So you have decided to investigate alternatives to the disposable fashion items commonly sold in major retailers, or maybe you have started making more ethical choices in other purchases already and looking at your wardrobe?
As with buying any product, when looking into more ethical choices, you do usually have to be prepared to invest a little more upfront. Ethical companies are generally, small, local and often family run businesses that do not have the scale and advertising budgets of big companies to persuade you how wonderful their cheap product is. The quality of products, however, from ethical businesses does have to be superior and have a point of difference to attract consumers, so the feel and look of a product is still extremely important. Putting this aside for the moment and focussing on ethics alone, we have a few notes for consumers when searching for ethical clothing.
So when it comes to clothing, there are probably three main things to look for...
1. Where is your garment made ?
There has been a lot of attention given to working conditions in factories in Southeast Asia, with unsafe working conditions a result of the low wages needed to produce the disposable 'fast fashion' garments.
The following information is an approximate guide for garment factory hourly wages circulating around the web at the moment...
As a comparison the sewers that make the garments for our 'Bestowed' and 'Rant' clothing lines are paid approximately $24.00 (plus 9.5% superannuation), some 100 fold higher than workers in Bangladesh.
Each 'Bestowed' and 'Rant' garment is sewn by 1 or 2 people, rather than fed through a production line where a worker sits and sews a single seam over and over again.
The quantity we make is generally 30-100 per style, so there is no need for such production lines at these low quantities either.
Beware of businesses that have the 'designed in...' and then disguise the country it is 'made in...' Always look for the country it is made in because this is the legally required wording that means more than where a product is designed.
2. What is your garment made of ?
The fabric content of clothing has an impact on the ethics of your wardrobe. As a general guide, natural fibres are derived from plant sources and are healthier to wear than petrochemical derived fibres such as polyester, polyamide, acrylic or nylon. Natural fibres, such as wool, silk, linen, cotton and other cellulose fibres (including cupro, viscose, tencel and modal) also generally use less energy and biodegrade much faster, though can sometimes use more water in their production. So this is not always an easy or straightforward choice. Natural fibres are less uniform than synthetic fibres when being made, and because they are more expensive also, many 'fast fashion' items are made from synthetics.
While both 'Rant' and 'Bestowed' are made from all natural fibres, some fitted garments have some 'spandex' to give you stretch and also add to the longevity of the garment. Also while wool is one of the most sustainable fibres and is used in our 'Rant' label, 'Bestowed' is vegan friendly so only uses pure cotton (many of which are certified organic).
Figure showing energy/water use of some common fibres.
3. How easy is it to take care of ?
Suprisingly when you look at the whole lifetime of a garment (assuming it is of good quality), the biggest environmental impact is actually in how you wash your clothes. So if you are wanting to reduce your impact by buying less items of clothing and better quality, then you should also look at how you wash your garments. It is ok to not wash your outer layers of clothing every time you wear them. If they do have visible dirt on them, then see if you can use cold water to remove the marks and air dry as much as possible. Drycleaning uses quite a few chemicals, and has a fair bit of waste with hangers and plastic, so should also be avoided as much as possible.
Many garments on Sustainable Fashion have been prewashed for you in harvested rainwater using a cold water wash and an eco-friendly detergent. Some have been put in an energy efficient dryer so there are no nasty surprises with shrinkage, though we air dry the delicate fabrics such as silks and viscose. Sometimes fabrics have traces of chemicals from the manufacturing, so while it adds an extra step, we think this makes the garment much nicer for our customers as it can be worn and enjoyed straight away.
So in summary...
The care label is an important source of information for the ethical consumer. The information you need for making ethical choices for your wardrobe is made easier once you start to understand the information on labels. This is not possible when buying online, so don't assume anything (as specific information is quite often left off for a reason) and if in doubt ask questions before purchasing.
So while ethical choices in clothing may cost a little more, you may be surprised when comparing the prices of some of the large fashion brands from around the world that spend large amounts of money on advertising and promotion. There is an increasing group of ethical choices from independent designers producing quality garments at fair prices, which will last much longer than a single fashion season.