Ethical fashion in Australian chains - Fair trade clothing

The elephant in the room is stirring. It angrily awoke when 1,129 people died, and thousands more were injured in a fashion factory in Bangladesh. It flared its nostrils when a shoe factory that supplies Asics collapsed, killing six. It stomped its feet as 23 people were killed  in a Cambodian factory producing clothes for H&M.

The ethics of fashion production is demanding our attention. As human beings, we have a responsibility to support the rights of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. But as anybody entrenched in fashion would know, responsibility isn't chic. The blood on our hands doesn't match the hues of our dresses.

That's not why I investigated the matter, though. I love great design. I want to find ways to support Australia's favourite brands. I've had my photo printed on thousands of Zara t-shirts, for God's sake. So out of curiosity, I contacted five top fashion chains in Australia to discover why and how we can best support them.

Armed with my background as a newspaper journalist, I thought they would be eager to show consumers how responsible they are. I thought they would jump at the opportunity to demonstrate that they do their best to ensure an ethical supply chain. I asked ASOS, Barkins, Zara, General Pants, and Sportsgirl, because of my blog's history of partnership with these fashion chains.

Not one would comment. 

ASOS was the only retailer to provide any resource to demonstrate its ethics.

I'm not here to point fingers. I'm not asking for boycotts. I'm not going to send my H&M pieces to the garbage. I understand it's a complex issue that can trip up even the most well-meaning fashion producers.

I'll continue to look for ways to reconcile fast fashion and human rights. That means making slightly different choices, like buying from ASOS' Green Room, an edit which eliminates clothing options produced in environmentally or ethically irresponsible production lines. It means perhaps spending a little less time in stores with $10 dresses and allowing myself the peace of mind of shopping at Cue, which has even been applauded by Oxfam for its stance on Australian made apparel.

Where to from here?

I'll be compiling a guide to buying ethical fashion (it's easier than you think) for Birdee Magazine in coming weeks, which I'll share with those on the Not So Naked mailing list (sign up below).

If you'd like to know more about how the clothes on our backs can literally kill people's loved ones in developing countries, I highly recommend the Four Corners investigation below.  If you're cynical about whether the conditions really are that bad, there's some pretty damning evidence in the report.