If you’ve been thinking about how to minimise the environmental cost of your clothing choices lately, good for you.
- Trustworthy brands have specific information on their websites about their sustainability efforts
- These experts tell us to avoid brands making generalised statements about their commitment to sustainability
- Good brands use sustainable materials, minimise carbon emissions, and pay workers correctly
The truth is, sourcing reliable information about how to do it can be hard.
So we’ve asked three people with skin in the game, so to speak, for their best advice: co-founder of the Good on You website Gordon Renouf, Bared Footwear owner Anna Baird and Australasian Circular Textile founder Camille Reed.
Who can you trust?
Gordon Renouf says trustworthy companies usually have concrete, specific information on their websites, rather than generalised statements about their commitments to sustainability.
“You want them to be saying: this is what we’re actually doing in relation to using more sustainable materials, this is what we’re doing about carbon emissions, this is what we’re doing to make sure our workers are paid correctly,” he says.
“You want to be wary of people who are emphasising just one or two things that they’re doing well.
“Particularly the things that aren’t particularly material to the impact, like if they’re talking a lot about their packaging and nothing at all about their supply chain … then they’re talking about the small things they’re doing and they’re not talking about the big things they’re not doing.”
Camille Reed suggests seeking out websites like The Fashion Advocate and Eco Warrior Princess.
“[They have] thrown themselves into this world and sought to provide the best information possible to see consumers make better choices,” she says.
She also suggests looking at Good on You.
“The content that they’ve been developing and delivering for years now is definitely integral and I would say authentic.”
Anna Baird agrees research is crucial and admits she has sometimes got excited about new supposedly “sustainable” materials, that on closer inspection, really are not.
“We only know that a lot of these products aren’t good when we get them, if it’s a cactus leather or something like that,” she says.
“It sounds good until you realise the only way they can make it durable is with a nylon backing.”
Ms Baird also encourages consumers to ask companies direct questions.
“Then decide if you think that they genuinely care and that they are constantly improving,” she says.
“Brands should be honest about the fact that they are a long way from perfect.”
What if I’m on a budget?
Gordon Renouf says buying sustainably when you have kids can be particularly challenging.
“Because they grow out of the clothing,” he says.
He suggests buying quality items and swapping clothing with family members if you can.
But he also suggests giving yourself a break.
“I think the key thing is that you do the best you can with each decision. It’s not like you should feel guilty if you’re not buying a five-star brand every single time.”
Mr Renouf says it is also often hard to find ethically made plus-size clothing.
But he says consumers have become too used to cheap prices.
“Clothing is way cheaper, compared to our income, than it was 20 years ago,” he said.
He suggests consumers consider Good on You’s “five Rs of fashion”: reduce, re-wear, recycle, repair, and resell.
In a nutshell, the motto is about buying less, having another look at the wardrobe items you already own, mending clothing, and giving away or selling what you can’t use anymore.
Another r-word he endorses is “rent” and suggests high fashion boutiques consider setting up rental arms, so their garments get worn more than once.
Camille Reed says shoppers should take the “old-fashioned” approach and save up for high-quality purchases they’ll cherish for years.
She also suggests considering longevity.
“Has it got spare buttons? Can it be mended and repaired?” she says.
She says buying from online second-hand marketplaces on platforms like Facebook and Gumtree is a budget-friendly way to shop sustainably too.
Anna Baird agrees.
“Look for products made from natural, renewable materials,” she says.
“If it comes from nature, it’s generally easier to break down.”
Transparency is a crucial part of the sustainable fashion puzzle, so here is some more information about our three experts.
Gordon Renouf co-founded Good on You, a website that rates how sustainable fashion brands are, in 2015.
In 2018, actress Emma Watson engaged Good on You to help her assess brands for her role as a guest editor of Vogue Australia and she’s now an ongoing Good on You supporter.
Mr Renouf used to work at the Australian consumer organisation CHOICE.
While Good on You started life as a not-for-profit company, it’s now a social impact company.
Once Good on You has rated a fashion brand’s sustainability credentials, it offers marketing opportunities to those with really good ratings in exchange for money.
It also gets paid by companies including buy now pay later business Afterpay, which uses Good on You’s information on its website.
Anna Baird founded Australian shoe company Bared Footwear in 2008 after working as a podiatrist.
Bared’s website freely admits the fashion industry is an incredibly big polluter and details the company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, which includes sourcing more sustainable materials and recycling shoes.
Interestingly, Bared gets a middle of the road “It’s a Start” rating from Good on You.
When asked about the rating, Ms Baird says she loved the idea behind Good on You but wished it had reached out and asked to see Bared’s Code of Conduct, which Good on You marked Bared down for because it wasn’t on its website.
Camille Reed founded the Australasian Circular Textile Association in 2017.
It’s a not-for-profit, government-funded industry peak body, set up to help textile-related businesses shift towards sustainable solutions.
— to www.abc.net.au