Ethical blindness, pricing and transparency were the hot topics at the Ethical Brands for Fashion Revolution day held in London at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising on Saturday, 28 April.
Surrounded by the museum’s displays of historic brand packaging and iconic logos, around 30 ethical brands joined together in a pop-up market for talks and a fashion show, hoping to give discerning consumers a taste of fashion's future, as well as tips on being better shoppers.
In one of the day’s discussion panels, Jo Salter, founder of ethical fashion brand Where Does It Come From? and co-host of the event with Ethical Hour founder Sian Conway, talked about a disconnect in fashion when consumers buy clothes and throw them away without knowing where they came from or where they go to. Her company’s fashion products are fully traceable, champion transparent manufacturing techniques and the people who design and make their clothes.
Jo called for more transparency in the industry when it comes to clothes labels and product provenance to truly show there’s nothing to hide and to keep consumers happy.
“Prices haven’t changed in years and we end up with ethical blindness,” she says. “We know deep in our heart something's not quite right if you’re buying something for four quid. Transparency is important for our peace of mind, so transparency is important for our mental health, as well as other reasons.”
Pricing was a key story of the day. Many of the brands present talked about the challenge of getting the message out about why ethical products tend to be more expensive. In 2005, Alicia Lai founded one of London’s first vegan shoe brands, Bourgeois Bohème, where a pair of shoes costs on average £160. When you are purchasing a pair of the brand's designs, you're not just paying for stylish shoes, but also for carefully sourced materials.
“We bring bespoke style and design. Every pair is handmade in Portugal and they just happen to be vegan and sustainable,” Alicia says, having invested constantly to source new materials such as eco stone, bio polyoil lining and Pinatex - pineapple leaf fibre.
"Sourcing the right materials while keeping an eye on price is a much greater challenge in the jewellery business", notes Mosami founder Sarah Greenaway who creates beautifully crafted objects in recycled silver.
“Ethical metal is a hard, complex subject,” she says. “There are maybe six ethical sources of gold and silver in the world. There’s a massive amount of work to do in the jewellery industry, which has a lot to hide. We should know where the metal comes from. Consumers love that story and a good story builds a great brand.”
More often than not, you get what you pay for and there may be a higher cost involved with cheap products – an ethical one - somewhere along the line. Consumers have the power to effect change and progress is being made, albeit slowly.
“The industry is built on cheapness and the model doesn’t work. I’ve worked with corporates and change is happening,” concludes Greenaway. “But it’s not overnight.”
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Ethical Shopping Tips
- Challenge your favourite brands – insist on transparency when it comes to the provenance of products. “The answer won’t be the one you want but by asking brands, they’ll know people care.” (Sarah Greenaway)
- Go for detail – when it comes to jewellery, dig deep. “I believe we should know where the metal comes from and the distance it's travelled. So ask: ‘Who mined my gold?’” (Sarah Greenaway)
- Shop cooperatives – “Cooperative movements are fascinating to work with and giving jobs locally is satisfying. Customers like to know that too.” (Jo Salter)
- Watch out for corner cutting – question who pays the higher ethical cost. “Big brand legacy and culture is about getting the price as cheap as possible so they’ve lost track of caring where things are being made. So they cut corners.” (Jo Salter)
- Exercise your power – “Build a relationship with brands, ask who made your clothes and find out the answer. If they can’t tell you the answer then maybe it’s time to find someone else.” (Jo Salter)