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How do you know a clothing brand is ethical?

Between ethical fashion, sustainable clothing, organic materials and recycled fibres the confusion can be huge. Sure, they all fall under the category of “sustainable fashion” - but what do they actually mean? And how can you be certain that all the claims clothing brands make these days are actually true and not a case of greenwashing? In an effort to de-mystifying these big buzzwords, we are exploring the world of ethical clothing today and what it means to be an ethical clothing brand.

Being an ethical clothing brand

First off, what does it mean to be an ethical clothing brand? In itself, this is an easy question to answer: under the umbrella of sustainable fashion, “ethical” refers to clothing that has been produced with a focus on fair treatment of all the people that have been involved in the creation of a garment. This includes every single step in the supply chain, from growing the crops to designing the range, manufacturing the clothing and everything in between until you are looking at a finished garment that might or might not end up in your wardrobe.

The terms sustainable fashion, fair fashion and ethical fashion are often used interchangeably. While there is certainly an overlap, each of these terms has a different meaning and, when used correctly, can give you more details about the sustainable action a brand is taking. So while ethical fashion naturally implies that there is a lesser impact on the environment, the focus remains on the social side of things. For a stronger focus on the environment, you would look out for words like eco-friendly fashion and organic clothing.

With semantics out of the way, here are seven questions for you to check whether a clothing brand is ethical.

How transparent is the brand?

The biggest indicator of whether a clothing brand is truly ethical or not can be seen in how transparent the brand is. Have a look at their website and their social media channels - does the brand disclose where the clothes are being made? Are any factory names disclosed? Is all of this information readily available? If all of these answers can be answered with a loud and clear yes, you can assume that the clothing brand is acting ethically. If you are unsure and curious, you can always feel free to message the brand directly and see if they are able to answer your questions.

Are the clothes priced fairly and is the brand paying living wages?

Take a peek at the price tag - this is another indicator of whether a clothing brand is ethical. Does the price seem overly low to you? If so, this could be an indicator of fast fashion, which typically translates into low-quality garments and underpaid garment workers. In fact, when you compare fair pricing, which takes into account the true worth of the garment, to fast fashion pricing, the numbers seem to be worlds apart! This is because, with fair pricing, every single person that is involved in the creation of a garment is compensated fairly for their labour.

To be even more certain, have a look if you can find any information on whether a brand is paying living wages to their garment workers. Living wages is a wage that allows workers and their families to live decently. Compared to Minimum Wages, which is the lowest legal amount of compensation, Living Wages ensure that basic human needs, including food, water, housing, education, health care, transportation, clothing as well as some savings can be covered. An ethical clothing brand will regard this as a fundamental human right.

Does the brand show you who made their clothes?

Once a year, during one week towards the end of April, we are all encouraged to ask our favourite brands “who made my clothes?”. This global movement is known as Fashion Revolution Week and was started by the NGO Fashion Revolution, following the tragedic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. With Fashion Revolution Week, end-consumers take matters into their hands to hold brands accountable and demand more transparency. With more transparency, we can ensure that garment workers are treated fairly and have all the fundamental worker's rights. A good guideline that any ethical clothing brand should follow is the minimum social criteria of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Is the brand using organic materials?

If you’ve got a piece of clothing in your hands, turn it inside out and have a look at its garment label. What materials is your article of clothing made of? While the composition itself will not give you much information on the quality of your garment, looking out for the word “organic” can give you an indication of how sustainable and ethical it might be. In order for materials to be labelled “organic” a list of requirements have to be ticked off, including that no nasty chemicals and pesticides are used which could be harmful to the farmers and workers on the field.

Is the brand certified by a trusted third party?

Speaking of labels! Another more straightforward way of determining whether a clothing brand is ethical is to look out for certifications they might have. Of course, the important question here is to make sure that the certification body is a trustworthy third party. Some certification bodies that you might have come across in the past could include GOTS (The Global Organic Textile Standard), the Fair Wear Foundation, Fair Trade or B Corp. Always remember to do your research to understand what the certification process is like, all the factors that are taken into account, and whether an organisation is reputable! If you would like to learn more about the GOTS certification, feel free to have a read through our blog post here.

Does the brand support any social projects or initiatives?

Another way to know if a clothing brand is ethical is to check for any social projects or initiatives that they might be supporting. Are any minorities in particular or a group of people with a specific past being employed? Are any charities or projects focused on empowerment or social causes being supported? At Maxomorra, for instance, we are donating all of our leftover clothing to tribes in India. If you are interested in learning more, check out our blog post and video here!

What are other people and parties saying about the brand?

Finally, have you heard anyone else talking about this brand? Is the brand featured in magazines? Sustainable fashion platforms? If they sell through retailers, what type of retailers are those? Are they working with any influencers that would be known in the sustainable fashion world? Association and reputation will give you a big hint about a brand’s integrity and authenticity and can further help you to determine whether a clothing brand is truly ethical.

Some final words

With all of that being said, we, at Maxomorra, believe that acting ethically and ensuring fair treatment of every single human being in the entire process should be normalised. We consider this a responsibility that has to be taken seriously by every single brand. As for us, we vouch to be a fully ethical brand and work towards being as sustainable and transparent as possible - a long process and journey that we are excited to be on. We have been a fully GOTS-certified brand since 2012 and are paying living wages to every single worker in our supply chain. Click here to read more about our factory and here to explore our ethically made products in our store and product finder.


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