I recently read an article by Danute Rasimaviciute about why she refuses to buy cheap clothes, even when she's really really broke. As a fellow broke twentysomething writer, I can empathise with her. She stated,
"I refuse to buy my clothes at stores like H&M, The Gap, and Joe Fresh. Even if that store carries the exact tee I'm looking for. [...] The difference in price is not reflective of the quality or style of the shirt, but the conditions in which it was made. The difference in price is about basic human rights."
I spent all of my teenage years in Swaziland, surrounded by and working with ethical labels that work with female handcraft artisans, such as Quazi Design, Baobab Batik, Gone Rural and Imvelo Eswatini, to name a few. For this reason, I know just how meaningful fair trade and ethical working conditions are. Although this article is written in my usual I'm-not-nearly-as-funny-as-I-think-I-am manner, I just want to clarify that I am not making light of ethical fashion. After incidents like the Rana Plaza Factory collapse in Bangladesh, it really is time that we started holding our favourite brands accountable, and pushing them to improve the standard of work conditions, even if it means raising the price on items.
That said, do I shop exclusively ethical brands? No. This is largely due to the fact that (aside from my pitiful bank account) I don't know many ethical fashion brands. I hear a lot of preaching about it (preaching to the seriously broke choir, mind you) but there aren't that many people who include brands we can shop at. It's like the worst kind of education system, in which Miss Trunchbull yells at you about what how terribly and utterly wrong you are, but never goes through the questions to let you know what to do right next time.
Luckily, Danute is no Trunchbull, so she did provide the names of a few labels: Reformation, Zady, Green Room by ASOS and ASOS Africa. As stated in the beginning, I LOVE Reformation. I don't own a single item of theirs, but I love to look at everything online and imagine a time in which I earn more than peanuts, and I can twirl my way through life in a Reformation dress. In fact, Reformation is the first brand that I have vowed to purchase with my first paycheck (after I put away some savings, of course. I am an adult now, apparently).
However, the other brands, much like every other ethical brand I've seen, have loose, boxy clothing in demure colours. Unfortunately, normcore is a luxury only afforded to the über cool (and the Oregon hipsters), which I am most definitely not.
Take for example, Kow Tow, which produces the sort of clothing I would wear if I were a rich Upper-East-Sider with no curves. Loose and boxy clothing look fantastic on Japanese tumblr girls and carb-defying models, but box-meets-butt is not a great look for the rest of us mere mortals. My hips get in the way of everything, and buying a bigger size to accommodate them makes me look like I stole something out of André Leon Talley's wardrobe.
The Green Room looks the the sort of clothing my mum wears (which is not an insult, my mum has a killer wardrobe and is seriously gorgeous and fit). She would look fantastic in their clothes, but most of it is unfortunately too mature for me. I'd look as though I were playing dress up.
As for ASOS Africa, I don't know exactly what bothers me about it, but there are very few things I would actually wear. Bear in mind that I shy away from prints, and the rest of it makes me feel like I should bust out some bananas and a kanga and burst into song and dance. It's an African thing (and only Africans can say that, mind you).
I have absolutely no desire to look like a hipster from Oregon. This is a sentiment shared by many of the fashionably-inclined that I've spoken to about this. We all want to know why ethical fashion is so visually unappealing and unexciting. If I'm going to spend my entire month's allowance on a dress, it had better make me look like I bathe in milk and honey for a living!
Thus, I have compiled my own list of ethical fashion brands, ranging (in no particular order) from "I bathed in honey and diamonds" to "I bathed." Hopefully, you can find a brand in here that you like and will support in the future! You should also have a go at the fantastic Good On You app, which provides ethical ratings on thousands of brands.
- Amour Vert (Womenswear)
- Annie Greenabelle (Womenswear)
- A Peace Treaty (Accessories)
- Baobab Batik (Handcraft)
- Beyond Skin (Shoes)
- Chinti and Parker
- Freedom of Animals (Women's Bags)
- Gather & See
- Gone Rural (Handcraft)
- Good Cloth
- H&M Conscious
- Imvelo Eswatini (Handcraft)
- Kow Tow
- Made (Accessories)
- Mata Traders
- Matt & Nat (Bags)
- Mayamiko (Womenswear)
- New Balance (Sportswear)
- Osborn (Shoes)
- Pachacuti (Hats)
- Quazi Design (Handcraft)
- Raven & Lily (Womenswear)
- Reformation (Womenswear)
- Seasalt (Womenswear)
- The Root Collective (Women's Shoes)
- Thread Harvest
- Tintsaba (Handcraft)
Happy (Ethical) Shopping!
Pepper & Söl