The last three years of my life have been spent in the trenches of fashion ethics and sustainability (or lack thereof). As part of the researching team for Baptist World Aid’s annual Ethical Fashion Report, I’ve met with countless companies and have assessed hundreds of company websites, annual reports, and modern slavery statements to see which brands are truly ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to preventing worker exploitation and environmental degradation.
So, what have I learnt? I’ve learnt that some companies are genuinely trying to improve, that social and environmental issues in the industry are intrinsically connected, and that systemic change for fashion is complex. But I’ve also picked up on a few things that have challenged my conscience along the way. Here’s five things I will not do based on my learnings as an ethical fashion researcher.
1. I Won’t Buy From Brands With Zero Transparency
I won’t buy from a brand with zero transparency. It’s a huge red flag when brands have absolutely nothing referenced on their website regarding how their clothes are produced.
The majority of companies we assess have some level of supply chain transparency on their websites—even if it’s a single page. (Whether that information is beneficial is another question.) After all, reporting on supply chain risk for issues like modern slavery is required by law for large companies, both in Australia and overseas. In 2022, there’s really no excuse for falling so far behind the rest of the industry.
2. I Won’t Trust Brands Who Talk About Environmental Sustainability Without Workers Rights
I won’t trust companies who talk about environmental sustainability without referencing worker rights. True sustainability is about both people and planet. If a company is talking up their work on sustainable fibres and climate change but isn’t doing anything to address social issues like modern slavery or living wages, then it’s quite simply another form of greenwashing.
3. I Won’t Fall For Conscious Collections
I can’t be won over by ‘conscious collections’. Most of the time, these collections represent a miniscule proportion of the company’s total product offering and are really just a way companies try to make us feel better about buying more stuff we don’t need.
Besides, when you look closely at what actually constitutes ‘conscious’ for these collections, it’s often tokenistic and fails to drive true change—like using recycled polyester for a single garment when thousands of their other items are made from virgin polyester (and recycled polyester is still plastic at the end of the day). If companies are serious about sustainable production, they’ll roll out initiatives across their entire range, not just a few pieces.
4. I Won’t Bin Old Clothes
I won’t throw clothing in the bin or donate damaged, dirty clothing to charities, which FYI—in most cases, ends up in the bin. When we throw something away, it’s important to remember that there is no ‘away’. It simply becomes someone else’s problem–or one for the environment.
Binning clothing is not only a huge waste of the resources that went into making them (and what they could become), but also wreaks environmental havoc wherever they end up, whether it’s landfill or offshore in developing nations. As citizens, we must shift our mindset towards being stewards of our clothing—it’s our responsibility to care for them into their next phase of life, which should NEVER be a garbage bin or landfill pile. If you must get rid of clothes, follow our guide for responsible repurposing.
5. I Won’t Get Caught In An Information Overload
And I will not allow myself to get caught in information overload. Ethical fashion is complex and multifaceted. It’s easy to be paralysed with guilt the further you go down the rabbit hole. So stand guard when you begin your researching journey!
When speaking with friends, I always recommend choosing one area of fashion ethics that matters to you–whether it’s living wages, sustainable fibres, or climate change—and do your best to source garments aligned with that single value. Because, trust me, it’s near impossible to find a brand that does it all.
So, next time you’re faced with an ethical fashion quandary, learn from my experience. You don’t need to have spent thousands of hours researching to make decisions that align with your conscience.