The Ethical Sustainable Maternitywear Challenge
I do believe that every time you buy something, you’re making a political statement.
Like they say, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in whenever you open your wallet. And it can be near-paralyzing, standing in a supermarket aisle reading the small print, or vacillating, confused, in the middle of a mall. Where was this made? Who made it? How far has it travelled? Daddyo and I even have an ongoing discussion about “soap miles”. (Yeah, we’re really fun at parties.)
Food is one big issue. Also groceries.
Clothing is another biggie, because the textile, clothing, and footwear industries employ so many people, and because it uses so many resources. As an industry, it’s also a big polluter and contributor to climate change.
The easiest way to avoid damaging the planet (and its people) via clothing is to buy less of the stuff. (Yes, an anathema for one who has made a living, at times, from fashion.) Particularly the cheap stuff. There’s usually a reason why it’s cheap.
I hope to make it through the next months as a conscious maternitywear consumer. I have a head start: I have items that will make it the whole term (or nearly) along with me. Fuller dresses that will ride up, morphing into shirts. Vintage caftans. Tights. (Because, in maternitywear, and only in maternitywear, the rule of “tightsarenotpants.com” does not apply.) But I admit there will be a few necessities to buy.
And I hope to buy well, and to buy with social responsibility. I am looking for new clothes that, in their manufacture, have harmed the planet as little as possible and have been made in fair-trade circumstances (or close). I understand that I will most probably pay more for this, so I will buy less new, and buy more second-hand or vintage pieces to compensate the budget. (The budget is not large. Actually, there is no budget. What’s a budget?) Underwear I shan’t buy secondhand. Not to judge those who do, but other people’s knickers aren’t my thing. Otherwise, secondhand is a fantastically ethical substitute, and if it’s from an op-shop, there are wins all round. Also, it would be ace to buy things that don’t travel a long way to get here. So local op-shops are the go.
First purchase: jeans. Normally I go straight to Nudie. I love Nudie jeans. Adore them. The product, and the company. But they’re not, strictly, a women’s label (it’s just honky chicks with no bums who wear them, I guess), which means they offer no maternity line.
This is a shame, because Nudie makes sustainability in jeans easy, too.
More jeans companies should be like Nudie, but they’re not, because we consumers keep demanding cheap shit. We also keep buying certain denim treatments that can be downright deadly to their makers, like distressed denim.
Ebay, or a similar online auction agent, is a prime destination for secondhand denim. Particularly maternity jeans, although it seems that you may pay a premium buying maternitywear on Ebay compared to other clothing.
I think I’ve mentioned my regret in letting my old pair of Citizens of Humanity jeans go. (I need to move on, I know.) So I’ve set up an Ebay (Australia only) search. So far, they’ve only turned up abroad, but that’s not worth the air miles (or the postal charges). But I hold hope.
I also found saucy second-hand green Asos maternity jeans on Ebay. My secondhand jean finds were easy. New jeans are less easy. I failed the ethical maternitywear challenge straight off the blocks, I thought, when I was sucked into a supercheap deal while walking through a shopping centre.
I bought two pairs of jeans for a bit more than $100. From Jeanswest, a chain store. I assumed they can’t be socially or environmentally responsible, and wore a guilt mantle for a few days. But I won’t assume; I’ll look into it.
Jeanswest’s parent company is Glorious Sun Enterprises. (Glorious Sun also owns Quicksilver and Roxy. It is responsible for nearly 2,000 stores worldwide.) Here is their statement, from their website (link), regarding corporate social responsibility (CSR):
In 2008, Glorious Sun Enterprises Limited joined Oxfam and 11 other clothing suppliers to launch the Sustainable Fashion Business Consortium. This promotes best practices throughout the garment supply chain.
- instituting better employment practices and working conditions
- applying for Fair Trade labeling
- establishing carbon accounting standards for the industry, working toward carbon credit trading and a carbon footprint label for clothing
- better public reporting on Corporate Social Responsibility and sustainability
- increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste, such as recycling leftover fabric, which can be up to 20 percent of the total
A later Oxfam report measuring the level of transparency demonstrated by Hong Kong apparel companies regarding their ethical performance in the supply chain (note this is examining transparency rather than practice) awarded Glorious Sun an overall score of 32%. This may be low, but it still places the company third of all major clothing suppliers in HK. (As a comparison, when compared to a study of brands selling clothes in the Canadian market, it puts the company above Lululemon at 18% but less than Gap Inc at 71%). The same report also stated Glorious Sun had some good practices in place that are not fully reflected in its reporting.
Our desire for cheap clothes drives poor working conditions and encourages suppliers’ disregard for CSR principles. The Oxfam paper also reported that the companies all believed “a major obstacle to ethical supply chain practices is the price squeeze being felt by suppliers from large multinational apparel clients parallel to increasingly stringent supplier codes of conduct requirements’. Or, more succinctly, “clients’ purchasing practices contribute to poor supply chain labour practices.”
Yes, I should feel bad about being seduced by a low price, because that’s what tempts companies to disregard CSR principles. I can feel marginally better that it was a company that looks like it wants to do good. Is this hollow lipservice, or a step in the right direction? I don’t want to be too cynical, but remember, cynical is the Ancient Breeder’s default setting.
The fact the Jeanswest’s parent company appears to be addressing CSR issues is a start, but how far have they come in actuality? I emailed the company to ask about their manufacture supply chain. Here’s my email, sent 29 April 2014:
JeansWest replied promptly, in an email dated 2 May.
Let’s just put the Jeanswest maternity jeans in the neutral pile for now. And try to buy secondhand and more clearly, local, ethical maternity wear.
Weight is important, no? The weight you put on your priorities, I mean.
Take this vest. It’s repurposed from vintage knits, from bits of jumpers and cardis that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Win.
But it’s bought online from a company that’s not best known for highly regarded CSR principles (it’s not the worst, either), and, what’s more, it has travelled from the United States, most probably via air.
Air miles versus no new materials (and landfill saved)? Well, I like the vest.
Update, November 2015:
Here’s a link to the 2015 Australian Fashion Report. The report card summary is copied below.
Amongst the best performers were Etiko, Audrey Blue, Cotton On, H&M and Zara
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3043184/So-s-Lowes-Just-Jeans-cheap-TWO-59-Australian-clothes-brands-pay-living-wages-workers-just-extra-30-cents-t-shirt-help-make-ends-meet.html#ixzz3sdzCmtnv
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