Wear your heart on your sleeve with ethical fashion

Along with paid parental leave and childcare reforms in the latest Federal Budget, ethical fashion received a small boost. The government committed $6.1 million over four years to help consumers choose ethically sourced Australian textiles, clothing, and footwear.

So how do you literally put your heart on your sleeve and dress in a way that is responsible and ethical?

Going to the local op shop to supplement your wardrobe or swapping clothes with friends and family members is a great starting point. From there it means learning about supply chains and the manufacturing processes involved in producing textiles and clothing. Up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from fashion production and supply chain tracing remains one of the industry’s biggest challenges.

Baptist World Aid makes it easier to discern the companies and brands that are producing ethical fashion. It produces an Ethical Fashion Guide, rating brands on how they protect workers and the environment. This year it rated 120 companies representing 581 brands, giving them a score out of 100. Leading the pack was Sydney underwear maker, Mighty Good Basics, with a score of 86 out of 100. But the average score was 29 out of 100 and some scored zero. The report included footwear brands for the first time.

Its research turns the spotlight on six factors when assessing a company and its brands.

– Do companies know where their materials come from? That involves supply chain tracing beyond final stage factors to fabric mills and farms.

– Do companies pay workers a living wage? Workers through supply chains are paid a local living wage without working overtime.

–  Are companies listening to their workers? Workers can collectively organise action and have a safe, effective channel for complaints.

–  How do companies respond to labour exploitation? Is there an effective process for addressing child and forced labour and timely resolution of workplace violations?Are companies choosing sustainable fibres? Sustainable fibres including organic and recycled are chosen, guided by an environmental impact assessment.

– Are companies taking climate action seriously? That means commitment and strategy to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 or a Science Based Target.

For fashionistas who want to support ethical choices it has six suggestions. 

Use the information in the Guide to target brands, either thanking them for taking action or spurring them on to lift their game;

– Encourage your friends to take an ethical approach to their wardrobe by hosting a clothes swap, for instance.

– Urge government to take more action to support ethical fashion;

– Make informed decisions using the information in the Guide about which brands to support.

– Assess your shopping habits and opt out of the fast fashion cycle.

– Think about the fibres you’re wearing. Conventional cotton is a highly water intensive crop to produce and often uses large amounts of pesticides, for instance. Better to wear certified organic cotton, Better cotton, Cotton Australia myBMP, Fair trade-Organic certified, or recycled cotton.

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