Shopping ethically and buying Australian-made is not as simple as it sounds

Shopping ethically and buying Australian-made is not as simple as it sounds
Samantha Harris backstage during the Indigenous Fashion Projects show at Australian Fashion Week 2021. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
  • The Australian Ethical Consumer Report revealed that Australians value ethical fashion but struggle to take action.
  • But making a conscious effort to shop ethically and buy Australian-made fashion often involves quite a lot of research.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Once upon a time, a little swing tag with a green and gold kangaroo was all it took to know you were buying Australian-made fashion. Now, with a sea of online stores, and the fast fashion race to the bottom, shopping ethically can be a minefield to navigate.

Ever since the horrific garment factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 — which killed more than 1100 people, all desperately trying to make ends meet — I’ve made a conscious effort to shop more ethically.

Money is power, unfortunately, so I intend to spend what money I have as powerfully as I can.

While that sounds like a buzzy slogan you might find under #inspo on Instagram, I soon discovered it was not that simple. It often takes some serious research to know who made your clothes.

So when the Australian Ethical Consumer Report was released by Baptist World Aid Australia — which also publishes the annual Ethical Fashion Report, grading Australian fashion brands from A to F — and it revealed that Australians value ethical fashion but struggle to take action, I was not surprised. It can all be too overwhelming.

There are, of course, some obvious giveaways when it comes to ethical fashion. You cannot tell me that a $5 t-shirt from Kmart is ethical. The price alone means someone somewhere along the production line is getting ripped off.

Not to mention the landfill. Australians throw out an average of 23 kilograms of textiles every year. Because with prices so cheap, there’s no incentive to care for or mend an item of clothing.

Fast fashion relies on the greed and fear of missing out; promising you can have it all at low, low prices, with zero thought about the consequences. And I get that it can be hard to escape that hype. But even if you pay $30 for a t-shirt, look at how little ends up in the pocket of the person who made it:

At the other end of the spectrum there are fashion businesses that are incredibly vocal about being Australian-made. Brands like Made590 in Sydney and Indigenous-owned label Magpie Goose even provide social media tours of their makers’ factories to show shoppers what goes into the garments they sell.

In the middle there is a whole spectrum of fashion brands that tout terms like “Designed in Australia” (but made in China, let’s be honest), and “made by our friends in Bangladesh” (even though they’ve never visited these so-called friends at all). Some don’t even mention where their products were made at all.

And if you really want to go down the rabbit hole there’s researching everything from how the fabric was made (was it digitally printed to save on water?) to who owns the business (is it Indigenous-owned or just using First Nations’ art to make a profit?).

Perhaps we need a new labelling system for fashion, similar to the labels you find on produce at the supermarket that shows what percentage of the ingredients are Australian.

There was one bright spark from the ethical consumer report: young Australians under the age of 26 had the highest ‘ethical consumption index’ score of any age group at 69/100. So there’s still hope for the future.