Wear it well: Ethical workwear
Insider Engage discovers the secrets to owning an ethical work wardrobe
The fallout from the Boohoo scandal in July and reports of sweatshop conditions for workers in Leicester has refocused attention on how sustainable and ethical high street fashion really is.
It is the latest in a long line of revelations concerning the wellbeing of the people that make our clothes.
So where can city workers find ethical, sustainable fashion for their post-lockdown wardrobe? And how can you be sure that a brand is truly looking after its suppliers, and not just “greenwashing”?
UK charity Fashion Revolution publishes an annual Fashion Transparency Index, rating retailers and brands on how clearly they disclose their supply chains and how openly they are working to improve standards.
H&M scored highest in 2020 with 73%, closely followed by C&A with 70%. The highest scoring luxury brand was Gucci with 40%, demonstrating how difficult it can be to find high-end fashion that meets sustainability criteria.
Sarah Ditty, global policy director at Fashion Revolution, says “notable progress” has been made on transparency, but “there is still much more fashion brands can do” to enable customers to make better decisions, while also supporting workers and the environment and allowing “other stakeholders to drive further progress”.
Fashion Revolution also started the #WhoMakesMyClothes campaign to highlight stories of people working in textile factories and other manufacturing facilities around the world.
More retailers are improving the level of information they publish about their supply chains, including the factories they source from and how they monitor working standards.
Brighton-based Ilk + Ernie, for example, sources recycled fabrics from Indian markets and employs a team of workers based in Delhi to turn them into unique designs. Any sample pieces or unsold items are donated to homeless children in India’s capital.
US brand Everlane deals directly with “the best ethical factories around the world” and publishes details of its sourcing on its website as part of its policy of “radical transparency”.
If in doubt, there are a few key questions buyers can ask of retailers, according to Jill White, founder of womenswear brand Distinctively Me.
“Ask brands how much of their stock is marked down – this is the first sign of oversupply and how much is disposed of unsold,” she says. Asking about the percentage of clothes made from natural or recycled textiles is also important, as is enquiring about manufacturers and staff pay levels.
H&M caters for all basic workwear needs, with a broad range for women and men – who are often less well-served in the sustainable fashion space. H&M’s ARKET brand aims to create durable, sustainable clothes for all genders and promotes textile recycling to reduce the amount of clothes that end up in landfill.
Recycling and reusing are at the heart of the increasingly popular “circular fashion” movement.
TRAID, a clothes recycling charity, reported in 2018 that 23% of Londoners’ clothes were unworn – a volume with a carbon footprint equivalent to driving nearly six million miles.
The charity launched the 23% Campaign to encourage sustainable consumption – including greater reuse and recycling. So far, it estimates that more than one million items have been donated through its shops and clothes banks, which it then upcycles into new pieces.
Kensington-based Loop Generation, founded by Ewa Kozieja and Piotr Krzymowski, also promotes circular fashion by reselling top designer clothes and shoes and providing personalised services online or in person.
While charity shops might not be your first stop when looking for an office outfit, they can turn up some affordable gems for all genders. Oxfam has an extensive online offering, including vintage outfits, coats and jackets, shoes and accessories, while its blog contains tips for second-hand clothes shopping and looking after your wardrobe.
Re-Fashion is an online-only women’s outlet that recycles and upcycles items to raise money for good causes. Its website claims that charities get more money from this method than by selling clothes themselves, keeping up to 60% for items worth over £100, compared to 19% for clothes bought through charity shops.
Gifting old clothes to a charity shop is a great way to make sure they don’t end up in landfill. Many charity shops can claim Gift Aid tax relief on donations as well – just be sure to wash everything first!
For those unable to get to a charity shop, TRAID has over 240 clothes banks around London where items can be dropped off in carrier bags for collection later.
The fashion industry still needs to work at its ethical and sustainable credentials, but it is easier than ever to look and feel good with a clear conscience. Whether you are seeking a fresh suit for a return to the office or a new outfit for (socially distanced) work meetings, there are plenty of ethical options.