It’s hard buying clothes ethically

by Nikki Mattei 12 months ago
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I think I am a responsible buyer

I have been involved in Fashion Revolution since December 2014 and since then I have found it even harder buying clothes.  I have always been someone who makes investment buys and I do wear my clothes for a long time.  I still have some pieces I bought over 10 years ago.  Also my younger daughter, Anna, who is a fashion blogger and fashion marketing student, has “borrowed” quite a lot of the clothes which I don’t wear much and given them a new lease of life.  You can see her wearing the coat below, which is at least 20 years old, and she has upcycled it by adding a fur collar.  You can see more pictures on her blog http://annaluciasays.com/

Anna-Mattei

So I do see myself as a responsible buyer and I have never really bought into the fast fashion model even though I worked in the fashion industry myself in the late 80’s/early 90’s.  But even in those days there were two distinct seasons a year: spring/summer and autumn/winter.  And sales usually took place in the late-summer and after Christmas.  You wouldn’t go into a shop and see different clothes there every week or so like you can today.

Buying from ethical brands

I have never bought a lot of clothes and I have always bought pieces which are classic and made to last.  But since I have been involved in Fashion Revolution, I have learnt so much about the clothing industry – the way workers are so badly treated and paid in developing countries; the fact that the garment industry is the second largest polluter after the oil industry; the speed with which new collections appear in the stores; the online pressure put on girls,  in particular, to be seen in a new outfit every time they post on social media.  For these reasons, I feel that I must buy my clothes from ethical brands.  However, that is easier said than done.

I am older (54) and my style is classic and fitted.  I usually wear petite clothing as I am 5’ 2” and a size 8.  In some brands, I am even a size 6, which is crazy.  That is another thing which has changed – brands have changed their sizes so that women can fit into a smaller size than they used to, in the belief that every woman wants to be smaller than she is.  Anyway, that’s another story ……….

I don’t really like shopping for clothes as I am so often disappointed as I can’t find what I am looking for.  For the past ten years, I have bought most of my clothes from catalogue/online retailers, in particular Boden and Pure Collection.  Other brands are Hobbs and Phase Eight, which I often buy in the sale or at outlets like Bicester Village.  I have tried to find ethical brands which suit my style and my size.  I do have a lovely People Tree dress and a couple of tops but a lot of their styles and colours are not the right for me.  I do want to buy ethically but I want to wear clothes which make me feel good.  We all use our clothes to express our personality and I don’t want to wear a sack-like dress or a wacky outfit, which does nothing for me just because it is ethical!  It is the same with organic beauty products or food – people won’t buy them unless they work or taste great as well as being better for the planet.

Trying to buy ethical jeans

A few months ago I decided that the one thing I could do with was a pair of jeans which fitted me well.  I checked out all the ethical jeans brands and most did not have the style I want, ie not skinny.  I did find one Dutch brand but, unfortunately, I couldn’t buy through their website as they don’t accept Mastercard plus the jeans would have cost around £100 plus £15 for postage and I would have had to pay to return them.  If I knew they would fit me, I wouldn’t have minded.   I had a few emails exchanges with the company to see if there was any way they could get some to the UK via menswear retailer who stocks their men’s jeans but they didn’t come back to me.  So I gave up.

I then decided to ask Boden and Pure Collection about their ethical policies.  Boden came straight back and directed me to a page on their website: http://www.boden.co.uk/en-gb/help/our-ethical-policy.html   This reads well to me and I feel that they are trying to be more ethical.  I feel more comfortable about continuing to wear and buy their clothes as they suit my style and size.  I have now bought some new jeans (size 6!), which actually fit me, from them.

Pure Collection is known for its cashmere but I have bought mainly trousers and tops from them.  They did respond to my email but not for a couple of weeks.  They see themselves as a “conscientious company” and, due to customer feedback, they are striving to become more transparent about their supply chain.  Unfortunately, they told me “cannot disclose confidential information regarding which manufacturers they use or their locations.”  They do work with small, ethical family run operations in Inner Mongolia.

Don’t feel guilty

I hope I have shown that it is really hard to shop ethically for clothes.  It is a lot harder than shopping for food or beauty products, for example.  On the plus side, it wasn’t always easy to buy organic food and cosmetics – now there is so much more choice.  These changes have happened due to consumer demand and pressure.  The fashion industry needs to change in the same way.  No one should feel guilty because they can’t find an ethical brand which suits them.  Our aim is that ethical becomes the norm and all brands act responsibly and sustainably.  Consumers today, particularly the “millennials”, those under 34, are more concerned about provenance, social justice and environmental impact.  If we, as shoppers, continue to question brands and retailers about their ethical policies, we can make a difference.  Also think more about the clothes you buy and try to buy less and make them last longer.  My motto when buying clothes is “if I have any doubts, I don’t buy it.”  Another thing I do is not buy it straight away and then if I am still thinking about it two days later, I know I love it and I will wear it so much!

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Ask brands and retailers #whomademyclothes

One of the best things we can do as consumers is to ask brands #whomademyclothes during Fashion Revolution Week from 18-24 April.  Just take a selfie or a photo of your favorite garment with the label showing and send it to the brand using the hashtag #whomademyclothes.  You will find all the social media names of the most popular brands here.  You will find a spreadsheet to download in the Who Made My Clothes section.


  • Liz Hobbs

    Hi
    Thank you for a lovely article. I have just launched my own online ethical clothing and natural beauty product boutique and I am always thrilled to see articles/blogs like these, it really affirms what I am trying to achieve. I agree it is hard to find what you are looking for which is ethically made but hopefully my small contribution will help with the bigger picture of sourcing ethically made clothing. Thanks again, Liz

  • Nikki Mattei

    Hi Liz, glad you enjoyed it! What’s the name of your website? Nikki

  • Noorin Khamisani

    Interesting post. We sell ethical fashion to women of all ages, very much with a timeless feel. Please do have a look at what we do Nikki – http://www.outsiderfashion.com