Style Without Guilt - Part 3

May 15, 2018

Context: When I first read the Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Report a few years ago, I decided it was time to try and change some of my shopping habits for the better by being a bit more conscious about the labels I favoured. The 2018 report has just been released so it's time to check in and see where I'm at with my conscious check-out. 

You can read Signature Style Without The Guilt and Ethical Shopping Update, both of which were guest posts by ethical fashion enthusiast, Jennifer, and were based on the Fashion Reports for 2016 and 2017. Jen has also kindly provided her thoughts on the latest report below:

Last time I was on Almost Posh, I talked about the guilt that can come with shopping for clothes. With the industry plagued by issues of forced and child labour, worker exploitation and unsafe conditions, it’s a minefield out there.

You might have heard last month that the 2018 edition of the Ethical Fashion Report was released. This was the 5th of edition of the report and the biggest yet, assessing 114 companies and 407 brands that are available to Aussie shoppers. This report does all the hard work for us, distilling down which brands are doing better or worse in terms of tracing their supply chain, paying a living wage to garment workers, and other measures of a brand’s ethics. Brands are given a grade from A+ to F, with the average grade a C+. Things seem to be slowly improving in the industry year on year which is really encouraging, but there’s still a long way to go with only 17% of companies able to demonstrate that workers in the final stage of the supply chain were receiving a living wage.

So that you don’t have to read the 99 page report (but if you want to, free download is here), here are my take home messages and points of interest :

  • It doesn’t have to cost more to shop more ethically, and price means nothing for company ethics. Superstar Cotton On scored an ‘A’ and got a special mention for continuous improvement, while more expensive brands Tigerlily (D) and Lacoste (D+) scored the same as cheapies Temt (D) and Valleygirl (D).
  • For your luxe workwear, Cue and Veronika Maine, while well known for manufacturing in Australia, don’t make everything here and have fallen down in the rankings this year with a ‘C’ grade. This don’t impress me much when you look at the likes of Country Road, Jag, Trenery and Saba who scored an A-.
  • Gorman, who seem pretty hip and are known for using a lot of natural fibres and organic cotton, scored a ‘C+’, showing that cool factor and eco fabrications doesn’t necessarily equal the most ethical manufacturing.
  • In the department store wars, Kmart (B+) beat Target (B) beat David Jones (B-) beat Myer (C) and Big W (C).
  • For the Burnside mums (jokes, I like me some activewear as much as the next gal), Lululemon (A-) beat Lorna Jane (C).
  • For the traditional sports brands, Adidas (A-) beat New Balance (B) beats Nike (B-) beats ASICS (C+).
  • Denim focused brands are looking good with all scoring above average; Outland Denim (A+) beats Nudie (A-) beats Jeanswest (B+) beats Levi (B-)  beats Just Jeans (C+).
  • The big euro brands Zara (A-) and H&M (B+) did well.
  • For the online shoppers, ASOS (B+) beat the Iconic (D+).
  • Meanwhile these jokers got F grades at least two years in a row: Ally, Bloch, Decjuba, Kachel, PingPong, Wish.
  • But the outdoor clothing companies are giving me hope with Icebreaker, Patagonia and Kathmandu scoring A+, A and A respectively
And now for the full list of company grades! Some of these are parent companies for several more familiar brands, check out page 56 of the guide for a breakdown of who owns what.

If you’re wondering what the greyed out ones mean, they were non-responsive (boo!!), so grades have been determined from whatever information was publicly available.

I have been favouring companies rated A and up, but I’m not about extremes and sometimes I just need to cut myself some slack. For me, it’s about what I’m doing most of the time not all of the time. I’ve also been slowly discovering smaller companies that may not be in the guide but have a lot of info on their websites about what they’re doing right, so I have been giving some of my business to the likes of Veja, the Social Outfit, Obus and Bunosilo. Trying to buy less, but better, on the same budget, is my fashion mission for the year.

So have a look at how your faves have been graded - if it’s not flash and you feel like walking away, there might be a better-rated brand that can be substituted. Here’s my best ideas for how to avoid the bad and steer to the better:

BOOKMARKS - keep a bookmarks list for clothing stores that are acceptable to you ethics-wise. When you feel like shopping for something, check the bookmarked stores before anything else.

THE GOODON YOU APP - download the free Good On You app^^. When you see something you like do a sneaky check of the brand’s rating while in store. This has definitely made me think twice and avoid a few purchases. The Good On You app also entertains and educates with regular articles on specific brands and thoughts on everything from workwear to faux fur, wedding dresses and mending.

PINTEREST - Save potential purchases on a Pinterest board. I’ve found this seems to take away the urgency of a purchase idea and gives you the mental space to give some thought to brand ethics.

Next year’s report will also include environmental performance which will cover the types of fibres used as well as carbon emissions, water use, wastewater management and whether a take-back or repair program exists. This is all information that is pretty hard to find out about clothing brands through any other avenue so I can’t wait to see how the brands go. If you are wondering what the fuss is about, look up the true cost documentary, it is truly terrifying !

Over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to educate myself more in this area and learn about the differences between bamboo, cotton, organic cotton, flax linen, polyester, viscose, tencel, silk, you name it ! I have found myself being more ruthless in vetoing a potential purchase on the basis of fabric alone, but I’ve also found myself crippled with indecision through having too much information, especially since almost every fabric seems to be bad for the environment by some measure.

In general I’ve been avoiding things like polyester and steering more towards natural fibres like organic cotton, linen (hello bedding!) or wool where possible. I have kept semi-synthetics like viscose in the mix, which are made from natural fibres using a solvent-based process; although viscose is not great for the environment it just feels too limiting to not include it at the moment. If you’re interested in learning more about different fabrics, the good on you site has some great easy to understand ‘material guides’ 

Of course, when it all gets too much to think about you can always just hit up your local op shop, Etsy, eBay or Gumtree for a guilt-free shopping sesh !


I made the decision in 2016 to try and shop for myself and my daughter from brands with a C grade or higher. Since then, I have still not purchased anything from TEMT, Valleygirl or some of the other budget favourites. (This choice has also probably coincided with being too old for that shiz tbh). Best & Less and Big W have since improved their grades to be back on the rotation. Other stores I bought from before they were included in the report and will now reassess until they pick their game up. Second-hand, of course, doesn't count, except for sustainability brownie points!

Where do your favourite brands stack up in this year's report? Do you try and make ethical choices when shopping? See the guide here.

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