Ethical fashion has become a major talking point throughout the fashion industry in recent years. Since the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh which claimed the lives of 1,134 garment workers, more shoppers are taking note of where their clothing comes from, and how it’s made. However, ethical fashion can sometimes feel inaccessible to consumers without a sizeable wage. One look at ethical fashion websites like Well Made Clothes and Brands for Good expose consumers to beautiful, ethical clothing – but not without a hefty price tag. With the ease and low-cost of fast fashion stores like H&M and Zara across Australia, many shoppers are looking for a merger of affordable prices and ethical practices.
Unfortunately, cheaper clothing can often signify poorer working conditions. Consumers may feel as if they’re forced to choose between buying what they can afford, and shopping ethically. A quick internet search shows many articles explaining why the high-cost of certain ethical fashion brands is expected. These reasons do make a lot of sense for independent, highly ethical brands – but for the average person on a minimum wage, affording these kinds of items isn’t a realistic option. Consumers with limited budgets are at risk of feeling left out of the ethical fashion loop and may feel like they have no choice but to shop at fast fashion stores, seeing them as all the same, which may not actually be the case.
It’s no secret that the fashion industry is competitive. Many companies don’t want the public to know about their production practices, for fear of deterring potential customers. Some companies actively choose to keep consumers in the dark when it comes to how their products are manufactured, taking choices away from customers who may otherwise not purchase from their company.
So what can consumers do? A good place to start is to get informed. Checking out a companies’ policy on workers’ rights can be very informative. A fantastic resource for information is the annual Ethical Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid, now in its fifth year. The report looks at the labour rights management systems of 114 companies across Australia. These companies range from high-end, independent labels to fast fashion mega-companies.
The report provides a grading of a company’s practices from A to F on whether their management systems can identify and eliminate risks of child labour, forced labour, exploitation and dangerous working conditions. It provides and interesting, in-depth read for anyone who wants to see how their favourite brands rank against each other. For those who are time poor there is the Ethical Fashion Fast Finder on the organisation’s website, ranking each brand for consumers to quickly compare.
This ranking system is a fantastic tool for consumers with a limited budget to quickly and easily see how brands stack up when it comes to being ethical. One quick glance can tell a consumer that companies like Cotton On and Bonds score high in all aspects the report looked at well while men’s fashion retailers Roger David and UK giants Boohoo are ones to avoid. These reports bring to light what is really going on behind closed doors, giving power and choices back to the consumers.
This type of transparency from fashion brands is vital in allowing consumers to choose what brands they support and where they spend their money. Company transparency ensures that brands are held accountable for their worker’s rights and livelihoods, ensuring they are paid a liveable wage and that working conditions are safe. Some companies have been open to providing this information to their consumers but many are still hiding. Until consumers consistently demand transparency, these companies will continue to hide.