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Seeking out sustainability

All Areas > Health & Beauty > Vintage & Sustainable Fashion

Author: Lynda Rowland, Posted: Monday, 1st August 2022, 11:00

For those of us who no longer support fast fashion, it often seems like hard work seeking out companies that are truly sustainable and ethical. There are so many aspects of a clothing business which need to be addressed when trying to establish a totally ‘green’ brand that the average consumer can very easily become confused, or worse, deceived.

The term ‘greenwashing’ was coined to describe the practices of large commercial enterprises which flag up one or two minor eco-conscious commitments to promote their supposedly sustainable ethos. In many cases these are simply gestures which nod towards a social conscience, whilst the majority of the firm’s business is conducted in a long-established profit-driven manner, which really doesn’t make for a sustainable model.

If you are lucky enough to have a thriving and diverse local high street full of well-run independent stores near you, then to buy your clothes there is a more ecologically-friendly option than online shopping. The lack of necessity for excess packaging and the transportation costs involved in the cycle of ordering and delivery, means you will not be adding to your carbon footprint.

However, we do not all have access to such a selection of desirable shops and local traders on our doorsteps. This is why the Internet has found its niche in being the place many of us start at when we are on the hunt for new clothes. Fortunately, there are ways in which we can simplify our search and make a more informed decision when buying online.

An Australian-based website and App named Good on You has been established to provide assistance to potential buyers by allocating ‘green’ ratings to ethical brands. It was set up by a group of fashion professionals, scientists and communicators who were determined to make an impact on the 21st century fashion industry.

Their focus is on the polluting effects of clothing production, the circular economy of buy, pass on and recycle, as well as human and animal rights in the garment industry worldwide. Their mission is to reward those companies which are doing their best to achieve more widespread socially-conscious fashion.

The website works with the U.N. Sustainable Development initiative and uses its recognised ratings system. Being an Australian venture, some of the brands listed will be unfamiliar to UK consumers, but there are some internationally recognisable companies which are highlighted too.

The standards are high and unless the companies receive a full complement of ticks in all the accumulated categories, they will not achieve top-marks. But as long as you read the individual brands’ scores and choose what matters most to you, it will help you make a more-informed decision when purchasing. It is important to consider that it does take time for a brand to fully embrace sustainability, so do take this into account. 

There are several websites available which provide a platform for ethical and sustainable brands to sell directly to their customers. However, I would advise some caution when utilising these, as larger companies can very easily tick a few ‘sustainability’ boxes and gain entry to these sites, when a little investigation shows that they do not really have as many positive credentials as you might have expected.

Simply pledging to use less plastic in their packaging and installing bins for customers to recycle their old garments inside some of their stores does not make up for perpetuating fast fashion by using cheap labour, mass production and polluting practices behind the scenes. Such companies are usually so large that they cannot keep control of their supply chains, leaving lots of opportunities for unethical practices to thrive.

It is probably best to use these sourcing websites to target a few, usually smaller, brands and then read through their own personal statements about sustainability. These should give you information about the fabrics they use, their production methods, and the pay and conditions of their workforces.

One website which aims to bring together a number of brands whose sustainability and ethical pledges do stand up to scrutiny, is Gatherandsee.com. The two female co-founders concentrate on promoting small brands whose supply chains they have carefully investigated and whose commitment to sustainability feels genuine.

The cost of taking such an ethical approach can be a little higher than shopping in the average high street. However, when it comes to fast fashion, we might pay less for a garment, but a catastrophically high price will be paid both now and in the future by our planet and in terms of the impact on the lives of poorly paid garment workers across the world. If we buy better, but buy less, our wardrobes can be both beautiful and ethical. 

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