If a garment is very cheap, then you do have to ask yourself why. Cost is normally a very good indicator of ethical credentials, but not always. You have to remember that it will have been made for a fraction of what you are buying it at, as the retailer will add their own mark-up. So the factory workers would get very little which could mean safety is not great as well. That said, a high cost garment does not always ensure good ethics either, merely a higher profit for the retailer.
Certifications such as Fairtrade, Oeko-tex and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) are an easy first check for a shopper as they will appear on labelling or marketing. They all have differing sets of standards regarding social and environmental aspects and factories are often audited by the certifying bodies. You can find out more about the different certification on our glossary page here.
It is important to state here that we have spent a great deal of time specifically sourcing materials with the above certifications and paid a premium for them, but we are not allowed to use their logos as our factory is not itself certified. Therefore we simply state that the materials are certified organic and chemical-free. You can request to see a company’s certifications if you want to check. Ours are available to view here.
How open are the brand about their production and supply chain? If they are doing all the right things, then they will have nothing to hide. How much information do they provide to their customers and are they happy to answer questions on these issues? An ethical brand may have open factory events or show video and photo footage of their staff and factory premises. Full disclosure of the list of factories they use is another big tick. Our factory and supplier list is available here.
Policies & Initiatives
Many big brands are signed up various initiatives that check up on their ethical claims and promises. The most well-known one being the ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative), but others such as the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord, Fair Wear Foundation and Fair Living Wage. However they should also have their own comprehensive ethical policy too, that states their own guidelines and working with manufacturers and suppliers. For many small brands this will be all they have, as they won’t be able to bear the cost of being part of costly initiatives. See our Ethical Policy here.
A strict Animal Welfare policy is also a must have for an ethical company. This should state which animal products they will not use and should include: mulesed merino, cashmere, mohair, shearling, angora – or any animal hair, down, feathers, fur, exotic skins, silk, shell, horn and bone. If they use wool it should carry the RWS (Responsible Wool Standard) Symbol which guarantees a high animal welfare standard.
Many big brands will carry out factory audit, either by a third party or themselves to ensure ethical practice. The main certifications of this are SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Date Exchange) and Fast Forward which is the highest standard. Audits are expensive though, so many small brands don’t have them for the smaller factories they work with. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are unethical if they are ticking some of the other boxes. Many of the small factories such as ours are family businesses with less than 10 employees who they have worked with for years. Our main supplier has Living Wage Employer certification, which we hope to gain for others in our supply chain too.
There are various apps and websites that rank fashion brands according to various markers. Check out the Ethical consumer magazine, rank-a-brand, Good on you app, Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index and the Good Guide. However, I find that many of them have odd anomalies so I compiled my own brand rankings. You can read about who came out best here.
Big brands really have no excuse to not be ticking all these boxes. So if they don’t, then ask them why. Consumer behaviour and demand can drive change if we are all more vocal.
I hope this helps you to shop more ethically and feel more confident in your choices
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How do I know if it’s ethical?