What if the person who made your shoes was a young boy who wants desperately to go to school? How would you feel if that was your son? How would you feel if the person who made your tee-shirt was unable to afford to send their children to school? What if the manufacture of your clothing helped to destroy a habitat? These are questions that prey on my mind and are now shaping my purchasing decisions. Our collective clothing choices have power. Ethical clothing is not just good for the workers and the environment, it is good for your soul.
There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to ethical clothing. I want to give you a taste of what is actually out there because a lot of people seem surprised that there are actually reasonable options to consider. It matters a lot to me who made my clothes. I want them to have fulfilled and happy lives and I want them to be safe and healthy and educated. In New Zealand we have labour laws designed to protect our workers as well as laws protecting our environment, which is why I think many of us take it for granted that other countries have similar laws. Because we don’t have clothing factories with horrific conditions here in New Zealand it is a largely invisible problem. Only a small proportion of clothing is actually made here. Most of our apparel and clothing is made overseas and is shipped here (which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions because New Zealand is so geographically isolated). Most of our clothing comes from places like Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico, Turkey, China and Indonesia – all of which have big problems with sweatshops, and poor environmental protection. Given recent world events, it is also pertinent to consider how a country treats its migrants.
Another closely related issue is that of “fast fashion”. Cheap clothing that is designed to be discarded seasonally as the fashions change. Fast fashion is not made to last and the fabrics and manufacturing are often poor quality. Fast fashion is hurting the factory workers and the environment, and most of it ends up in landfills. This happens because we have collectively bought into the lie that we need to look fashionable, and that buying more and more clothes will somehow make us happy and fulfilled.
Every January when we pack up for 3 weeks away from home in a caravan, I find I really don’t need most of my clothes. If I can manage for three weeks in the summer with just one tiny drawer of clothing, then I have far more clothes than I actually need. To be honest I feel pressured to regularly vary what I wear. I feel pressure not to re-wear the same clothes every few days. Now that I am aware of this I try to constantly consider what I have and why I need to buy something else. I do find it hard and I’m far from perfect, but I am making an effort. I am trying to buy new items of clothing only if I am replacing an item that is worn out. I have begun downsizing my wardrobe, but I do still find it hard to overcome the desire to have new things. I am lucky that I have zero desire to shop in big malls. In fact I can’t think of anything worse. I dislike the pressure to impulse buy, and I really struggle not to see things I would like but don’t need. It makes it much easier for me to stay away from malls and clothing shops. I prefer to source my new clothing online from places like Tumbleweed Tees that don’t have shops in malls. I guess I am trying to become a mindful shopper.
The good news is that there are options out there and not all of them are horrifically priced. It is now easier than it used to be to research the ethical credentials of clothing brands, and there are useful guides out there to help you make informed decisions. For example the Tearfund Ethical Clothing Guide is a great place to start. It is updated annually so is always current. Fair trade and organic clothing is something that I aspire to own and I am determined to consider the origin of my clothing choices every time I purchase. I buy to support causes. I buy to last. I also buy second hand. I repair rather than discard. Today I want to share some of the places you can find fair trade ethical clothing. I urge you to become part of the rising tide of people who consider where their clothing comes from, who made it and what its environmental impact is.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
The Paper Rain Project is a local New Zealand company producing high quality creative and sustainable products. Their tee-shirts are 100% organic, fairly traded and locally printed using environmentally aware printing methods. More recently they have partnered with other brands and now stock a range of sustainable, socially responsible products. I love their tee-shirt designs and can’t wait to get one next time I need a tee-shirt. Well worth a look.
Humanity is another New Zealand brand that is committed to sourcing and manufacturing long-lasting sustainable products as part of a circular economy. I stumbled across their website recently and was pleased with the prices of its tee-shirts, which are not unreasonable. I share it here because I am impressed by what I see and the ethic behind the brand. I look forward to shopping here in the future.
Freedom Kids sells fun ethical, gender neutral clothing for kids in all colours and for everybody. They operate out of the Wairarapa and offer ethical kids clothing. Perhaps not as affordable as I would like it to be, this company still offers options that are hard to come by elsewhere.
Tumbleweed Tees are a small New Zealand business that designs and screen prints its own tee-shirts and other items. They donate $5 from every adult tee-shirt sold to a conservation group. Some of their designs are specifically linked with particular conservation groups/causes for example the Kea Conservation Trust. I love the designs so much that although my shag tee-shirt (seen in the picture at the top of this blog) is now very old and worn out, I still can’t bring myself to throw it away, the design is too beautiful. This is probably my favorite tee-shirt brand simply because they are New Zealand owned and completely unique. I love that I am supporting conservation with every purchase, and the designs are fabulous. I urge you to check them out for yourself.
Thunderpants are a small, ethical, family owned and operated company, based in the Wairarapa. They make a range of underwear and other items that are made in New Zealand from certified fair trade organic cotton. I have heard good things about them, and so I am thrilled to be able to trial some. It’s early days yet, but so far they are super comfortable and seem very well made. As a bonus they were posted out in a paper mail bag and their branded packaging is fully compostable.
Etiko, whose motto is wear no evil, sell a large range of mens and womens shoes, apparel and bags, all of which is certified Fairtrade, Organic, and B Corp. My husband tried out some of their shoes with mixed results, but my 16 year old daughter has an awesome tee-shirt emblazoned with the words “This tee-shirt freed a slave”, that she grew out of before she wore it out. They are well worth a look.
SaveMart is a large retailer of quality second hand clothing. Our family recently visited and discovered some amazing bargains. I paid $15 for a couple of cardigans in perfect condition. I got new jeans ($4) and a merino thermal top ($5) for Miss 8, and new jeans ($4) and $3 soccer shorts for Mr 6. Miss 16 got a brand new (high quality brand) raincoat for $15 and a MacPak puffer jacket for $30. Shopping second hand is an affordable and environmentally responsible choice as it prevents clothing items from ending up in the landfill and it is easy on your wallet. Often you can find real gems like my daughter’s puffer jacket, or a pair of kids pajamas for $1. Second hand clothing is awesome. Try packaging up your old clothes if they are in good condition and hand them on to someone else. This is a great option particularly when it comes to kids clothing, they grow out of it so fast!
Another option that is often overlooked are hand knitted clothes. There was clothing before polar fleece people! I know it is not so common these days to knit your own, many people don’t even know how to. However you don’t have to look far to find someone who can knit. An aunt, grandma, or one of the retired ladies at church or in a local craft group will often have incredible knitting skills. There are quite a few knitters that have helped to clothe my children. My Awesome Auntie can unravel an old jersey, roll the unraveled wool into balls, and then re-knit it into an amazing kids jersey. I am in awe of her skills, because she can knit at speed and watch TV at the same time! My Mum keeps my kids heads warm with a lovely succession of pompom hats and she makes jerseys for them too. The mother of one of my oldest school friends has also knitted lovely things for my kids. We treasure these clothes because of the effort and love that goes into them. Perhaps there are knitters who would knit for you and your family. Maybe you could supply the wool. If you are crafty like me try learning to knit and you might be surprised how much easier it is once you get started.
Personally, I want my everyday comfy clothes to be as ethically sourced as possible. But that doesn’t always have to mean finding a company or brand that is ethically certified. It can be as simple as visiting a few second hand shops or even organising a clothing swap between friends or family. Why not be part of the change?
Look for ethical brands.