How to find ethical fashion in Australia

how to find ethical fashion australia

Updated July 2015 to incorporate the latest ‘Behind the Barcode‘ report from Baptist World Aid Australia

It’s not easy to figure out where to shop for clothes in Australia if you want to be ethically-minded about it. There is no single resource to tell you which companies have traceable and transparent supply chains or are paying fair wages to garment manufacturers. The closest resource is website Good On You, which gives a simple rating of many clothing brands.

I was curious to know how all my favourite clothing stores stacked up when it came to ethics and social responsibility. Well, they’re not all my favourites (there’s quite a lot), but I decided to go through and list pretty much every store where I’ve made more than one purchase before. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, and is simply my attempt to track down as much information as I can find on the Internet about each clothing store where I have shopped in the past, or am considering for future purchases.

My plan is to keep updating this post as I find out more information (if I find out more information), so that this can function as a nice little record of the best places to shop, and where to avoid. If you’re reading this and have any more information on these stores, please leave a comment (preferably with a link to a source) so I can investigate and update!

I relied on the following resources for this (updated) post: Ethical Consumer Group’s Shop Ethical! website, The Australian Fashion Report, released in 2015 by Baptist World Aid Australia (my original post was based on the 2013 report), rankings website Good On You and Ethical Clothing Australia.

Verdict: Not too shabby

Cotton On (owned by Cotton On Group)

  • Good for: casual basics with polka dot patterns.
  • Baptist World Aid gave them a score of A-, one of the highest rankings for a non-FairTrade brand.
  • Ethical Consumer Group gave them mild criticism, but that appears to be based on a fine over product safety, copyright infringement, and having to back-pay staff – all important issues, but not at the same level as the horrible worker exploitation overseas. They’ve also come under fire lately for allegedly ripping off the work of independent designers.
  • Cotton On have written at length on their website about their commitment to ethical fashion.
  • Good On You gives them a ‘Great‘.

H&M

Zara (owned by Inditex)

  • Good for: blouses in stunning, unique prints, like these cats or these beetles (my decision not to purchase the top with the beetles is one of my sincerest clothing regrets)
  • Zara (Inditex) scored very favourably with Baptist World Aid, earning themselves an A- grade.
  • One red mark on their child labour scorecard.
  • A ‘Good’ rating from Good On You.
  • A long list of praise points from Ethical Consumer Group – the only negative being that they haven’t yet publicly stopped sandblasting jeans.

Verdict: Could do better

Sportsgirl (part of The Sussan Group)

Forever New

Target Australia (owned by Wesfarmers)

  • Good for: work pants and inexpensive scarves.
  • Ethical Consumer Group gave them a ‘Lesser Praises’ rating for their commitment to avoid Uzbek cotton and signing of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. However, Wesfarmers got a black mark for truly horrible sweatshop conditions in Bangladesh factories (2012).
  • Target got a B- grade from Baptist World Aid – but a D- grade for worker’s rights.
  • ‘Good’ rating from Good On You.

Verdict: Not great

Topshop (owned by Arcadia Group)

  • Good for: not sure yet, as I haven’t shopped here at all. However, I’ve noticed it seems to be a favourite store for the celebrities and TV characters whose style I envy. Also endorsed by these two.
  • A ‘Not Good Enough’ rating from Good On You.
  • Mildly criticised by Ethical Consumer Group, who weren’t a fan of their tax avoidance and child labour scorecard. Arcadia Group have claimed to make an effort to pay a living wage to garment manufacturers but apparently their efforts have been “unconvincing” so far. They do, however, have a strong stance against animal fur.
  • They’ve got an ethical trading page on their website.

Myer

  • Good for: everything. I buy an extraordinary amount of clothes from Myer from various brands, mainly Miss Shop (dresses, tops) and Tokito (classy workwear).
  • Unfortunately for me, Myer isn’t super great – Baptist World Aid gave them a C- grade; Good On You gave them ‘Not good enough’.
  • Ethical Consumer Group were lukewarm, and also gave them a mildly critical grade (which was itself based on the Baptist World Aid report).

Jay Jays, Dotti and Portmans (all owned by The Just Group)

  • Good for: I like Jay Jays’ comfy, well-fitting jeans; lace dresses; and casual tops. Some of my absolute favourite items of clothing (a faux-leather jacket, dark pink blazer) are from Dotti, and although I haven’t really shopped at Portmans, I know it’s a common favourite for corporate dressing.
  • Baptist World Aid scored them unfavourably with a D overall score. Jay Jays, Dotti and Portmans all get ‘Not good enough’ ratings from Good On You.
  • Ethical Consumer Group gave them a ‘Lesser Criticisms’ rating, praising their commitment to avoid Uzbek cotton but criticised for a poor record in terms of garment workers’ rights and exploitation.
  • Oxfam didn’t like them in this article circa 2012.
  • The Just Group have a page about their ethical sourcing commitments, but almost all claims are unverified by external sources. They have signed The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which is reportedly a much “weaker” and non-legally-binding agreement compared to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord, which they have not signed.
  • Side note, The Just Group also signed the Australian Packaging Covenant (APC) and use biodegradable plastic bags in stores. I can attest to this by the fact that my Jay Jays bags always disintegrate in the cupboard where I stash plastic shopping bags, leaving irritating shards of soft plastic scattered like dust everywhere.

Glassons (owned by Hallenstein Glassons Holdings Limited)

  • Good for: skater-style dresses and skirts in nice colours and flattering cuts
  • They got a D- from Baptist World Aid and were featured in the news as being particularly bad!
  • New Zealand-owned company
  • They were mentioned in a 2013 piece about imported clothing in New Zealand, which noted that the majority of its clothing is made in China, and that “staff have visited the factory it sources from and obtained independent audits”.

Valleygirl and Temt (both owned by Fast Future Brands)

  • Good for: affordable but cute workwear and casual clothes with floral print
  • Abysmal rating from Baptist World Aid, they scored an F.
  • Their rapid turnover of extremely cheap styles suggests they are not the greatest, ethics-wise.

Review (owned by the PAS Group)

  • Good for: gorgeous, extremely expensive special occasion clothing, such as this, The Most Beautiful Dress In The World
  • Sadly, they get a rock bottom score of F from Baptist World Aid, along with a bunch of other labels owned by the same company that sell for higher price points in Myer and David Jones (Blackpepper, Breakaway, Equus, Marco Polo, Metalicus, Yarra Trail, Yvonne Black).
  • How strange to see higher-end, expensive, fancy clothing labels right next to cheap bargain basement chain stores when it comes to ethics.

Verdict: Not enough information

Asos (online)

  • Good for: copying the dresses that Taylor Swift or Clara Oswald wear.
  • No ratings in the Australian Fashion Report or at Good On You, probably because they’re an international brand, so that makes it difficult to give them a proper rating.
  • Ethical Consumer Group likes them, they were praised for several environmental and workers’ rights policies.
  • They have a bunch of corporate responsibility guidelines publicly available on their website, including some fairly robust claims of ethical trade.
  • They have a ‘Green Room‘ section, dedicated to sustainable, eco-conscious fashion.

Paper Scissors

  • Good for: random cheap jackets, tops, blazers, dresses, leggings, shorts…
  • I couldn’t find any more information about Paper Scissors – not even their parent company (which also owns poorly-named Chica Booti). Once again, it’s all about super cheap fast fashion of doubtful provenance.

SES (owned by Grace Fashion)

  • Good for: cheap and comfy cardigans IN EVERY COLOUR. Also jumpers and colourful blouses.
  • Very cheap price points on all clothes, which reflect their quality
  • Went into administration earlier this year, but there still seem to be plenty of stores around
  • Couldn’t find any information about their ethics, but considering the prices and low-quality production, I think it’s safe to assume they don’t have a great track record unless there’s evidence to the contrary.
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