Sustainable. Ethical. They’re not words which usually come to mind when we think about the fashion industry. This is probably because in Australia, these words don’t describe our relationship with textiles so well. We throw away 500,000 tonnes of textiles each year (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics), with over 80% of that going straight to landfill. For the average Australian, that’s 23 out of the 25 kilograms of clothes we buy per person each year! However, the fashion industry doesn’t help us. With non-biodegradable and synthetic fabrics, unethical labour practices and poorly made fast fashion, our clothes generally aren’t made to last, and aren’t sold to be valued.
There are some well known brands like Adidas and Uniqlo who are changing the face of mass production in their industry, which is a great start. Uniqlo has implemented recycling bins in their stores where customers can donate pre-worn clothing. Adidas was one of the founders for the Better Cotton Initiative and Sustainable Apparel Coalition and they are also public about their commitments to reduce their carbon footprint by 15% in the next year. While it’s wonderful that changes are starting to happen on a larger scale, there are some little guys who seem to be tackling the challenge with ease.
During my travels in Europe, I’ve discovered some wonderful brands who are working to break this cyclic culture of fast fashion. They are championing organic and natural fibres such as cotton and ethically sourced wool, as well as harnessing new technologies to produce fabrics from recycled materials. They are also transparent about their supply chains and labour conditions; a practice which is only starting to become common within the industry due to criticism in recent years (though many brands are still resistant). These brands (some of which I’ve included below) are fighting for big change on a small scale, but collectively they’re creating a shift in the way fashion is viewed and valued.
JUTTU (Antwerp, Belgium)
Meaning ‘story’ or ‘anecdote’ in Finnish, JUTTU turns shopping into a kind of story time, taking you through their collections and encouraging you to take a closer look at their labels. They stock over 100 ethical home and fashion brands with a keen focus on humanity in the fashion industry. They also even stock delicious, organic food! Each brand is selected by their relatively small team based near Antwerp, and each collection has it’s own ‘juttu’ to tell. They now have an online store as well as concept stores in Bruges, Antwerp and Roeselare.
LOVECO. (Berlin, Germany)
With three stores across Berlin, LOVECO. has built a name for itself as a mecca for sustainable fashion in Germany’s capital. Their Friedrichshain store is the biggest of its kind in Berlin, housing their carefully curated collection of clothes, shoes, jewellery and accessories. They’re all about fair fashion, with their website (sorry it’s only in German) outlining their philosophy. Founder Christiner Wille says “we only sell clothing that has been produced ecologically and fairly and completely dispenses with animal products.” That’s right, every single thing they sell is completely vegan. You can shop online at their website, but of course it is always best to shop local if you can so it’s also a great database to discover brands.
Veja (Paris, France)
Everyone loves a good sneaker right? But when those sneakers are made well, with no chemicals or pollutants AND they still look great, those are some sneakers to really fall for. Veja was founded in Paris in 2005, with a vision for producing sneakers which not only look great, but challenge the production norms of the industry. They publish extensive information about their factory conditions, supply chains, materials and workers’ rights on their website, and most impressive of all, they also publish their limitations and failings which they seek to improve. They’re an honest team making an honest product which is built to last.
Organic Basics (Copenhagen, Denmark)
Started in 2015 by four Danish guys, Organic Basics focuses on creating underwear which will last longer, prevent wear and tear, and reduce odours (so you don’t have to wash so much – hell yeah!). All their packaging is made from recycled products and they resist the demand for seasonal collections. In their own words: “we think that buying poor quality, fast fashion is a lot like peeing your pants when you’re cold. It feels nice at first, but it’s not so good later on.” They’re super transparent about all their policies and practices which you can read all about on their website which is in English hooray!
Whilst it’s great to find these gems overseas, I’ve narrowed down a few Aussie brands that you can check out for yourself to help you shop local and support our own ethical brands. Some names you probably already know, like Country Road, Witchery and Kathmandu (actually from NZ but we’ll keep them on the list because let’s face it, we’ve adopted them like we adopted Pavlova and Russell Crowe), but here I’ve put together some emerging and smaller scale Aussie labels for you to check out.
Made in Melbourne, A.BCH’s clothes are simple, neutral and comfortable (and won’t kill your bank account). Created for all genders and keen to take your vintage A.BCH clothing back to recycle for new products.
Designed and made in Melbourne, these jeans are a bit on the pricey side but they’re designed to last (and you can rest easy knowing the person who made your jeans was paid properly for it!).
Based in Noosa Heads QLD, Abby Rose is a swimwear label devoted to making all their pieces by hand. Not only are their products made from 100% recycled materials including carpet, clothing and fishing nets, but they also protect you from UV rays and come in compostable packaging! All they need now is a men’s range – sorry guys.
With part of their profits going to environmental projects, Vege Threads is committed to producing low impact, everyday clothing for all. Their collections include underwear, swimwear, yoga clothing and tees which are sustainably made with natural, organic fibres.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
There are small changes we can all make to reduce the impact of the fashion industry at a domestic and a global level. However, there is no denying that shopping ethical doesn’t come cheap. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. Here’s ten simple ways to make your dollar go further and reduce your impact!
- Shop quality, not quantity
- Second hand and vintage shopping is a great way to reduce textile waste
- Mend your clothes! Clothes worth wearing are worth repairing
- Pay attention to washing instructions so you don’t damage what you’ve got (check before you buy too – if its dry clean only, do you really want it?)
- Stick to natural or recycled fabrics (for example linen, cotton and wool)
- Don’t bin it, donate it
- Invest in a reusable shopping bag and avoid packaging (especially plastic packaging!)
- Learn to sew – you’ll gain a new appreciation for what it takes to make a piece of clothing
- Not sure whether to buy it? Walk away and if you really want it, you’ll go back.
- Go to makers markets and meet the faces behind your local brands.
Resources to check out for further inspiration:
Good On You – Brand rating app available on App Store and Google Play
Peppermint Magazine – also available online
Fashion Revolution – @fash_rev
Op Shop to Runway – @op_shop_to_runway
Ethical Fashion Australia – @ethicalfashion_au