In today’s society we are becoming much more aware of ethical issues and which companies we choose to spend our money with. But how do you really know if a clothing brand is ethical? We have decided to put together this blog to give you some tips on different things you can do to find out if your favourite clothing brand is ethical or not!
Why is shopping with ethical clothing brands important?
Shopping with unethical and fast fashion brands can contribute to many issues. One big issue is product waste. Fast fashion encourages us to constantly purchase new items to keep up with the latest trends. This leads to people feeling pressured and dissatisfied, so they frequently throw out clothes to make room for new ones. You have probably faced a situation where you’ve bought a clothing item online, and in the pictures it looks amazing. But when it turns up it’s just.. not great. Fast fashion tends to use lower quality materials, often purposefully made to have a short lifespan so that you need to replace them.
Textiles are very hard to recycle, as most clothing tends to be made up of different materials blended together. Separating these materials for recycling would be a slow process and require skilled staff. A shocking £140 million worth of our used, but still wearable clothes, end up in landfill every year in the UK. And for every 30kg of clothing that’s disposed, only 4.5kg is recycled. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, with textile production producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 a year. This is why it is so important to know which clothing brands you are supporting if you are concerned for the environment and your carbon footprint. Unethical clothing brands may also have poor working practices, such as not paying or treating workers fairly, dangerous working conditions, and child labour.
How to know if a clothing brand is ethical?
Research is one thing you can do to find out more on whether a brand is ethical or not. A simple Google News search will show you the kind of publicity the brand is getting. This can be helpful as many of the bigger brands are prone to “greenwashing”, where they use misleading marketing to make us believe they are eco-friendly. This makes it difficult for us to know whether a brand is truly ethical or not. So a check of the media attention the brand is getting can expose anything they may be covering up.
Transparency is one big thing to look for. If a brand is very upfront and sharing information about how and where their clothing is made, this is definitely a good sign. Similarly, if a company shares very little information and never discusses ethics, chances are there is shady practices going on. One reliable resource is the Fashion Transparency Index. They review 250 of the top fashion brands, ranked by their transparency regarding their social and environmental practices. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a brand is ethical, but if they rank highly for transparency that means pretty much all of their issues are out in the open. If a company is ranking low on the transparency index, that either means that they have something to hide, or ethics and sustainability are just not that important to them. However, this index only focusses on large brands.
Good on You is another useful website that also includes smaller brands. It reviews brands and gives them a rating based on their impact on the planet, people and animals. Though of course they have not reviewed every brand, so you may need to do some personal investigation.
Look at the materials
Having a look at the materials a brand uses should also tell you a lot about their sustainability. You should look for recyclable and renewable materials like hemp, linen, silk and organic cotton. Also, if a brand tells you that they use natural dyes then that is a big plus. Textile dyes can be very toxic, causing ocean and river pollution. If you can, you should purchase clothing that is made from one material rather than blends. This means it will be more easily recyclable at the end of its life cycle. It is also best to avoid synthetic materials where possible as these are not biodegradable and rely on fossil fuels for production. It may be hard to avoid things like polyester, as almost half of the worlds clothing is made from this. But if a natural fibre alternative is available, its best to go for that.
Look for location
Where are the clothes being made? Although this can’t fully determine if a clothing brand is ethical, many brands will outsource to countries where they can get cheaper labour. Many of these countries have weaker laws when it comes to worker protections and rights. Bangladesh is one country which is known for textile production, and also has issues with human rights, with the 2020 ITUC Global Rights Index naming Bangladesh among the ten worst countries for workers rights. This doesn’t necessarily mean that clothing made in Bangladesh is unethical, again it comes down to transparency. Is the brand closely monitoring its entire supply chain? Does it guarantee the living wage for all its workers? An ethical brand should be able to address these questions.
Look for accreditations
You can also look for a brands accreditations and certificates, and try to familiarise yourself with the logos. There are different ones you can look for. The Fair Trade International and B-Corp labels take into account a company’s environmental, social and economic impact. A brand is likely to showcase these on their website. In terms of materials, if a brand is GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standard), this shows they have used sustainable organic fibres and that workers are treated ethically. The Fair Wear Foundation works with brands to improve conditions for garment workers in their factories. Brands that have accreditations such as these help verify that they are genuinely ethical, and not just greenwashing.
Write to the brand
If you still can’t find much information on whether a brand is ethical or not, you can always send them an email or letter asking about their stance on different issues, and what they are doing to be ethical and sustainable. Be wary of brands that give you a vague, cookie-cutter response. Ethical clothing brands should be able to give you accurate information with facts and figures to back up their claims.
Ethical vs unethical clothing brand comparison
The brand Thought is one good example of an ethical, sustainable clothing brand. They encourage slow fashion – meaning they aren’t constantly releasing new collections trying to keep up with trends. It makes its clothing from eco-friendly materials including hemp, bamboo and organic cotton, and provides their workers with fair pay and working conditions. In-depth information is provided on their website about their commitments, sourcing and materials. They reuse most offcuts to reduce textile waste, and are a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative. They visit their suppliers regularly to ensure standards. Other good examples of ethical clothing brands are Patagonia, Lucy & Yak, and Girlfriend Collective.
This contrasts with the large fast fashion brands, who are constantly creating new designs to keep up with trends. They use materials and chemicals that are harmful to the environment. They tend to have low transparency, publishing no or very little information about supplier policies and material sourcing. There is also often no evidence that they ensure a living wage for workers.
It’s not only fast fashion that’s unethical
Although fast fashion is a huge issue, it is important to remember that high-end brands can also have very unethical practices. Some luxury brands have come under fire in the past for burning product returns and unsold goods, instead of donating these to charity. Some brands would rather do this than see their stock be sold at a discount as they believe this devalues their brand and its exclusivity. So it is important not to assume expensive brands are automatically more ethical, and to do your due diligence.
We hope that this blog has helped you learn how to spot if a clothing brand is ethical or not! Supporting ethical and sustainable brands can make a big difference to our planet.