Who pays the price for our cheap clothing? This is a question many consumers have been asking themselves after the tragic circumstances of the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse. This Bangladeshi garment factory crumpled after the manager ignored building code regulations, leading to the death of over 1,100 garment workers. Thankfully, things have begun to change around the world as more and more clothing brands safeguard the well-being of workers and make sustainability a priority. With that said, here is a beginner’s guide to ethical shopping.
Where to Start
Ethical shopping can be challenging, not just on the wallet but also because of how complicated the fashion industry is. Many companies are not fully transparent about their labor and environmental practices. So even though agreements like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety are now in place to ensure safer environments for textile workers, not all companies are on board.
As people grow more socially conscious, they expect companies to adopt a level of responsibility for their product chain. Here are some things to look for in ethically conscious brands.
Check brand ratings
There is a yearly online annual report (Ethical Fashion Report) that ranks brands from most to least ethical based on a number of factors such as labor rights and policies to protect workers. The online site Good On You has a database of well-known and under-the-radar clothing brands and provides rankings based on three categories: planet, people, and animals.
Know which fabrics to avoid
Certain fabrics are synthetic and manufactured which increases the probability that clothing stores are outsourcing them from questionable working conditions. Most manufactures chemically dye synthetic fibers on top of the fact that they contain plastic, making them unnatural and an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Some of the most toxic fibers include polyester, acrylic, and viscose rayon, whose production contributes to water and air pollution and the destruction of forests.
Leather is also incredibly dangerous for the people that produce it. Leather tanning produces hazardous compounds which people then dump into local bodies of water, filling it with chromium and other toxins. They also discard solid waste from the animals, adding to this toxic issue. Not to mention that these pollutants are also carcinogens (some contain anthrax) and are killing the individuals who make them.
Trust these fabrics
Keep plastic, dyes, and toxic compounds out of the manufacturing process and off of your body. These fabrics are known for their low-impact on the environment, and if you shop at the right brands you can track who exactly is making them. This can ensure that companies are properly compensating their workers.
Tencel is a rayon alternative used by brands. It is derived from eucalyptus trees in a sustainable process which releases negligible amounts of compounds into the air. Silk, hemp, organic cotton linen, and wool are organic materials formed without using pesticides or chemicals. However, it’s also important to note that not all people treat animals fairly, which is why you should check the wool manufacturer before purchase—there are many small-scale operations that are candid about their animal practices.
Where you should shop
There are many brands that use recycled clothing and even some that use unusual materials (like fish nets) to create fashionable pieces. These brands include Patagonia, Re/Done, RubyMoon, Ahniko, Siku Jewelry, Svala—but there are hundreds more where those came from! Consult this guide to find even more brands adopting sustainable fabric and manufacturing processes.