Making the Grade: 2018 Ethical Fashion Report

The 2018 Ethical Fashion Report has just been released. Compiled by Baptists World Aid Australia in partnership with Tear Fund New Zealand, the annual report provides transparency for consumers on production and manufacturing processes on companies in the fashion industry.

This year 118 companies were audited in the report, including 18 from New Zealand. Trelise Cooper, Karen Walker and Ruby featured in the report alongside outdoor companies such as Kathmandu, and Icebreaker who received an A+ grade.

 Kowtow AW18 collection, 'In Theory.'  Image supplied.

Kowtow AW18 collection, 'In Theory.'  Image supplied.

Kiwi label Kowtow was given an ‘A’ rating for its ethical and sustainable practice. Kowtow's  environmental and social responsibility is supported with certification from the Fair Trade Labeling Organisation.

Stocked across 200 retailers worldwide, the brand has been driven by an environmental focus since its inception eleven years ago. Today, the brand creates all of its textiles from scratch using largely cotton, and now, merino.

Kowtow work closely with small independent farmers in India in a certified process that is safe for workers and the environment, with cotton planted in pesticide-free soil.

 Kowtow's production practices have been driven by sustainability. Image supplied.

Kowtow's production practices have been driven by sustainability. Image supplied.

Heavy and prolonged exposure to pesticides have been linked to breathing difficulties, skin inflammation, hormone disruption and even memory loss. Once pesticides are used, the soil becomes addicted to the chemical, requiring more and more each time.

Kowtow continues its commitment to mindful manufacturing processes and Artistic Director and Founder of Kowtow, Gosia Piatek says she is proud of the A rating: “It is well deserved for us [in] ensuring we have a transparent, sustainable and ethical supply chain,” she says.

But in light of the results, AUT Senior Lecturer Lisa McEwan says New Zealand is still behind the rest of the world in terms of understanding the impacts of fashion on the environment and workers in the industry. She puts this down to New Zealand's small population and a lack of exposure to the reality of conditions for workers.

She says purchasing from ‘A’ grade brands or those perceived as 'good' doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of overconsumption as people continue to buy more.

“Shoppers need to be looking more into slow fashion. This is the idea of spending significantly more money on one timeless, quality garment that you would wear over a number of years, rather than buying several pieces that follow the latest fast-fashion trend,” she says.

McEwan points to challenges that still abound in the manufacturing of cotton garments where large quantities of water are used in the production process. Closer to home she says we also need to think about how merino garments are being made.

“We produce and wear a lot of wool garments [so] we need to weigh up the methane outputs of sheep, [but] this isn’t a discussion that we hear much about and we need to engage in these difficult conversations” says McEwan.