The Ethics of Clothing

by Marion O’Leary

Clothing – we all have to buy it. When the purse strings get tight, it’s tempting to head down to one of the large discount clothing stores and pick up at least a few of the essentials there. As consumers, we all know that how we spend our money has a major impact on both the environment and the living standards of the people employed to produce the goods.  Cheap clothing sold in large quantities generally means it has been made using exploitative labour, predominantly that of women, from countries like Bangladesh, India, China, the Philippines and Mexico.

But that is not all. Conventionally grown cotton requires large amounts of insecticides and synthetic fertilisers, often with devastating impacts on both workers and the environment.  See: http://peopleandplanet.org/redressfashion/briefing

To add to this, the synthetic dyes used in mainstream clothing are highly toxic. Waste water from dyeing is often released directly into rivers, and there are significant health risks to people who work with these dyes. See: http://peopleandplanet.org/redressfashion/briefing

Because of the rise of cheap, mass-produced clothing from sweat shop labour, clothes have become more disposable. Because they are of lower quality, we buy and discard clothes at an alarming rate, creating landfill problems, and promoting the vicious cycle of ever-increasing consumption and waste.

3 Fish dress

Well, the great news is that it’s now much easier to buy ethically produced garments – and that means sustainably produced fabric, put together using fairly paid labour – from a growing number of businesses.  A non-comprehensive list of such Australian companies includes 3 Fish, Organic Embrace, Cornflower Blue, Eco Diva, PurePod, Etiko and Sosume Clothing. Pictured here is a dress by 3 Fish, available online or through one of the stockists listed on their website.

eco logika lifestyle

We want to highlight two high end Western Australian designers who we consider to be stand-outs when it comes to ethics in fashion. Purchasing a hand-crafted item made by Tierra Ecologia or Miranda Green Milinery is an investment in quality and integrity, backed up by solid, deeply considered ethics. Their products are hand-made, designed to last, and each piece is unique.

Charlene O’Brien is the force behind Tierra Ecologia http://www.tierraecologia.com/, and is dedicated to the core principles of using sustainable natural fabrics, natural dye pigments, and fair trade labour. Based in the Perth Hills, she has two labels: Eco Couture – a high end label produced in her studio in Perth, that has shown in Paris and New York and is worn by celebrities throughout the world; and Eco Logika Lifestyle – a more affordable label that is made in Vietnam and fairly traded. She uses natural dyes including indigo, madder, henna and turmeric, while fabrics are 100 per cent natural – organic cotton, hemp and silk. She also creates new yarns from recycled denim and other natural fibres. Pictured left is the Meelup Dress, made of hemp, cotton and botanical extracts.

Botany Singlet

Pictured left, the hand-dyed Botany Singlet, hemp and cotton. From the Eco Logika Lifestyle range

Miranda Green Millinery Australia

Miranda Green from Miranda Green Milinery, based in Fremantle, produces exquisite hats that are sought after worldwide.  Treat yourself to a visit to her website and its stunning photographs http://www.mirandagreenmillinery.com.au/ . Spend a little more time there and be awed by the strength of the philosophy that runs through her business, including the stated aims to ‘Combine beauty with integrity’ and ‘Produce durable items and discourage throwaway fashion’ amongst a long list of others. In addition, through her Lionheart Project, Miranda aims to set up a workshop in Dharamasala, India, to train local people in skills that could be taken up by western designers, as an alternative to the exploitative sweatshop model used by so many.

Miranda Green Millinery AustraliaWe find both these women inspirational – they are producing beautiful pieces of world class design, that are well-made and long-lived. Both women tread lightly and thoughtfully in gathering their materials and creating their product.  Even if we can never afford a gorgeous hat or a handmade silk skirt, we can bring the same thought and consideration to every piece of clothing we buy. And think long and hard before purchasing that $5 T shirt…