Editor’s note: This is regular series in which we help Styling You readers solve a particular wardrobe or clothing crisis with a little advice and some shopping suggestions. If you think you’d like to be considered as part of a Wardrobe Boot Camp post, then please email me (email@example.com) with a couple of photos and a brief run down of what specific help you would like.
Melissa is the director of a boutique PR agency who is looking for advice on how to be more ethical with her fashion purchasing choices.
I’m actually pretty happy with my style. I like quality pieces, comfortable and a little bit quirky, that can take me from work to shopping to out. A decade in London with frequent work (shopping!) trips to the US has left me with some fabulous quality pieces. My favourite places to shop are Anthropologie, Jaeger, Whistles, and in Australia, Seed, Country Road, and following your post last year, Elk Accessories.
Following the recent horrific factory fire in Bangladesh, I want to be more ethical with my fashion choices. I guess I want to apply the “seasonal eating” approach to my fashion choices – locally designed and made, good quality materials and great fit and function. More like Elk, I guess.
That’s not to say I’ll be ignoring the bigger players. I think it’s really important that we continue to support companies who provide employment opportunities that are fair and safe in countries like Bangladesh, India, China (and to put pressure on those who aren’t transparent about where their garments are made) but I’d really like some guidance on where to find fun, fabulous and ethical fashion locally.
I’m a director in a boutique PR agency specialising in health and wellness – client meetings are usually quite corporate; otherwise the workplace is pretty relaxed. I work four days a week and have an almost three-year-old daughter (it’s much easier applying my fashion ethics to her wardrobe – thank you oishi-m, Paul & Paula, eeni meeni miini mo!). My husband is currently taking a career break so for the next year or so my expensive-label fetish will need to be limited to my existing shoe and bag collection purchased during “The London Years”.
Consider the can of worms and the conversation around this topic well and truly open, Melissa.
It’s a conversation I think we need to have. It’s a tricky one and I think the best result that can come from the conversation is that all companies, big and small, have greater transparency around where they source their fabrics, where their clothes are made and the conditions under which they are made.
It’s absolutely tragic that it takes the Bangladesh factory disaster to this week bring about global action with some time deadlines in that country. You can read about that here.
Closer to home, I’ve also learned over the years that just because it’s made in Australia, doesn’t mean that it’s been ethically manufactured by Australian workers earning an award-based wage.
I also understand that every reader here at Styling You operates under different household budgetary constraints. It is not easy to feed and clothe a family.
I, like many others, frequently shop at discount department stores. This blog is about accessible fashion for all.
I’ve also been paid to represent a clothing line at a discount department store, something I would consider if the opportunity arose again. At the time I asked the question about where the clothes were made and the conditions under which they were manufactured. I was satisfied with the answers I received at the time.
The concept of fast fashion – fashion chain stores translating trends and getting them in stores within weeks of their appearance on the international catwalks – has become seemingly entrenched in the industry. As part of the bigger picture, I think it’s timely to think about the part we may or may not play in that fast fashion process.
So with all the above prefacing my tips and this conversation starter, let’s get stuck in …
1. Let your fingers do the clicking. A good start is a visit to the websites of your favourite fashion labels and stores. Do they have a company statement about their social responsibility and ethical trade? Check out Country Road’s here.
2. If your favourite stores don’t have a social responsibility statement on their websites or if the statement doesn’t answer your questions, send an email to them for more information. Making an informed decision as to where you spend your fashion dollars is a good first step to ethical fashion shopping.
3. Visit Ethical Clothing Australia. This organisation includes a list of Australian labels which have applied for and received accreditation to ensure Australian workers receive fair wages and decent conditions. Labels that we frequently feature on Styling You and are listed here include Metalicus, Cue and Veronika Maine.
4. Create and build a minimalist wardrobe based on classic pieces that last. This is the cornerstone of slow fashion. Simple living advocate and blogger Brooke McAlary lives by this and has guest posted about how to do it.
5. Buy or swap pre-loved clothes. I’m not a thrift shopper owing to growing up with op shop clothes (yes, I have many first world issues) but I’m not adverse to swapping clothes with girlfriends, particularly for special occasions. I also hired a special occasion garment recently. To me that represents less waste and a more sustainable industry. For great op shopping tips, B Being Cool is your thrifting partner in crime.
6. Shop at local markets or online at places like Etsy. Generally speaking, the smaller the operation, the closer to home the garment or accessory has been made. I’d still be asking questions about where the fabrics and materials used have been sourced if you are wanting to be strictly ethical in your choices.
I’ve created a work outfit for Melissa, featuring Australian labels which are either listed with Ethical Clothing Australia or have a public social responsibility statement on their websites.
Ok, let’s get this conversation going. Are you thinking more about where you shop? Are you prepared to ask your favourite stores questions about where and how they manufacture their garments and accessories? How do you balance budgetary considerations with ethics? Any other tips for Melissa?
UPDATE 1: Audrey Blue is the first and the only (at this stage) Australian women’s clothing label who has secured the highest international order of clothing and textiles certification. It’s called GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and they are also FLO (Fairtrade International) certified.
Audrey Blue director Hannah Parris is in London attending today’s eco-fashion industry conference Source Summit 2013 hosted by the visionary Ethical Fashion Forum.
Ms Parris said at this year’s London Fashion Week exhibition, almost a third of showcasing brands had a sustainability focus. “In London, they see there’s a real opportunity to build on this momentum,” she said.
“Australia can build on the momentum of the recent well publicised concerns and become leaders in the sustainability field. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are hotbeds for fashion innovation. Labels and retailers in these big cities have the opportunity to not only build on the momentum discussed by London’s fashion elite, but make it mainstream – make it the cultural norm.”
UPDATE 2: Protesters in safety masks and bodysuits gathered affront the Just Jeans’ Melbourne CBD store yesterday demanding The Just Group sign The Accord on Fire & Building Safety in Bangladesh. More details here. The Just Group includes Just Jeans, JayJays, Jacqui E, Peter Alexander, Portmans, Dotti and Smiggle.
UPDATE 3: Kmart has pledged to reveal the locations of all the factories it uses, as Australian retailers face continued pressure over the mistreatment of garment factory workers in Bangladesh. More details here.
UPDATE 4: Thanks to Leahlovesarts in the comments below for flagging this TEDxNoosa talk from the designers behind Sinerji.