Too easily in today’s society, ignorance is bliss. It is much nicer to bury your head in the sand and ignore what is happening to other people, simply because it happens on the other side of the word and to other people.
I have been over 90% plant-based for over a year now, and since then I have learnt so much about the environment and how what we eat and purchase affects it. Since completely cutting back my meat and dairy consumption (only having it on the occasional pizza), I also decided to go cruelty-free with products I use. I felt kind of hypocritical on my blog, writing loads of posts on cruelty free brands, when I knew nothing about the ethical issues surrounding clothes etc.
At the start of this year, I made a resolution. To become more aware. More aware of the production of items I buy, more aware of political issues, issues in feminism, racism, and just to have my eyes opened to what is outside my little, cluttered bedroom in Liverpool.
For months now I have been inspired by Aisling Bea on instagram,(weemissbea) the hilarious Northern Irish comedian often on 8 Out Of 10 Cats. She herself wears all ethical clothing and accessories, and is a big supporter of smaller companies. I thoroughly recommend you follow her for more inspo.
Emma Watson is also a huge advocate for ethical fashion, especially for the promotion of Beauty and the Beast @the_press_tour, so I assumed that all ethical clothing was super expensive and designer. While I was mainly right about the price, I also learned that paying more for one item is nothing compared to the suffering of thousands in poorer countries who manufacture clothing. As a student, I can’t afford to simply throw out all of my clothing and buy more, and I will still shop at Zara, New Look etc, but I now know more about the ethics and values of these companies.
My mum bought me a jumper for Christmas, from the brand Hades Wool, after I had seen Aisling wear it ages ago. Hades is a Scottish company, their design concept is “classic knitwear that you can keep and wear for a lifetime”. All garments are ethically sourced and made from pure lambswool. While this was an expensive jumper at £160, it is the softest and most luxurious one I own. I love it because ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ was the book I wrote a piece of coursework on for my English A-level, that got me into Uni, and made me so passionate about women’s literature and feminist issues.
It also does feel good knowing I have one garment in my wardrobe that I know will last me potentially the rest of my life as I won’t wreck it in the wash, and that I know no one have suffered to make. It makes it so much more special to wear. So thanks Aisling for the inspiration aha.
I am trying to reduce the amount of waste I create with clothing. There are at least 5 things I have in my wardrobe right now that still have the label on and have never been worn. (I own too many night out dresses for someone that never goes out). Recently, I have started selling clothes on depop. This ensures that something I would otherwise have thrown out, can go to someone who wants it. Anything that hasn’t sold by the time I move out and graduate, I will donate to charity. I don’t want to throw away another item of clothing, unless it has holes or stains on it of course.
A staggering £235 million worth of clothes were expected to end up in landfill in the UK last year. Men are more likely to bin clothes, with 82% saying they would bin items compared to 69% of women, according to The Guardian. I know that me not throwing things away won’t contribute a lot, but if everyone made an effort to resell or recycle, or even upcycle their old clothes or accessories, it would make a huge difference.
A report by WRAP claims that extending the average life of clothes (2.2 years) by just three months, would lead to a 5-10% reduction in each of the items carbon, water and waste footprints in the UK. Preloved garments could still be unethically made, but buying preloved helps the environment.
I have been doing research on lower priced and more easily available ethical fashion. Vegan beauty seems to be the latest craze, so I don’t see why vegan clothes can’t be the next ‘thing’. A couple of items I own that are 100% cruelty free and kind of niche, are the GraceFitUK resistance bands. They are really good quality, pretty, and most importantly, vegan. (Actually the most important bit to me is that they have my name on them).
I have two of these because I like them so much. They’re more expensive than one’s from Amazon etc, but they’re not rubbery like a lot of cheap ones are. They’re more like strong seatbelt material if that makes any sense? Still stretchy though.
Aisling Bea frequently mentions Oxfam on instagram, and I didn’t realise that they have an online shop! In light of the current scandal surrounding them, (did not see that coming when I started working on this post), let’s focus on the good work that they still do. Whilst it would be hard to shop on Oxfam online if you were looking for a specific item, as the website is nothing like Missguided or PLT. There are some hidden gems on there, as well as some designer brands such as Burberry and Dolce and Gabbana.
I enjoy having a chilled browse in front of the TV. They have sections for homewares, clothing, and also a section for ethically made items that are sourced by Oxfam. There is also a section to purchase charity gifts, where you can do things such as sends seeds and food, as well as loads of other options, to help people in developing countries. www.oxfam.org.uk
The main shops I buy my clothing from are Zara, H&M, New Look and ASOS. I have been doing some research into the ethical values and clothing production of these stores, as there are so many sections that need clarifying such as environmental impact, working conditions, and animal welfare, to see if these companies have any moral fibre (pun intended).
I discovered that ASOS has an Eco section of what it calls ‘Eco Brands’, and it features clothes, accessories, and beauty products. ASOS own brand clothes are on the Eco section, made with fair trade partners SOKO in Kenya where staff are cared for. Ff you have anything own brand they are probably ethically made. They have a mixed environmental impact; they are carbon neutral and implement emission reduction measures in warehouses and the delivery process, and are trying to reduce the amount of waste with their packaging. ASOS is also part of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), promoting workers rights.
According to their website:
“All the items sold in the Eco Edit support at least one of the following areas of sustainable fashion:”
- Building communities.
- Developing fair trade and alleviating poverty.
- Preserving craftsmanship and artisanal skills.
- Addressing climate change challenges.
- Preserving natural resources.
- Removing waste.
- Advancing animal welfare.
They have created this symbol to show if a product is eco-friendly, so if you are browsing and see this, you’re in luck!
Zara is probably my go-to for clothing, the Liverpool store is absolutely huge. Although you have to root through all the slightly mad clothing, and there are always huge queues, I always find something I love. I was very apprehensive when researching these. Zara claims to have strict policies on fur, and use wool specifically from non-mulesed sheep, although they do use leather.
A 2017 Ethical report gave Zara very good scores in their policies and labour conditions. They have no forced or child labour and ban the cotton Uzbek which is rife with child labour. Zara is a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, working to reduce their environmental impact, and they annually publish their sustainability goals such as to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions they had in 2005, by 20% before 2020.
They seem to be doing things to ensure their clothes are made ethically, however their parent company Inditex (also owner of Bershka and Pull&Bear) have been found to sandblast jeans to make them distressed, a process which could cause pulmonary disease. Since 50% of the production, and their head offices are in Spain, they are easy to check up on.
Ethisphere have named H&M the most ethical company in their industry for several years in a row. Like Zara, H&M also annually produces a sustainability report, aiming to reduce water waste and increase the use of sustainable fabrics.They have pledged to become 100% ‘climate positive’ by 2040 by using renewable energy, and to use 100% recycled or sustainable materials by 2030.
They are a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative, making cotton farming better. They also ban angora and only use wool from non-mulesed sheep, like Zara. H&M also address the ‘fast fashion’ fad, by creating a garment collection so fewer items end up in landfill.
With regard to the treatment of workers, their website states: “The H&M group does not own any factories. Our products are made by independent suppliers, often located in developing countries. We believe everyone working in the textile industry should earn a wage they can live on – regardless of who they are and where they work.”.
However; most of their clothes are made in Cambodia where workers are paid minimum wage, which is calculated as 25% of what a living wage is. A 2011 report found cases of mass fainting in a factory known for producing H&M garments. Since they do not own any factories, they cannot dictate what the workers earn. They work with independent suppliers, so the worker earns the same amount of money regardless of the price tag. This is good as a common misconception is that the cheaper the garment, the worse conditions it is made in.
They have a Fair Wage Living Strategy and have a ‘Conscious’ collection, which is a little more expensive. H&M also owns their own clothing banks, and in exchange you can receive a £5 voucher for your next H&M shop. Just drop your old clothes in at any H&M store, and they are sorted into Reuse, Rewear and Recycle piles.
According to their website, they ensure their workers are protected by rights policies. “Our priority is to ensure that workers are treated fairly, safely and ethically”. Their website also states that they have identified issues within their jewellery creation in China and are working towards improvements. Within their UK suppliers, their website claims that all information is shared on Sedex which is the largest platform for sharing ethical supply chain data, and ensure their factories have regular visits and check ups.
Within recent years, they have come under fire for using a British “sweatshop” with workers sewing for £2.50 an hour. New Look is part of the ETI as well, and has done an internal enquiry on this issue. They also promised to make up the wages of these workers. New Look was a difficult one to research as their website was not clear and there hasn’t been a lot of independent research done on them. They have a section on animal welfare, stating:
“We believe that using some animal materials is unacceptable in any measure, and as a result, we never use the following in our products:”
- Animal fur: This includes both farmed fur (e.g. fox, mink) which may be a by-product of the meat industry (rabbit).
- Endangered species: This is defined as species which appear on the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) or IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists of endangered species. Information on these lists can be found at http://www.cites.org and http://www.iucnredlist.org.
- Karakul: Any leather or skin products that are the product of unnatural abortions. Sometimes called Astrakhan, Broadtail, Persian lamb, Swakara or Krimmer.
- Leather or skin products from exotic and wild caught animals: We don’t use skins from wild-caught animals or exotic animal skins. Including but not limited to; reptile skins, snake, alligator, crocodile and lizard.
- Mongolian lamb’s fur: Due to the practices involved in the traditional methods of slaughter, we don’t use this sheepskin variety.
- Australian Merino wool: Due to the widespread practice of mulesing sheep in Australia, we don’t use Merino wool.
- Fur, cat, dog and wild species are not permitted.
- Angora: Due to the reported plucking methods used by some angora suppliers, we don’t accept any products containing angora.
- Bone: We don’t use bone, even if it’s a by-product of the food industry.
There are also further details about their leather, animal hair, feather and wool use. This section is very detailed, which is good, but there is not a lot on the environmental impact of production. For example, their carbon footprint, packaging etc. Their ‘environment’ section is only small and their is not a lot of information.
In 2013 the Rana Plaza collapse was a structural failure in Bangladesh, the deadliest garment-factory accident ever with over 1,100 deaths. H&M signed the Bangladesh Safety Accord for buildings, Zara also compensated victims of this. However, Topshop hasn’t signed the Bangladesh Safety Accord or joined the ETI. Just something to note about these companies.
Ultimately, the whole ‘fast fashion’ and quick trends that rotate so often all contribute negatively to the environment. This is why I am trying to buy less, and only if I love something. Also, employ a ‘one out, one in’ policy. I can only buy myself something if I sell something or give something to charity.
I’ll still buy from these shops because I know they are making steps to improve the production of their clothes, but I won’t buy as much as I used to. I am going to try and stay away from shops such as boohoo, PLT etc. Also, i’m trying to keep an eye out for more items that support charities or have a cause behind them. If I had lots of money I would definitely buy one of the Chinti and Parker jumpers on FarFetch that support women’s charities. They’re so cool!
If you are wanting to be fully ethical with your clothing, I suggest you check out ASOS. (Although the clothes do have to be delivered, which isn’t that great). Keep an eye on small instagram shops and just generally be more conscious of where your clothes are coming from before you splurge on loads of items that you don’t completely love.
peopletree.co.uk (also on ASOS)
Matt and Nat