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Wearing your Heart on your Sleeve

Date: 02-Sep-10

Clothes have a much more complex production process than, say, fresh vegies, so it’s not surprising that ‘buying ethical’ requires more thought when it comes to clothes.  The use of slick marketing jargon doesn’t help either.  So what should you look for? In this article, we try to de-tangle the issues so that you can make informed and ethical choices.

Accredited Labels

In Australia, there are two different accreditation schemes that audit varying stages of the manufacturing process – Fair Trade and Ethical Clothing Australia.

  • Fair Trade - In Australia, a handful of small clothing companies sell items made from Fair Trade-certified cotton. The manufacturing process after cotton production is usually not Fair Trade-certified, however some clothing companies do outline the steps that they’ve taken to source garments from ethical providers, therefore allowing us to make our own judgments.  Check out to investigate this small but growing pool of ethical clothing companies.
  • Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) administer what was formerly known as the Homeworkers Code of Practice and the No Sweat Shop label.  They work to achieve fair wages and decent conditions for Australian clothing, textiles and footwear workers, including some 300,000 outworkers.  ECA-accredited manufacturers have committed to take certain steps to ensure that any Australian-based stage of their supply chain is transparent and compliant with relevant Australian laws (it doesn’t apply to overseas-based stages of production). Look for the ECA label sewn or printed onto applicable garments.  Click here for a list of ECA-accredited manufacturers, or to learn about the shameful working conditions that many clothing outworkers still endure in Australia.

Go Organic, Choose Alternative Fibres

Around a quarter of the world’s pesticides are used for cotton production*.  Look instead for clothes made from organic cotton, or from other fibre crops such as hemp and bamboo that require far fewer pesticides. Organic production also supports farmers' health. As an added bonus, some Fair Trade cotton is also organically grown.

Look for Clothes made from Recycled Materials

It's not uncommon to find warm fleece clothing or wet-weather garments made from 100% recycled PET bottles (the kind of bottles used for soft drink) in your local camping store. Keep an eye out also for clothes made partially or wholly from recycled nylon or reclaimed cotton - an internet search may be the best way to locate relevant manufacturers and stockists.

Love the Pre-Loved and Fad-Proof

The smallest footprint of all belongs to re-used clothes - from friends, op-shops or swap parties - and to reducing the amount of unnecessary clothing we buy. Resist the fashion industry's urge to change our wardrobe with every passing fad! If you're interested in hosting a swap party, check out the resources available on our Big Aussie Swap page.

Sources and More Info

2009 was the International Year of Natural Fibres, supported by the UN body, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Check out the informative website, with stories about farmers, fibres, cotton, pesticides and more.

* For the source on the cotton pesticide statistic, see the FAO 2004 report  'Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the needs of the poor?' available for download here.
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