When this term is used in conjunction with ‘fashion’ this relates to the garment design, production and distribution.
‘Ethical’ fashion is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot. It entices us into a brand and makes us feel like we are doing good by investing our cash into a ‘sustainable future.’ How do you know if you are actually buying ethically or are you being greenwashed? Are you being played for profit by the branding terms; ‘ethical’ ‘independent’ ‘handmade’? I’d argue this is the most unethical practice of them all.
Anyone can use these words. But do they show you how they practise this?
I’m going to lay down some home truths here. With the rise of ‘independent’ fashion brands this year (which is amazing); how many of you have been disappointed with your special purchase from a new brand you’ve excitedly come across on Instagram; when you discover it also being sold new on depop by 10 other vendors, a tag has been cut out, and ‘handmade’ actually meant it was made by real hands, but in an overseas unbeknown factory?
With Black Friday looming, I don’t want you to make the mistakes online shopping as I have. As a small clothing business owner, I know the tricks that brands use to make themselves look ethical. I’m sick of the dishonesty and cleverly worded advertising, which is why I’m going to reveal all. Enjoy!
- DEBUNK: ‘All our clothing is handmade’
I need to tell you something. Pretty much all clothing is made by a real pair of hands. The real message brands need to convey is WHO and WHERE your clothes are being made.
DO: Visit the brands ‘about us’/ ‘your story’ or Instagram. Do they state who makes the clothes? Can you see visual evidence of all the items being made either in house or in factories?
- DEBUNK: “Designed in House”
This is clever wording. There’s nothing wrong with the garments only being designed in house, but it does lead you to believe that the ‘manufacturing’ is also done in house when they don’t follow it up with where the items are made.
DO: See if you can find out where they make the garments on their website. If you can’t, question: why will they readily tell you what they do in house but not what they outsource?
- CHECK FOR CUT OUT LABELS
This is a biggie. I’m about to rock your world and dismantle everything you thought you knew about ‘ethical’ shopping.
Some “handmade sustainable” brands cut out labels and replace with their own. They may buy in stock from Alibaba( China) and just replace labels. Or they buy in garments from wholesalers, sew patches of their own fabric onto the garment in their studio, cut out the old label and replace with their own.**
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this but it depends what the brand is telling you.
POV: Do they claim that all their items are all ‘hand-made to order’ in house? Do you think an item is “sustainably” hand-made if they are doing the above and making out that they’ve made the whole thing?
DO: Ask the brand where the original item was purchased and the working conditions of that factory it was made in
** This doesn’t include re-worked brands**
- HOW MUCH IS “MADE IN HOUSE”?
Following from above. Brands use “handmade” when perhaps 80% is made in house, and 20% is bought in and labels cut out. Is it okay to imply to customers everything is hand-made when this is the case?
Brands will show you behind the scenes of the items that are made-in house to make it look like everything is manufactured that way. Don’t assume this is the case.
DO: After purchase, check underneath the brands labels for evidence of cut out labels. Check particularly at the waistband, neckline and side seams (for original manufacture wash labels.) Do all garments have the same labels? If some have factory standard wash labels (they may be bought in*) and some don’t; you can tell here what is made in house and what isn’t. Does the brand make this obvious on the listing when you’re buying?
** Re-worked brands may keep original labels of 2nd hand garments**
- FABRIC LIFE CYCLE
POV: Does the brand tell you where their fabrics are from so you can consciously choose what you’re buying? What do they do with their fabric waste? How do they minimise the impact the fabric has on environment?
- PAY BY PIECE RATE
This is more controversial topic. As a seamstress you could be paid hourly, per job tasks or by piece-rate. Pay- by-piece works really well as a way to receive pay per productive output you produce. However, it also has it’s drawbacks which could leave seamstress working for below minimum wage very easily.
Unless that pay-per-piece rate is calculated to allow for buffer time, it doesn’t cover you if something goes wrong. And I’ll tell you, the art of sewing is a temperamental b*tch at times: Machines need regular maintenance, if they break you can spend hours fixing them. Fabric doesn’t always do what you want it to do= unpicking/start over. Studio tasks/cleaning/packaging/ organising the stock = takes time. All these ‘buffer-times’ go unpaid, but it’s all work required to produce the items. This means you could work for 10 hours but only get paid for the equivalent of 7 hours solid sewing. As a result this would bring your ‘average hourly wage’ down low.
- PACKAGING QUALITIES
POV: Can you recycle/ re-use their packaging? Is it bio-degradable?
DO: Sit back and wait for Black Friday to reveal all. If brands can drop their prices significantly lower and still make profit * please question, how can they sell it for this price and who is paying the cost? The workers or environment?
** some brands will drop their prices to perhaps even below cost price just because they need to shift stock and improve cash flow. It may be case of desperation, instead of profit**
- RESELL VALUE
The re-sell market is a great place to investigate the brand authentically. If the re-sell price point is reasonably high, it may suggest that the quality of their clothing is great- and made to last.
- CUSTOMER RESPECT
DO: Read brand reviews, study how they engage with their customers on social media. Do they respect them? If they openly mis-treat their customers, how do you think they they treat their workers? How do their morals stand within business?
- T R A N S P A R A C E Y
This is key. It reveals more than a word. It’s the act of showing you the proof.
DO: If you can’t find any information supporting their ‘ethical’ claims or need to follow up with constructive consumer concerns, send the brand a DM. Ask how they achieve what they claim and to see the proof. How do they respond? Their tone of response will confirm.
For a clothing brand to be 100% ethical is hard and it’s a bold statement to devise. While their may be no easy to way to measure this, It is the brands responsibility to provide you with as much information as possible back up their claims, so you can use this to consciously make decisions on where and what you shop.
TIP: if you notice clothing brands giving misleding information. Please directly message them, they may not even realise. You view our ‘shop fronts’ from a different perspective, but this why you are so valuable to us as you can spot the things we miss!
To conclude, I define a “ethical” brand is one that is continually working towards a sustainable future and transparently showing you that they practise what they preach. As consumers we all have personal levels of what ‘ethical’ means to us but I think we can all agree that deliberate dishonest business practises to mislead your judgement is very much unethical.
Please read our own ethical statement here