I’m fortunate enough to call some of New Zealand and Australia’s favourite fashion labels, my friends. I count myself privileged to constantly hear insight into their struggles and wins, but it’s no good keeping this to myself!
To justify the true cost of ethical fashion is to understand that a purchase instigates a literal happy dance from the maker because the challenges and battles were all worth it to provide you with a garment you’ll cherish.
These business owners and makers work tirelessly to provide sustainable alternatives to fashion, yet we often turn up our noses at the cost. If these brands left their strong ethics on the sidewalk and joined in with mainstream fashion, their lives would be easier, and they would be making a killing. But instead, they work their butts off to create items with less impact on the planet and its people.
We owe it to them to listen.
Lois, Lois Hazel: Womenswear made in Melbourne by Lois Hazel
Aimee, Bohome & Roam: Bohemian inspired home wears and accessories sourced across the globe, based in New Zealand
Elle, Elle Evans: Swim and activewear made in Australia from 100% recycled fabric
Erica, Recreate Clothing: New Zealand based boutique streetwear, made in a sewing and training center in Cambodia
How do you balance sustainability with beautiful design?
Lois Hazel: Creating sustainable pieces that are beautiful and well-designed is just part of what I know I need to do. I think people tend to put a lot more pressure on being an ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’ designer. In my opinion, it’s a lot easier than some may make it out to be. If you start with the right foundations or make the choice to ensure that you are going to do things a certain way, then it just becomes normal. This makes the efforts of being ‘sustainable’ just part of your everyday thinking.
Elle Evans: I think that the two can be totally synonymous. There’s this misconception that you must sacrifice design to create a sustainable product, but there are so many ways to create something ethical and sustainable.
How do you trust your suppliers?
Recreate Clothing: Thank goodness for third-party certification like GOTS! As it wasn’t possible to visit all the different factories at the beginning, we rely on good solid external certification.
Bohome & Roam: The easiest, and most effective way to work with overseas suppliers that have aligning ethics is finding organisations that are already accredited or affiliated with fair trade groups. These suppliers have already met a strict set of criteria in regards to how they treat their employees (social impact) and are required to consider their impact on the environment.
In saying that, some of our suppliers don’t have this formal accreditation with known fair trade organisations. It’s expensive to become affiliated, so it’s tough for small businesses and growing social enterprises to gain this. I have a series of questions I ask potential suppliers about how they operate. I need to know their story. I want to know about the humans who make the products for them, how they are treated, paid, and what types of holidays and medical options they are offered. I ask for images of the workshops and employees. I also search for reviews and other press releases about them.
The hardest part of working with artisans overseas:
Through discussions with brands, these are the top three barriers:
- Communication: time zones, technology, and language barriers. Descriptions of fabric colours can get lost in translation, and finding times that suit to Skype, can turn into 2am meetings with intermittent internet connection.
- Cultural differences: the workers question hem lengths (you really have your dresses this short!?), or struggle with fit and size. Recreate Clothing once had dresses arrive with pockets far too small, because in Cambodia, the women’s hands are much smaller!
- Shipping: the added cost, the delay in arrival (what if there’s a snow storm?!), and the negotiations through customs. If the garments or fabric arrive and they aren’t right, they must go through the whole process again.