As consumers become more and more educated about the clothes they wear and the impact they have on the environment, fashion labels are taking a stand against fast fashion and prioritising ethical fashion, creating their new lines with completely eco-friendly materials, as well as a consciousness towards ethical practices - including paying a living wage to workers.
Ethical fashion is the umbrella term used to describe everything from the quality of working conditions, the effect on local communities and the positive sustainable impact that the product has on the environment. Sourcing ethical fashion in Australia comes down to look at a brands fabric choice, the working conditions of those that make it, animal welfare and whether or not the product is polluting its environment.
Sustainable fashion is now a part of the growing design philosophy and movement towards environmental and social sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility.
In light of recent calls to action from Australian consumers, the Australian fashion industry and Australian fashion brands have made their sustainability and ethical practices more transparent so we can look good and feel good.
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Below, some of Australia's most ethical fashion brands.
Spell Byron Bay
Spell not only make some of the world's most beautiful bohemian clothes, but they are also a brand at the forefront of ethical practices and sustainability. Their 2025 plan is laid out in detail on their website, comprising of supply chain transparency, sustainable fibre use and environmentally conscious dye and printing practices, to name a few. By 2019, Spell are on target for 40% of the styles in their collection being made with sustainable fibres. This Bryon Bay label also partners with Canopy, an organisation set up to ensure brand's cellulose-based fibres (viscose, rayon, Tencel, modal) are not contributing to the deforestation of ancient or endangered forests. Spell is also committed to using organic cotton over conventional cotton wherever possible.
Founded by Australian sister duo Laura and Hannah May, NAGNATA focuses primarily on technical wool and knits ensuring all products are recycled and sustainable. Through sustainably focused contemporary fashion lines and artisan collaborations, the brand aims to redefine value and challenge the rampant consumerism engendered by fast fashion.
ELK The Label
Beyond their commitment to great design, ELK has a strong ethical foundation. The brand's mission is to design and manufacture well-considered products that support traditional trades and circular economy and that are made responsibly, with regard for people, animals and the environment. All manufacturers are visited numerous times each year where working conditions, company ethics, workers rights and workplace safety are assessed prior to any engagement by ELK. Transparency and honesty are fundamental values upheld across the entire supply chain.
Back in 2015, Tigerlily became one of the first brands to commercially release swimwear using recycled materials and today the brand still works with the Italian innovators behind ECONYL, a regenerated nylon yarn made from post-consumer waste. Tigerlily's most recently announced it had become the first label worldwide to develop its own recycle swimwear lining and would be using its new technology in 100% of the brand's swimwear by April 2019. CEO Chris Buchanan has also helped champion several other sustainability initiatives in-store and through the brand's e-commerce store, switching online packaging from cardboard boxes to compostable bags, with each bag being made from 100% biodegradable materials.
The brand also only works with partners who are signatories to its code, holding internationally recognised certification and agree to be audited.
Founded by the New Zealand-born creator of the original bespoke surf legging and founder, Danielle Clayton, Salt Gypsy is a women's sustainable surfwear company that celebrates female athleticism, diversity and style - all while supporting the slow fashion movement. The products are made from 100% regenerated nylon yarn ECONYL, which is a longer lasting, more durable recycled nylon lycra with responsible manufacturing here in Australia and biodegradable packaging. While the brand may have become known for its ethically made surf gear, as well as bikinis and rashies, their handprinted organic t-shirts have become a staple for those dedicated to ethical clothing.
One of Australia's champions in ethical clothing, KITX has promised to consciously source every material and component of its designs. The brand uses certified organic, renewable, and recycled 'manmade' fibres sourced from fully traceable and fair trade suppliers who adhere to globally recognised social and environmental standards. KITX is also committed to working with sewing and finishing contractors who are committed to quality working conditions.
It's latest venture into ethical and sustainable manufacturing comes with the release of its 'Save The Bees' organic cotton series. Made using eco-friendly organic cotton that's free from all synthetic pesticides and insecticides, the tee works to maintain the integrity of the environment and its inhabitants.
The Social Outfit
Sydney-based ethical brand The Social Outfit is as much a fashion label as it is a charity. All proceeds from the sale of their clothing, which is manufactured locally on site, go straight back into up-skilling programs that foster social inclusion. The Social Outfit is an independently-accredited, ethical trading social enterprise that also provides employment and training in the fashion industry to people from refugee and new migrant communities in clothing production, retail, design and marketing.
Making clothes for everyday wear, Melbourne-based Vege Threads makes collections are manufactured in limited numbers and uses 100% Australian organic and eco-friendly materials and dyes. This commitment to transparency and an ethical supply chain means the brand has gained accreditation from Ethical Clothing Australia and prides itself in working with local knitting mills and dye houses.
Ginger & Smart
Ginger & Smart, a leader in Australian fashion since 2002, is a committed advocate of socially responsible business initiatives. Where possible, the brand sources fabrics that are recyclable and biodegradable minimising the use of harmful chemicals and excessive water usage in both the production of their clothes. Adequate wages, healthy working hours, a safe hygienic workplace, protection of the environment, prohibition of forced labour and elimination of child labour are all vital to the brand's social responsibility.
Melinda Andaloro founded Australian women’s clothing brand, Saroka out of frustration for the lack of size inclusion and diversity within the fashion industry. From design to production and manufacturing, the brand carefully considers its environmental impact and considers sustainability, slow fashion and ethical processes to be key pillars of the small business. Each garment is hand-made to measure in Melbourne, using premium fabrics and hand-sewn finishings. Saroka uses 80% natural fibres throughout each collection and fabrics are only purchased as needed for controlled production runs, eliminating fabric and also stock wastage. Linen is primarily used, due to its 100% biodegradable nature and very little dying process required. The brand is a wholly Australian label, with all fabrics and trims sourced from Australian suppliers, and pattern and dressmakers based locally in Melbourne.