In just four short weeks, HowBigIsYourEco has attracted all sorts of attention from all circles… from fashion fans to media outlets. It was particularly gratifying to receive a call from Emer Diviney, the National Program Coordinator from Ethical Clothing Australia, last week. Emer told me that not a day has gone by in recent weeks without someone saying to her “have you seen HowBigIsYourEco?”. Yes, she has, and she even told me she loved what we’re doing. I may have blushed.
So when Emer offered to meet up yesterday, when she was in town (she’s a Melbournite, I’m in Sydney), I jumped at the chance. I am many things (and have been called many things), but an expert in eco-ethical issues I am not. Not yet, at least. HowBigIsYourEco is a learning experience as well as a fashion resource.
Part of that education involves speaking with folks like Emer for different perspectives on the issues facing the local fashion industry. There are many: from green concerns to grey areas. Emer’s perspective is fair pay and and conditions for workers in the industry. Ethical Clothing Australia is a joint business–union initiative, funded by the federal government and run by a not-for-profit committee which offers accreditation to labels that do the right thing and make sure their local subcontractors do as well.
Talking about exploited fashion workers usually conjures up images of vast Asian factories, when in fact there are real issues in Australia—usually with home-based workers earning as little as $3-$4/hr. Transparency in the supply chain is essential—Emer told me of a case where a designer estimated to be paying for 70 workers and was shocked to discover that in reality it was more like 300… all taking a cut of the wages of 70 people.
Emer and the ECA aren’t the door-busting, finger-waving types you might expect. Rather, they help designers trace their production trail and if any problems arise, they work together to fix it and gain accreditation. Designers are always co-operative and concerned when any wrong-doings come to their attention.
“If we start shooting down people who are doing small things, we can’t move forward,” Emer says. This is a sentiment I completely endorse. There is little point in castigating people for not being perfect. Building on the positives that are happening in the industry is very much the ethos of HowBigIsYourEco. Give credit where credit is due and help where it is needed.
Two labels that have ECA accreditation are particularly interesting: designer Collette Dinnigan and retail chain Cue, which makes about 75% of their range here and, according to Emer, are very supportive of the local industry. She also reeled off about half a dozen labels that are close to achieving accreditation which I’m not at liberty to reveal yet, but they are of the same calibre as Collette and Cue: very high profile and so desirable.
A few facts to stew on:
- By 2011 the market for healthy and sustainable products will be $27 billion dollars
- Most garment tags contain PVC. No harm to the wearer, but quite dire for the worker making tonnes of the things
- The reason most HowBigIsYourEco designers produce knitwear abroad is that there are few machines left here. None capable of large volumes
- Moving one tonne of garments 100kms emits 1.5kg of CO2 by ship, 2.1kg by rail and 143kg by air
- 80% of a garment’s energy use over its lifetime is in care
The last point is especially startling. Its all very well expecting big, clever things from designers, but some small, simple things are needed on our part. Looks like I’ll have to break up with my tumble dryer.
NOTE: ECA is my acronym, not theirs. Put it down to lazy typing.
- Ethics rule at RAFW
- Matt muses: Future fashion
- Matt muses: the green runway
- Matt Muses: Retail madness
- Matt muses… front row at RAFW