Signature Style Without The Guilt [guest post]

May 13, 2016

As you know, my Signature Style is all about the bargain but what is the real cost? I always thought of shopping ethically as a luxury, but was surprised (and pleased) to learn that budget isn't always bad. Today, Almost Posh is pleased to host this guest post tackling an actual serious fashion issue by Dr Jennifer de Livera, proper scientist and ethical fashionista.

It was around three years ago that a garment factory collapsed in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, killing 1136 people, and throwing the ethics of the global clothing industry into the spotlight. We all knew that sweatshops existed, but aside from a few high profile exposés, information on the ethics of any particular brand weren't readily available to the consumer. The Rana Plaza disaster made us all feel bad, but who knew what to do about it?

Clothes shopping starting coming with an unwanted free gift – the extra guilt^ on top of the usual money spent, storage issues and environmental impacts. This was really taking the shine off one of my favourite activities, so I began a guilt minimisation strategy that involved boycotting the few brands that were name-shamed in the media, and shifting to a fashion diet a little richer in pre-loved and vintage items. But when I did need/want to buy new items, I still had little information on the conditions of manufacture, and it bothered me. 

Then about a year ago I came across an ethical fashion guide which basically report-carded every brand you’d find in your nearest shopping centre based on the company’s policies, transparency, audit requirements and worker empowerment. I was shocked (but not really surprised) to discover that some of my go-to brands weren’t all that flash, but at least I now had the knowledge to make better choices. I also noticed that some of the more expensive brands were much worse than their cheaper counterparts. There really seemed to be no relationship between ethics and price, quality or style. And just in case you don’t believe me, I plotted the price of a plain white t shirt at a selection of the graded stores just to be sure:

Yep – there’s zero relationship between price and grade!

A short time ago, the 2016 update of the Ethical Fashion Guide* came out and I was happy to see that many companies seem to have improved their grades. This year it seemed to hit the news more forcefully and people in my office were talking with interest about the news articles and gathering around computers to check their favourite brands.

Nobody wants to support sweatshops but we simply don’t know we’re doing it – good luck trying to memorise the grades of brands from a news article, and at 65 pages, this year’s guide is not exactly bedtime reading. 

But ! 

If you’re interested in keeping company grades handy without wading through the detail, there are a couple of apps around, such as ‘good on you’^^ which is free and offers a quick brand search if you see something you fancy and want to know whether to throw it down in disgust or check how guilty to feel before purchasing.

And if you want to discover some lesser known clothing brands who are doing things a bit more ethically, take a look at the list of ‘alternatives beyond the mainstream’** on the Shop Ethical site.

Anyway, happy shopping and may we all be armed with just a little more knowledge and power!

^   this is only true for new purchases, as I consider vintage and second-hand goods to be entirely guilt free !
^^ rating system is different to Ethical Fashion Guide - covers environment, labour rights and animal protection too
**  you will find an interesting mix of hippy gear and high fashion !

I'm the first to admit to sticking my head in the fashion sand regarding this kind of thing. After reading Jen's post, I've made a decision to try and stick to supporting brands that are rated C or higher. It may not sound like much of a stretch but this means previous go-to labels like TEMT, Valleygirl and Best & Less are off-limits until they get their act together (unless of course they are pre-loved, in which case, see Jen's first footnote).

Do reports like this inspire you to change the way you shop?

You can follow Jen's mix of ethical, vintage and pre-loved style on Instagram at @lady_lambkin. And speaking of Instagram, don't forget to enter the Signature Style Challenge including #shoulditstayorshoulditgo for a chance to win fabulous prizes!

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