Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most ethical of them all? Sadly, there isn’t a magic source of information that tells us how to be perfectly ethical. For me, finding out how to be more ethical and how to buy more ethically has been hard work. I believe it’s the difficulty in finding good information and the additional costs of organic, fair trade, ethically minded products that really put people off.
So, how do you make it work? And where do you start.
I guess, the first thing is to decide on your priorities. What’s most important to you? Is it the treatment of people, is it the environment, is it your own health, or perhaps you’re vegan or vegetarian so you put the welfare of animals at the heart of your ethical values. Once you have your direction, you can make a start.
I started buying more mindfully about 10 years ago when I started to buy a weekly organic fruit and veg box. We also switched other household products like our washing powder and toilet cleaner to eco versions. We did this because of my husbands eczema and because we wanted to be a bit more healthy. We’ve come a long way since then. We now buy a local organic fruit and veg box, all of our toiletries are organic, natural or fair trade. We’ve renovated our house using eco building materials. I’ve recently developed an ethical capsule wardrobe and raised funds for Labour Behind the Label. I feel passionately about garment workers’ rights and being lighter on the planet. I’m trying to read as much as I can, to understand why and where we need to be more mindful in our hectic modern lifestyles. I’m very much at the beginning of my ethical lifestyle journey.
Fashion Revolution Week – 24/04/2017 to 30/04/2017
A couple of weeks’ ago I was invited to speak at a Fashion Revolution event hosted by Brighton Girl Mag. It was a Q&A about how to have a sustainable wardrobe. I was invited to be on the panel because I recently completed Labour Behind the Label’s Six Item Challenge. You can read all about my experience in my challenge blog here. The main theme that came up at the discussion last week centred around the positive things that you can do and the brands that you can trust. The general consensus was that there’s a lot of what not to do and not a lot of what you can do. This is definitely a frustration I shared with the audience.
So, what can you do? Well quite a lot actually.
- Buy less! So simple!
- Get involved in the circular economy. Buy second hand or vintage, repair or have your broken garments mended, organise a clothes swap with friends and if something has had it, recycle it don’t bin it.
- When you are buying new, choose good quality, preferably ethical clothes.
- Wash less. It’s better for the environment, your clothes and your bank balance.
- Lobby your favourite brands. Ask questions. Get involved with campaigns like the #whomademyclothes campaign or Change your Shoes campaign link here
- Do as much research as you can on the companies who you like to buy from; try to get past greenwashing. This is not easy, but there’s a lot of information out there o the web, in newspapers and you can always contact companies directly for more information. I really like Ethical Consumer magazine’s thorough approach and use their league tables as a first port of call for specifics on different brands.
- Read, read, read. There is so much good information out there from the Ethical Consumer Magazine to Safia Minney’s excellent Slave to Fashion Book. The more informed you are, the better the choices you can make.
- And don’t give up. You may not always get it right but at least you are trying!
At the discussion I attended, I was really disappointed to learn that Swedish brand Monki are owned by H&M. Yet when you look at their website properly, it’s glaringly obvious. I was really quite embarrassed by that one! Whilst I know that H&M are trying to improve their corporate practices (and image) with initiatives such as the launch of a new sustainable line, I’m still not overly convinced. Their new sustainable line only takes into account the fabrics used and doesn’t really give the specifics of who made the clothes. There are still question marks over their supply chains, for example where they are sourcing their cotton from and how workers are treated in the factories that make their clothes (Guardian news article here).
On another note, I think it’s a shame that Fashion Revolution aren’t doing more to showcase really great ethical brands. I’d love to see them put a spot light on those companies getting it right. I think this would be a brilliant way of showing consumers a different way of shopping. This would definitely be a finger in the right direction. The Fashion Revolution transparency table, which reports on the top 100 big brand names, has been published during Fashion Revolution week for the past 3 years. None of the companies listed this year scored above 50%. I think that’s pretty shameful in and of itself. However, what I find more worrying is that those at the top of the table are held up as “doing the right thing”. Again, it’s great that companies are moving in a more positive direction but I reserve my big round of applause for when they are scoring more like 80%. I’d also love to see the transparency ratings of smaller high street retailers and some of my favourite ethical brands, to know that I truly am buying into better.
Practically Ethical – Top Tip
If you’re new to ethical fashion, here are some great brands to check out:
People Tree, Monkee Genes, Nudie, Ethletic Shoes, Veja, Bibico, Thought, Matt & Nat and Nomad.
Interestingly, Labour Behind the Label and Fashion Revolution don’t support boycott, but do call on consumers to question big brands and to support their various campaigns and fundraising efforts. You can hear Dominique from Labour Behind the Label discussing this in Kick the Kyriarchy’s podcast here (she’s on the show from about 10 minutes in). I feel really conflicted about the issue of boycott. I just don’t want my money to effectively tell the big brand retailers that I think it’s ok for them to carry on as they are, making huge profits off the back of very cheap and more often than not exploited workers. And I’m not convinced that they’d take much notice of my emails, social media lobbying and phone calls. I’d much rather buy from ethical, fair trade retailers who are making huge efforts to provide jobs that ensure working conditions are safe, living wages are paid and fair hours are worked. Quite often ethical retailers are providing extra benefits such as health care and childcare facilities too. You only have to take a look at Swallows, a women’s project where theres’s a daycare centre and school provided for the children of employees to see the extra mile that brands such as People Tree are going to. I find this really inspirational. People Tree are now my first port of call when I need something new to wear, and that will continue for the foreseeable.
The thing is, where you buy from is a really powerful thing. Boycotting fast fashion and supporting slow, ethical fashion would force change. Greater demand for ethical clothing would increase the availability of jobs with better pay and better working conditions for garment workers around the world. More customers would also mean more choice and even perhaps better economies of scale, which could increase sales further. And when I say economies of scale, I’m not talking about squeezing loads of profit at the expense of the workers here. The main concern with boycott seems to be that workers may lose jobs. Yet what if the money being poured into fast fashion right now, was instead poured into companies who are already providing decent jobs? Wouldn’t that create better jobs and encourage larger companies to shift their thinking?
So, I guess I’m not that conflicted about boycott, I believe that it’s the other half of the coin when it comes to bringing the Fashion Revolution and making meaningful change in the fast fashion industry. Without customers, those companies are nothing. And I bet even a 5% – 10% reduction in sales would make them sit up and listen. Your money is your corporate vote after all. So, yes, demand better by asking who made your clothes but also buy better too.
Regardless, I loved the passion and enthusiasm shown across social media for Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes campaign during Fashion Revolution Week. You can see my contribution below. I would urge everyone to join in next year. It’s such an effective, immediate and simple thing to do.
#whomademyclothes? My small contribution to this great campaign. I emailed both Dr Denim Jeansmakers and People Tree and posted on twitter and instagram asking who made these garments. I already know who made my t-shirt as People Tree emailed me straight back when I asked them. Dr Denim Jeansmakers liked my post on twitter but I haven’t seen any posts showing photos of their garment makers and I haven’t received any more information from them on social media or by email either. I’ve found this so frustrating as they promote themselves as an ethically responsible company, so you’d think they’d be able to field a more comprehensive response.
Another great campaign that recently launched is the Soil Association’s #ComeCleanAboutBeauty. This sets to out the products which claim to be natural and organic but in fact contain chemical nasties that wouldn’t cut the mustard for organic certification. I was pretty shocked to see some brands that I’ve used in the past, such as Faith in Nature accused of greenwashing. This strengthens my feeling that I should either be making more products myself (you can make so many beauty products from scratch), only buying organically certified products or questioning whether I really need the product in the first place.
Slave to Fashion
Safia Miney’s amazing Slave to Fashion book came out a couple of weeks’ ago. It raises the awareness of modern day slavery and the new Modern Slavery Act, which was brought into UK law in 2015. It’s a pretty shocking read. But it also contains a wealth of information about loads of positive initiatives which are helping to fight against modern day slavery as well as detailing the things that we can all do to help reduce the exploitation of garment workers.
So, lots and lots of positive stuff going on. And best of all, it’s all stuff that you can directly engage with really simply: write a short email to your favourite fast fashion brand, read a book, check the label and buy your next item of clothing from a charity, vintage or ethical store.
I feel like there is a genuine hunger for transparency. And I guess with so much information now available and more and more of us questioning where our stuff comes from, change will inevitably come.
I’ve only focused on fashion and beauty in this article but there are so many other areas in our lives where buying or being ethically is difficult. If you know of any other great initiatives or campaigns, let me know, I’d love to hear from you.