This is my super soft beautiful Country Road Merino wool jumper. When I purchased it I was buying it because it was quality fine knit Merino wool and a design a liked. Did I consider if the brand I was purchasing it from ensured that they were using suppliers that protect the sheep's welfare? That they were not using farmers that practiced mulesing the sheep? No I didn't. I should have, but how could I find this all out? Thanks to a new app, all of this info is now at our fingertips, and luckily for me Country Road has been praised for its commitment to animal welfare and I can continue to love my woolly knit!
On a mainstream level fashion often gets forgotten about in terms of being accountable for their impact on workers, the environment and animals. Every so often a big story will come out about how a big brand is exploiting third world workers, but after a month of two it seems to be forgotten and people go back to purchasing and supporting that brand. I admit I am one of those people where if I don't have enough information available to me I am not overly proactive in doing all the research of sifting through the internet to find out how ethical a company is in all levels of it's operation.
Once I know of a brand that may conflict with my ethics I tend avoid them as much as possible. In the food industry there are a number of new laws around food labelling and brand driven changes in labelling in Australia it has made it easy for me to make more informed decisions at the supermarket as I can clearly choose what I want to support, such as true free range eggs, free range meats certified by external bodies, Australian produced foods, paddock grass feed beef, GMO free foods etc. I wish the fashion industry would start to move into greater transparency like food is beginning to do.
It can be hard as a consumer because we don't get see the whole picture for yourselves, we are not on the factory floor, but rather in a polished store looking and pretty things that we want, where our main decisions are based around the price verse the quality as this is what we can see and touch.
This week, thanks to Triple J's Hack program I heard a report about a new mobile app called Good On You where you can search fashion brands and get a quick overall rating out of 5. When you click into the rating you can read a quick summary which explains their overall rating and a further 3 ratings on the following factors, the environment, labour rights and animals. It uses its own research along with collating research from respected companies such as Shop Ethical, Behind the Barcode and Rank a Brand.
I downloaded the app and soon realised that it is such a great way to condense huge independent reports that are buried in the internet into your pocket and in an easy-to-digest form. I instantly began to search my favourite brands to see how they stacked up. I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of my most love brands are all doing quite well ethically in all areas. This included brands like Lululemon, Country Road, Witchery and Mimco.
Unfortunately there were also some brands that I quite like who were not doing well at all such as Sports Girl, Tigerlilly and Seafolly. It was particularly disappointing when they are brands positioned in the mid to high range. Their products are not competing on price yet they are still cutting corners by turning a blind eye to the practices of their suppliers in all areas and disregarding the environment by using known harmful dyes. I intend to watch these brands closely to see if they make a change in how they operate as some of these were the lowest ranked that I found across the board.
As suspected majority of the brands in the low priced end of fashion are just not cutting it in terms of their ethical responsibilities and mainly in the category of workers’ wages, I generally have tried to avoid these brands in the past because I knew their pricing can't be sustainable but like many others it sometimes can be hard to resist such affordable basic items. These brands that aren't quite up to stretch include H&M, Bonds, Target, Cotton On, Cotton On Body, Glassons, Ally Fashion just to name a few.
There were also a number of brands that don't have a rating yet which I would be very interested in knowing.
Some of the worst ranked brands (which wasn't surprising to me) were also some of the most valuable luxury brands in the world. Most of them I would never be able to afford or justify the price, yet I now know that I never want to if I could. This includes Prada, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana who all refuse to release any information about their environmental policies or human rights.
It’s important to note that most brands that I have listed here do have both positive and negative things they are doing. While we would all like them to improve what they are ignoring it’s important to look at what areas they are leading the way. One example of this is that H&M is one of the world’s largest procures of organic cotton followed shortly after by Nike. What is so bad about traditional cotton farming? Well these are some quick facts from the Good On You site:
Organic cotton has a 98% lower water pollution rate than the non-organic alternatives.
Organic cotton seeds are also GMO-free and not treated with hazardous synthetic fertilisers. This means organic cotton farming actually produces 94% less greenhouse gas emissions!
Even better, organic soil becomes a ‘carbon sink’, which removes CO2 from the atmosphere.
Read more about this here: http://goodonyou.org.au/know-your-product-a-quick-guide-to-organic-cotton/
These two brands are doing some positive things like this but at the same time they both have some major issues with their human rights policies to protect the employees of their suppliers.
Everything you choose to purchase effects the demand of that product and that brand. If the demand for companies with low ethical standards goes down then they will have to fix up their standards in order to grow into the future. This also allows brands who are doing the right thing to remain competitive in the market who are currently getting undercut on price by unethical companies. So I urge you to get the app and check out what your favourite brands are doing, and drop a review or note to the areas you want to see an improvement. Ignorance isn't bliss, ignorance is allowing environmental damage, human right breaches and animal cruelty to continue with no consequence.
Ps. Here is a great guide to breaking up with an unethical brand!!