories of ethics: “Natural”, “Organic” “British”, “Fair Trade, “Recycled”
Shoes: Beyond Skin
Okay, so it’s not as cheap as Office, but if you’re going to invest in any type of clothes, it’s got to be shoes, the most functional part of your outfit. The shoes aren’t knockout fabulous, but they’ve definitely got a fun fashion vibe which beats a lot of ethical brands out there. The foxy slippers are my favourite. Meanwhile the shoes are 100% Vegan and the company is dedicated to lowering its carbon footprint, sourcing fabrics locally to its factories in Spain. http://www.beyondskin.co.uk
Men Clothes, especially if you’re left wing: The Hemp Trading Company
They make left wing urban streetwear, so if you’ve always wanted a top that says ‘Get Rich Or Try Sharing’ this is the shop for you. These guys were recently ranked as the most ethical brand for men in the U.K. although they also do clothes for women too. The prices are high street cheap and although some of their slogans are a bit ridiculous, there are lots of fun things there too. https://shop.thtc.co.uk
Women’s Clothes: Gudrun
So the truth is, when it comes to ethical brands, a lot of the clothes can be a bit middle-aged frumpster and pricy. Gudrun can be a touch on the frumpster side of things too, but they currently have some great Frida Khalo vibes, even using some beautiful older models to showcase it. Their shtick is a colourful scandinavian design for functional and versatile clothes, using natural materials. Not only do they make sustainable clothes, they also fund big charity projects. http://www.gudrunsjoden.com
Everyone’s Jeans: Monkee Genes
If you fancy some new well-fitting jeans check these guys out. I am personally not a jeans person but I’ve seen many people wearing these jeans and looking great. Monkee make fairly made and priced, organic jeans from Indonesia, ethically produced jeans from Turkey and grassroots jeans made in England for men and women. www.monkeegenes.com
AND if you just can’t break that high street habit, I’ve compiled a list of High Street Companies that have commendable sustainability programs you can shop at without feeling too guilty.
Top Five High Street Brands Do Ethical
This company’s "Plan A" has been praised loudly by ethical experts everywhere. It is known for stable, long-term relationships with supplier factories and is the only major retailer to have committed to ensuring its suppliers are able to pay workers a living wage in the least-developed countries, starting with Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka by 2015.
This company was a founder member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, so its commitment to fair fashion is a longstanding one. It bases its code of conduct on the ETI standards, and works with suppliers to meet them while also having an active programme of audits and unannounced visits. It is committed to animal welfare and supports a programme to help Indian cotton farmers to convert to organic production. They also sponsor ethical designers for London Fashion Week and have a programme of reducing energy use at its stores, and reducing waste and packaging.
ASOS ECO EDIT
They work with eco-friendly brands and have put together a fashion worthy edit of clothing, accessories and beauty products that fit within their criteria for sustainability. They’re particularly proud of our fair-trade clothing label ASOS Made In Kenya, made in partnership with SOKO Kenya. So whether you're looking for clothing that's made with a lower environmental impact or beauty that's natural and organic, you'll find it here.
New Look & H&M
Both have paid lip service to the ethical cause and declared themselves committed to achieving sustainability. They’re trying to cover worker’s rights, animal testing, carbon footprint and textile waste. Improvements have been made but the fast fashion model, which relies on trusted factories outsourcing their orders to sweat shops to complete the sudden need for a million t-shirts similar to what Kim K wore the other day to be shipped over tomorrow to the west, isn’t great. However if you’re desperate for something cheap and quick, better them then Primark.
So aside from the fact they produce my favourite clothes which have lasted me absolute years, they are sweat shop free. And yes, they had a questionable CEO and some problematic advertising campaigns (although no more problematic than Topshop) and don’t sell clothes above a certain size, you have to pick your battles. Their garment makers are the highest paid in the world, they recycle all their manufacturing waste, are virtually landfill-free and they claim to be passionate about social responsibility, especially when it comes to LGBTQ rights and immigration reform.
By Sarah Kendal