Australia's Budget Ethical Fashion: Clothing for under $100
I hear you, affording a completely fair trade wardrobe can be daunting. With companies like People Tree raking in all the praise for their production methods, you can be forgiven for thinking that ethical fashion is inaccessible and only exists for those high-income earners that can afford such a brand. However, I'm here to burst that bubble.
I get a lot of questions about where to shop, especially as independent reports on brand policies can be conflicting. This post is just a summary of companies I personally understand to be OK and that I'm more comfortable supporting than their competitors. The list is short and only pertains to Australian companies that have publicly available information on their policies, it's near impossible to sift through small boutique brands with no information available online, so if you have more to suggest for me to check out please leave a comment below!
My income? Over the past few years it’s been nestled between the poverty line and the minimum wage. My wardrobe? A mixed bag finally leaning towards a majority of ethical and sustainable brands and a few remaining sweatshop pieces.
With a small budget, you may be priced out of the best of the best when it comes to the thought leaders and industry innovators like I am. Even a lot of the brands I promote may be laughable for some of my friend's bank accounts. So you may not find yourself cloaked in Stella McCartney or Eileen Fisher. But there's certainly a large middle ground between these big names and the likes of JayJays or Best & Less at your local Stockland.
If you're looking for a store that can guarantee you items under $100 without using North Korean slave labour (I'm looking at you RipCurl), here are some of my favourite AUSTRALIAN stores that I personally shop from. This list is far from exhaustive and far from encompassing the international brands that ship here.
Does this one surprise you? Cotton On have been my go-to in financial emergencies, particularly for pyjamas and undies. This year they scored an A- in the Baptist World Aid Australia Ethical Fashion Report. (Cotton On, Cotton On Body, Cotton On Kids and Rubi, their vegan shoes label, all scored A-.) Oxfam gave Cotton On a passing grade in their latest annual Naughty or Nice list stating that they disclose their factories, have a strong code of conduct, follow through with third-party audits and have signed the Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord. Additionally, their corporate responsibility branch, The Cotton On Foundation, supports youth and education initiatives in Uganda. Shorts start at the $20 mark and their underwear is five pairs for $35.
These human rights credentials do not transfer to their environmental record, however. With their low prices and fast fashion rates of turnover they won't be winning any sustainability awards any time soon. Their products aren’t durable, but if this is your budget bracket then you can feel infinitely more confident shopping here than their similarly priced competitors. I support this company if you are restricted in choice financially.
Country Road have scored a B+ in Ethical Fashion Report for two years running. With a company commitment to paying a living wage, compliance with third-party audits and ensuring that their primary suppliers and subcontractors enforce their code of conduct, Country Road can justify their higher price point. While their fabrics used aren't often eco-friendly (although they do have their share of linen items), they have made and met commitments to reduce their emissions and hazardous chemicals. Their tops start around the $45 mark with their shorts and skirts pricing around the $80-$100 bracket. Their clothing is some of the most well-made and long-lasting I’ve owned and at their price point you’ll actually end up saving money by buying less over time!
Sportsgirl is one brand I was surprised to learn score so well, having always shopped with them and expecting to have to wean myself off. However, Sportsgirl consistently scores a B in the annual Ethical Fashion Report and have a commitment to meeting the minimum wage for all employees. Their parent company states that all employees are paid above the minimum, yet they admit they don’t know the supply chain of their textiles that are bought wholesale. Their environmental record at this point is largely unknown. Sportsgirl are not what you'd call an "ethical" or "sustainable" brand as what they are doing is just the bare minimum required for me to consider them worthy of my patronage, but they do fall into that handy affordability bracket and often when I'm looking for a basic item like a pair of denim shorts or a white t-shirt, they are often the only store stocking what I need at a reasonable price. Sportsgirl’s basics starts at $20 with nothing in their basics range priced above $100, and only a few dresses and jumpsuits crossing the $100 threshold in the whole store.
In The Soulshine
In The Soulshine is top of the list for comfort. I’m down to just two of their tops, but at the time of writing I’m wearing my boyfriend’s Soulshine t-shirt and think I’ll get myself a men’s tee next. This brand is vegan-friendly fashion made by a vegan to promote the vegan message. And it’s all made in an ethical Bali factory where the tailors are able to negotiate their own wage. You can see the company culture celebrates handmade, slow fashion and respects the artisanship of their workers. The comfy cotton jersey tops range from the $45-$60 mark and I have a lot of comfort supporting this small business knowing the supply chain is short and transparent.
So that is just four brand suggestions from me to answer one of the most common questions I receive. I want my intention to be as transparent as possible here: This post is by no means condoning all policies and practices of these brands, as I encourage everyone to shop completely organic fabrics whenever possible. My personal goal is to have a 100% organic wardrobe. But I do hope this list sheds a little light on the better options available to absolutely all of us, and how a brand's price point is often irrelevant to the companies' human rights record.
To read my previous post on Australia's least ethical brands click here.