by Anna Rohwer
For example, numerous fashion brands have developed ethical strategies meant to appeal to conscious consumers. H&M started a Conscious Collection made with organic and recycled material. Zara has developed eco-efficient stores; Puma has a biodegradable InCycle Collection; and Gap aims to benefit female garment workers through its P.A.C.E. program. While these strategies give companies the appearance of being ethical, it’s possible that some are simply illusions. Just because a brand claims to be ethical doesn’t mean it has taken the necessary steps to align its actions with its words at every step of its supply chain, and just because a brand develops an “ethical” fashion line doesn’t mean its overall business practices have changed much.
The challenge is for consumers to discern between the companies that are serious about being socially and environmentally ethical and those that are simply utilizing marketing schemes to improve their image. Lewis Perkins of nonprofit Cradle to Cradle shares: “There are so many initiatives out there right now that are ‘sustainable,’ ‘green’ or ‘eco.’ I think it is really confusing for the consumer to understand and validate what it means.” So, while it’s encouraging to see brands claim to pay fair wages or sell only environmentally sustainable clothing, you shouldn’t take these statements at face value; such claims may still warrant investigation. Unless a brand publicly makes its full supply chain transparent, you need to do your research.
Here are some strategies for obtaining the information about companies and products that can help you make informed decisions about your clothing purchases, as well as options if you need to make some changes in your buying habits:
Intermediate Action Step: Pick two of the above reports or rating systems and make a list of five brands that you feel good about supporting and five brands that you do not want to support.
Champion Action Step A: Make a list of all of the clothing brands you currently purchase from and utilize the resources listed above to determine which brands do not align with your ethics. Make a conscious decision to no longer support these brands until they change their policies.
Not finding your favorite brand listed?
Easy Action Step B: The next time you’re in your favorite store (or shopping online), ask/email the manager about where they source their clothing and if they can guarantee fair wages and conditions for workers in their supply chain. You may need to clarify that you mean the supply chain all the way back to the origins of the product, not just the employees in that store. Ask them about their employee policies and if they are involved in community development or have human rights programs in the regions where they have production.
(2) Support ethical companies with your wallet—and your voice. Thankfully, information about supply chains is becoming increasingly accessible, as brands are beginning to recognize the importance of supply chain transparency. Now that you’ve done your homework, you’ll have a better idea about which brands you want to support.
Intermediate Action Step: The next time you need to buy an item for yourself or someone else, purchase it from a brand with supply chain transparency to support their business and show there is a demand for ethical products. Companies such as Brilliant Earth, Ember Arts, Clothe Your Neighbor As Yourself, Elegantees, Everlane, Konjo, People Tree, Ten Thousand Villages, TOMS, and Warby Parker all have ethics incorporated into their business model.
Champion Action Step: Commit to only purchasing clothing from brands with committed ethics and supply chain transparency (see Intermediate Action Step 1) for help in determining which companies to purchase from).
Intermediate Action Step: Be a voice in your community! Talk to your friends or blog about ethical consumption and the dangers of fast-fashion to the workers. If possible, participate in a peaceful protest or petition campaign to advocate change.
Champion Action Step: Start making your own clothes and/or repurposing old clothes and those purchased second-hand. If you don’t know how to sew, this action step might start with taking a sewing class or watching a few Youtube videos. Resolve to channel your creativity into making your own clothes for 3 months. If you are concerned about impacting jobs in other parts of the world by pulling out of the market, consider donating the money that you would have spent on new clothes to an organization that provides micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.