We do ethical shopping and look to buy sustainable products for any number of reasons: going green, doing our part for the environment, protecting ourselves and our family from harsh chemicals, concern for the treatment of women and children in clothing factories. And people want to be part of the sustainable fashion movement in particular for some or all of these reasons. The people who make and market clothes also recognise the growing value of offering products that meet these needs. Some clothing businesses are honestly & genuinely committed to delivering some or all of the solutions we need to fix the fashion industry (even if they are not 100% there yet). However, others well they just recognise a niche market and are going for your jugular.
So how to tell the difference between REAL ethical and sustainable clothing and greenwash?
This is especially hard to tell when doing ethical online shopping. Using an ethical shopping guide helps, but in terms of clothing coverage is a bit limited. Good on You has an ethical shopping app for Australia, which is really useful. At muka kids we are working on a formal accreditation scheme for our partner ethical and sustainable clothing businesses. But nothing beats a bit of personal investigation sometimes. So we have come up with 5 easy questions you can start with.
The apparel industry is vastly complex, there are over 21 steps in the chain. We made trip through the clothing production chain in India to see for ourselves (our photo essay of that journey gives a picture of the complexity). People that produce clothes should at a minimum understand their own chain and be seeking information about what goes on throughout it, especially if they claim to care about the environment and treatment of workers
So the two big things you are looking for are:
- Independently validated information about their claims of ethics and environmental care, which they will share publically and
- A knowledge (and personal experience of) all aspects of their production chain.
So here are the 5 big questions that will help sniff out the goodies when you are doing a spot of ethical shopping (I find a bit of friendly chit chat goes a long way to getting what you need!):
5 Questions to ask about Who Made your Clothes and Under what Conditions
- Your clothes are made from organic cotton, can you provide me with the name of the certification scheme AND a certification number I can use to validate that claim? Are all the clothes in your range 100% organic? (all GOTS organic clothing needs to have a publically available certification number provided as part of the certification requirements)
- You say that your clothing is ‘ethical’ or ‘sweatshop free’ can you provide me with any independently validated confirmation of this? For example a Fairtrade certification number, information from a third party who has validated the working conditions of the people who make your clothing?
- Have you ever visited the factories where your clothes are made? What kind of written policies do these factories have in place, which you have seen, to protect the workers and or the environment? For example sexual harassment policies, the right to unionise, a fair wage, a time limited working week, paid overtime, closed loop dying systems?
- Do you know where the fabric that is used to make your clothes comes from? The county the cotton was grown, where it was milled and spun, woven or knitted into fabric and dyed? Do you have any information on the worker and environmental conditions of the factories the fabric was produced in?
- What other steps are you taking to improve the sustainability of your clothes that you could tell me about and give me evidence of? For example steps to ensuring fair worker treatment or protection of the environment?
And here is an pretty infographic to share around to help others figure it out too!
Jess Berentson-Shaw founded the social enterprise Muka kids’ to connect consumers, designers and garment workers across the world, and empower them to make the clothing industry a sustainable one. Muka kids has a marketplace to trade preloved organic, ethical & sustainable clothing. Through its partnerships with accredited brands it also helps make new sustainable clothing more affordable. Sales on the marketplace fund a micro finance scheme for women cotton farmers in India trying to pull themselves out of poverty.