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– New Zealand brands lead­ing the charge on sus­tain­able fash­ion

The world con­sumes around 80 bil­lion new pieces of cloth­ing each year – five times the num­ber two decades ago.

There’s noth­ing quite like the rush of buy­ing a fab­u­lous new item of cloth­ing, but how of­ten do you think about who made it and un­der what con­di­tions? Jes­sica-belle Greer ex­plores the rise of the sus­tain­able fash­ion move­ment and show­cases the New Zealand brands lead­ing the way.

It cre­ates some of the most beau­ti­ful prod­ucts in the world but the fash­ion in­dus­try has a sur­pris­ingly ugly side. In fact, it’s the sec­ond-largest pol­luter glob­ally af­ter the oil in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to high-end brand Eileen Fisher. Be­hind the flashy run­way shows lies a path of de­struc­tion, es­pe­cially in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries where more than 60 per cent of cloth­ing is made, ac­cord­ing to lead­ing sus­tain­abil­ity news site Ecow­atch.

Crisp cot­ton t-shirts may look clean, but cot­ton is one of the most chem­i­cally de­pen­dent crops in the world, with nu­mer­ous stud­ies show­ing a spike in cancer in cot­ton work­ers is re­lated to the chem­i­cals used to grow the crop. It also sucks up wa­ter re­sources. It takes more than 20,000 litres of wa­ter to man­u­fac­ture just 1kg of cot­ton, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try re­source The Busi­ness of Fash­ion, which is equiv­a­lent to a t-shirt and a pair of jeans.

While man-made fi­bres do not rely on so much wa­ter, the man­u­fac­tur­ing process and dyes in­volved harm both peo­ple and the planet. Au­thor Ge­orge Elvin says it takes 70 mil­lion bar­rels of oil to cre­ate the polyester used in fab­rics each year. It is this fi­bre that is used to quench global shop­pers’ in­sa­tiable thirst for new fash­ion. The world con­sumes around 80 bil­lion new pieces of cloth­ing each year – five times the num­ber two decades ago, ac­cord­ing to The True Cost, a doc­u­men­tary which ex­plores the dirty tac­tics of the fash­ion in­dus­try. Fast fash­ion, where clothes are pro­duced quickly and sold at low cost to cre­ate con­stant con­sumer de­mand, has left de­sign­ers re­ly­ing on cheaper, more dam­ag­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing prac­tices to com­pete in the mar­ket place.

Along with the rise of fast fash­ion has come the in­evitable back­lash from in­creas­ingly eco-con­scious con­sumers who want to know ex­actly what’s in­volved in mak­ing the clothes they buy. A pos­i­tive re­sult is de­sign­ers are un­der pres­sure to re­think how they cre­ate clothes. Much like restau­rants that fo­cus on farmto-ta­ble food, the farm-to-closet fash­ion move­ment aims to track the clothes’ man­u­fac­tur­ing process from be­gin­ning to end in the hope in­creased trans­parency will com­bat poor work­ing con­di­tions and the in­dus­try’s en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact on the

planet. Sus­tain­able fash­ion, where brands take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the re­sources they use, is gain­ing ground.

To help con­sumers iden­tify sus­tain­able brands more eas­ily, a num­ber of or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing Child Labour Free and Bap­tist World Aid, have launched ac­cred­i­ta­tion schemes to sup­port eth­i­cal busi­nesses and ex­pose oth­ers whose prac­tices leave much to be de­sired. Bap­tist World Aid rates a range of New Zealand and Aus­tralian com­pa­nies on how their ef­forts to re­duce ex­ploita­tion in their sup­ply chains and em­power work­ers. Last year’s re­port re­vealed a sur­pris­ing num­ber of com­pa­nies are still grap­pling to un­der­stand ex­actly who makes their clothes.

Tools like the Good On You app al­low shop­pers to hold brands to ac­count at the touch of a but­ton. The app rates com­pa­nies on three key prin­ci­ples: how they treat peo­ple, the en­vi­ron­ment, and an­i­mal wel­fare. Users can look up spe­cific brands or search stan­dard on­line shop­ping cat­e­gories to find de­tailed rat­ings, in­clud­ing any third-party cer­tifi­cates held. The app also en­ables shop­pers to ask brands ques­tions and give feed­back, and it of­fers sales pro­mo­tions on top-rated la­bels.

Lead­ing global fash­ion chains such as H&M and Zara, of­ten dubbed the Mcdon­ald’s of fast fash­ion, are re­spond­ing to con­sumer de­mand with sus­tain­able ini­tia­tives – Zara even re­ceived an A grade from the Bap­tist World Aid re­port last year. H&M, which re­ceived a B+, has pi­o­neered a re­cy­cled polyester fabric made from plas­tic washed up on beaches, named Bionic, for its lat­est Con­scious Exclusive col­lec­tion.

Su­per­model and phi­lan­thropist Natalia Vo­di­anova, who stars in the Con­scious cam­paign, says: “It’s amaz­ing to see the ad­vances in sus­tain­able fab­rics that are used in the col­lec­tion, point­ing to­wards a more sus­tain­able fu­ture for all fash­ion.” The col­lec­tion will be on sale in the Auck­land store on 20 April.

It’s not just the in­ter­na­tional fash­ion giants that are tack­ling the is­sue. A num­ber of New Zealand brands are lead­ing the way by pro­duc­ing fash­ion that doesn’t cost the earth. Here, we take a closer look at six stand­out la­bels.

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