Conscious consumers are more likely to buy a piece of New Zealand-grown seasonal fruit than an import, so it stands to reason that we might also like to support local fashion brands.
Nowadays clothing is rarely made in New Zealand, because like so many other industries manufacturing processes have long ago been outsourced. But while some Kiwi labels knowingly chose to use suppliers that are under pressure to produce cheaper clothing at any cost, others like the examples below are going out of their way to ensure a more environmental and socially-sustainable pathway for their garment production.
Indeed, a growing number of fashion brands in New Zealand are bucking the fast fashion trend and creating beautiful, mindfully-made clothing that we can be proud of. Frederique Gulcher, ethical blogger at My Good Emporium, picks her current favourites.
These five brands stand out for three reasons that resonate with who we are as conscious Kiwis – they have done their own thing, they have continued to improve their ethical and sustainable credentials, and they haven’t compromised on style.
They are the best of both worlds – local talent paired with a conscience.
When it comes to meeting high ethical and sustainable expectations, Kowtow ticks all the boxes. Arguably the pioneers in ethical and sustainable design in New Zealand, Kowtow are recognised for their distinctive style and beautiful crafting.
Equally importantly they use 100% fair trade cotton, certified by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations (FLO), work with sustainably recognised suppliers, and use non-toxic dyes with a sustainable method of water treatment all approved by the Global Organic Textile standard or GOTS.
The garments are produced in Indian factories that have been audited by the third party Social Accountability Accreditation Services (SAAS) agency to meet the highest social standards, i.e. a fair and safe workplace that covers guaranteed minimum wage, social security fund, pension fund, paid holiday leave, sick pay, medical insurance, subsidised lunches, overtime pay and workplace unions.
The Wellington-based label is also committed to using ethically sourced trims and sustainable packaging.
ReCreate are your everyday, easy-to-wear, ethical items with an active feel. Each season’s simple but smart garments include certified organic cotton staples many with their signature contrasting panel detailing.
Like Kowtow they use GOTS-certified 100% organic cotton, while denim is certified by the Better Cotton Initiative, and accessories like buttons are from recycled materials.
They produce their clothing in a sewing training and production centre in a disadvantaged community in Cambodia. The staff, predominantly women, earn a living wage in a 30-hour week with paid holiday leave, sick leave, maternity care and overtime pay, with the opportunity to earn matched savings every month. They get full sewing training, as well as reading, writing and budgeting. They can care for children on site or get assistance to send them to school, and the centre is light and well-ventilated.
The Waikato-based not-for-profit won the New Zealand Eco Fashion Designer of 2015 at the New Zealand Eco Fashion Week.
These guys are making waves! Started in 2015 as a supplier of ethically and sustainably-produced made-to-order corporate uniforms and business wear, the Wellington-based organisation has grown from strength to strength, now also producing organic t-shirts and hoodies, with kids clothing up next.
Little Yellow Bird’s cotton is grown and harvested on organic cooperative farms using all-natural farming techniques without chemicals or pesticides. Almost nothing is wasted in the process and all workers, from the farmers to sewers, are paid a fair wage. The company is a certified B Corporation business meaning it meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. The business and founder Samantha Jones have won a number of awards and grants along the way. And finally, you can send your LYB clothes back for the company to re-purpose. Cool!
Starting as a yoga brand on Waiheke Island in 2005, WE-AR now has a full line of clothing and accessories for men and women that is inspired by its yoga origins – loose-fitting, earthy colours and casual.
Textiles include organic cotton and bamboo as well as Tencel or Modal, both trademarked names of viscose lyocell. Lyocell is a fabric produced from the wood pulp of sustainable forests and processed in a closed-loop system where the very minimal chemicals, water and carbon discharged in the process, are re-used. WE-AR also uses conventional cotton and other less environmentally-sustainable textiles, but is transparent about the use of these and where they, as a business, aim to do better. They have a detailed environmental policy sharing their ethical and sustainable credentials as well as the gaps, looking at every element of production from seed to packaging.
The garments are produced in Bali in small, home workshops under an audited process with clear codes of conduct and constant communication with workers around wages and conditions. They are currently working with other stakeholders for a Bali-wide ethical manufacturing charter and are B Corporation certified.
You’re covered in the clothing department, but what about intimates? There’s nothing like fair trade organic cotton on your booty to make you feel great.
Based in Martinborough, Wairarapa, Thunderpants uses fair trade organic cotton grown in India and processed to strict SKAL standards (International Standards for Sustainable Textile Production) that is now aligned with GOTS. The fabric is then brought to NZ and knitted in Levin, printed in Auckland using water based inks and dyes, and sewn in Carterton.
Like the above brands, the production cycle is incredibly transparent, traceable and controlled for quality, ethical and sustainable standards.
But it’s not only fun undies (say that a few times), but camis, swimwear, socks and kids clothing all with the distinctive confident and quirky Thunderpants style.
Apart from shoes you are pretty much covered when it comes to ethical New Zealand fashion with these five fantastic brands. But don’t go on a shopping spree. Choose wisely, and make it last. More about keeping a sustainable wardrobe in next month’s sustainable fashion blog.