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A Guide to Ethical Fashion for designers

Ray Mardia

Why ethical fashion is worth it: a guide for new designers and existing brands

Now that the glittery dust of Fashfest has settled for the year, it’s brought about the debate on ethical fashion. Fashfest 2015 encouraged designers to show their inner activist, inventor, engineer and cartographer, and followed the resounding theme of innovation and sustainability, where fashion and social responsibility align as one. 

But what does it mean to be ethically made? Can ethically made fashion grow in an industry full of fast fashion? Which local designers actually follow ethical practices? Is ethical fashion even worth it from a business and consumer point of view? 

To answer these questions and more, a few Canberra designers and I sat down for a meet and greet with Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) just days before Fashfest was underway. It was an opportunity to find out who ECA is, what they do, who the accredited brands are and what benefits designers get by accreditation with ECA. 

If you think that Made in Australia automatically means the production is ethical, think again. The Australian Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) industry strongly relies on thousands of workers who make garments from factories and their home. The nature of the industry means that a lot of these workers experience poor working conditions. This is particularly true for homeworkers, whose work is largely unregulated. 

So what exactly does ‘Ethically Made’ mean?

ECA claims that local supply chains are complex, and that ‘ethically made’ can be a tricky process. There are so many aspects of the manufacturing process, from fabric sourcing, cutting, sewing, sampling, to hiring outworkers and manufacturers.

So ECA inform brands about how it all works. They help brands to meet their legal obligations to a certain standard throughout the supply chain. This standard is outlined in ECA’s voluntary accreditation system, which is annual independent audit that they do for their clients. It offers peace of mind and transparency to businesses, while giving consumers a guarantee that their clothes have been ethically made.

Which brands are accredited?

ECA accredit the Australian-made products of about 80 brands. These labels range from fashion, workwear, underwear, footwear and more. I was impressed to find that the brands include emerging designers and also iconic Australian brands.

I was also happy to see that several of these brands have fairly reasonable price points for their clothing, which is encouraging for new designers who are wondering about the costs producing their line locally. 

Some of their brands are:

Ethically Made Brands

Why is ethical fashion worth your time and effort?

If you’re wondering whether you should get an ECA accreditation, the answer is yes. As well as giving you peace of mind and ensuring your designs are ethically made, getting an ECA accreditation offers many benefits for business and buyers alike. 

Appeal to a growing market 

The media has increasingly focused on working conditions in the garment industry since the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. More and more consumers are conscious of buying ethical clothing, textiles and footwear. 

Making your clothes ethically and getting the ECA accreditation means that your clothes will appeal to this growing market of consumers. You will be able to distinguish yourself from the labels who aren’t pulling their weight in terms of social responsibility. Buyers who purchase your clothing will know that it’s ethical and free from exploitation. Looking stylish and having a clear conscience – now that’s an offer that can’t be refused. 

Social impact 

By making a commitment to produce your line ethically, you are ensuring that TCF workers’ rights are being protected. You are encouraging transparency within your supply chain. You are promoting local production, which means small runs and reduced environmental waste. You’re instilling pride and confidence in consumers who care about where their clothes come from, and you fuel a necessary conversation about what it means to be ethical consumers. 

Market your business 

Making an ethical line of clothing and being accredited with ECA is an effective way to raise your business profile. 

ECA frequently seeks editorial coverage and is involved in public events, trade shows, fashion festivals and other media initiatives to raise their own profile. It’s a good opportunity for your label to be named by ECA in their marketing, not to mention that you too can use the ECA trademark to promote your business. 

Minimise your risk 

ECA works with brands to make sure that their operations are honest and ethical. If businesses give out work to several suppliers and pattern makers, it can be easy to lose track of the number of people that are working in their own supply chain. 

Garments that are made in poor working conditions can be potentially damaging to a brand’s public image and overall customer trust. If you know where and how your clothes are being made, you can reduce the risk to your workers and your business.

Get advice 

ECA gives businesses tools to help them stay on top of any problems that arise in their supply chain – if and when they arise. While they do the audit annually, they create an ongoing relationship with their clients. With the compliance audits taking place throughout all levels of the supply chain, businesses can rest knowing that there are extra people who are working to maintain compliance. 

For more information about registration fees, industry awards, compliance and administration, or to get specific advice about your business, contact ECA.

Feature image by Rebecca Doyle Photography. 


Ray Mardia works as a lawyer in Canberra and can recite most of the lyrics of Baby Got Back. An epicurean at heart, Ray loves the good life, people's stories, nature, art and beauty in all its forms. Ray is a lifestyle contributor at HerCanberra. More about the Author

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