How to shop ethically for high-end fashion

So many of us are all about making sure our coffee's fair trade, our vegetables are organic and our body wash isn't tested on animals.

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Yet when it comes to fashion, we still we fork out for throw-away fashion made under less-than-humane working conditions utilising mass manufacturing methods that can adversely impact local environments.

I pondered this question as I bagged up roughly one-third of my wardrobe for recycling, the result of a successful gym campaign and a few other minor lifestyle amendments.

Yet as I packed my once-loved t-shirts, pants and jackets into garbage bags, I was also struck by the huge economic and environmental aftermath of fashion's seasonal turnover.

It got me thinking – how can even the most steadfast style savant maintain a top wardrobe without sacrificing their morals?

Focus on providence

Melbourne-based Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) was established in 2008 as a way of promoting, and monitoring, ethical working conditions throughout the fashion supply chain.

Spokeswoman Sigrid McCarthy says an increasing number of Australian designers, including the likes of Nobody Denim and R.M Williams, are gaining ECA accreditation.

That signifies that garments have been manufactured in Australia, and a commitment to ensuring all people involved in their production receive appropriate wages and support.


"As more people become more aware of the significant social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry, there is a growing interest in ethical clothing and the story behind a garment," McCarthy says.

"We have seen a rapid growth in interest around ethical-made fashion and sustainability in fashion in Australia as people are becoming more engaged and want to know which businesses are doing the right thing by their workers."

Quality beats quantity

One of the biggest issues – and one I am guilty of – is a paradigm shift in the way we view the value received for our money, driven largely by an influx of instant fashion fixes at low cost.

Investing in quality over quantity – instead of succumbing to the more-for-less temptation – can help cut back on the amount of waste that ultimately ends up sitting at the bottom of the wardrobe.

Sydney-based footwear label Feit (pronounced 'fight') was created as a response to the impact of mass footwear manufacturing.

"Mass production, at least in the footwear industry, was creating huge amounts of toxic and synthetic waste and contributing to an increasingly homogenised world," says Josh Price, who with his brother Tull is the co-founder of Feit.

"This inspired us to look into another direction. We asked how we could build amazing products and how it could be done in a more considered manner."

The result was a line of shoes made with natural materials, using sustainable production methods that leave no environmental damage (their shoes are actually biodegradable).  

Waste not, want much

Because each shoe is hand-made from start to finish, production is limited, meaning only a set number of shoes are produced each year. That keeps waste and waste materials to a minimum.

Feit only uses natural materials, which is a salve for customers' consciences. But that's not even the best part. Their shoes never smell, even when worn without socks (a practice the Price brothers actually recommend when wearing Feit shoes).

"The reason shoes smell is because they are full of synthetic materials and toxic chemicals," Josh Price says.

"All of our leathers are sourced from Italian tanneries and dyed with tannins and other ingredients found in vegetable matter, such as tree bark, wood, leaves and fruit.

"The leather breathes as it does in nature, which ensures it remains neutral regardless of temperature and doesn't retain sweat or odour."

As we head in to the sweatiest time of year, that's as good a reason as any to buy more ethically.

Do you think ethically about the clothes or footwear you buy?