Friday, 20 November 2015

Ask Annika - Ethical Fashion

I get a lot of emails from people around the world asking me for help or for my opinion on something. Like, a lot lot. And I often feel bad that I can't respond to every single one of them. However, this particular email is a question I'm asked frequently but often don't respond to just because of the amount of time it would take me to compose a decent response! So I thought that I would finally write that decent response and post it here, so that I can not only point future-emailers in this direction, but also so this can be a resource for people interested in ethical fashion (or really, anyone interested in fashion - #educateyourself!). The answer draws on my experiences and knowledge with ethical fashion that I've gathered over the past 2-and-a-bit years since I've been mostly wearing and only promoting ethical fashion. I hope that someone out there will find this useful! Anyway, on to the question!
Don't I look like a legitimate advice-giver? Yes, obviously, is your answer.
...I don't actually wear glasses.

Q: Hello Annika, how are you? Last week I had a heated conversation with my boyfriend (that kind of ended up in an argument...) about ethical clothing and shopping.  I told him that after watching documentaries and reading some articles I decided to avoid shopping for big brands and go to charity shops and learn to make my clothes instead. I didn't want to support the unfair treatment of the workers anymore.

What he said angered me, but at the same time made me feel a bit hopeless.
He said that nothing would change if I stopped shopping for big brands, that those workers would still be treated unfairly. He said that they're working there because a bad job is still better than no job at all in the first place, so I'm contributing to unemployment. And lastly, that if I tried to look for ethical companies, they could be easily lying about their practices.

Being vegan I know that one person can make a difference, and no matter how small, a difference in a positive direction is better than no change at all. I know that by avoiding big brands the demand for ethical clothes will be up by one person.

But I can't help feeling like this is all for nothing and living where there is literally ONE charity shop it'd be difficult for me to keep on trying... I'm also broke and ethical clothing companies are crazy expensive.

So what I'm asking is... can I help change at all? Am I contributing to unemployment? How do I know if a company is actually ethical (h&m was praised for being the most ethical clothing company of 2014 but I don't think it actually is?)? And what can I do if I don't have a lot of money?


Serious question-answering-face time.

A: Hi Rita, thank you for your email! Let's get straight into it.

You. Can. Make. A. Difference.
By choosing to not support dodgy companies, you ARE making a difference. When consumers vote with their dollars, and enough people begin to question the companies making their clothes, companies DO change. A big example is Nike. Around 2005, Nike was in the news a lot for their use of child and sweatshop labour to produce their very expensive sports shoes. Consumer pressure and outrage, along with boycotts and a significant drop in sales, forced Nike to increase wages, safety, workers rights and become much more transparent about the labour they were using. To this day, they continue to be transparent about their manufacturing processes and have continued targets to both improve conditions for their workers and sustainability in manufacturing, and face ongoing scrutiny from independent/charity organisations like Oxfam, who place ongoing pressure on Nike through their "Nikewatch". Now, Nike are still not particularly good, and I still wouldn't be comfortable buying from them, but it is an example of consumer pressure leading to rather large changes.

Lately, many more companies have also been forced to become more transparent due to consumer demand. It's sad that a massive disaster - the Rana Plaza factory collapse - was the main catalyst for much of this change, when human rights abuses have been ongoing for decades, however the scale of the disaster, allowing it to become a major media story and prominent in the consciousness of consumers in rich countries, HAS led to positive changes all over the fashion world. Companies such as H&M, Cotton On and Kmart (those last two are Australian brands) - all brands that used to be extremely nontransparent and untraceable - have become much more upfront about where their clothes are made, and have started making some moves to improve the lives of workers at every stage of supply. One of the major reasons for those changes is because consumers began to question and boycott those companies. However, they absolutely still have a long way to go, and continuing to question them is the only way they'll continue caring about these issues. Again, you vote with your dollar. (And, since you were wondering, HERE is the lowdown on H&M).

I've been trying to shop ethically for the past 2 years now, yet even in that short time I have seen a lot of change in many big companies. Companies are more transparent and the chain of supply is more traceable. But I also feel like there's a lot more smaller, ethical brands available than there were 2 years ago. Ethical fashion companies have lately been able to flourish, where they would have previously been totally excluded from the market, because more people are making more conscious decisions.

Your boyfriend's statement, that you might as well support dodgy brands because otherwise "you'll be contributing to unemployment" is, in my opinion, a really crappy worldview to have.
"Might as well buy clothes from sweatshops because getting $1 a day is better than nothing!" No.
That particular excuse leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.
After the Rana Plaza collapse, consumer demand along with protesting of workers forced standards in many Bangledesh clothing factories to be increased. Which, overall, was a positive thing for workers. However, as a result, 35 factories were also forced to close. A number of people would have lost their jobs. But - is that entirely a BAD thing? The closing of those incredibly unsafe factories potentially avoided yet another Rana Plaza disaster. It was bad that a lot of people lost their jobs, but preferable to yet another 1100 people losing their lives. Overall, pressure on companies on large scales has led to positive changes and improved the lives millions of workers, however small those improvements may have been in some places. It may seem to be happening at a frustratingly slow rate, and it's not going to change overnight. However, it is something you can help by both simply being more aware of the issues and choosing where to spend your money.

But won't boycotting/refusing to buy clothes from a particularly company actually trickle down and hurt the workers, who will be out of a job because they're no longer making your clothes?
Maybe this is where your boyfriend was coming from, and it is a complex issue, but the simple answer is - no.
Skeptical face - this is another common justification that I hear for buying from unethical companies.
If consumers choose to boycott a company, the company generally then thinks "oh, crap. We need to pay our workers more and be more transparent about our supply. " Just like in the Nike example above. And even if a worker's wages were doubled this isn't going to really hurt either the company OR the consumer, even if all the costs were passed on to consumers.
The problem arises when COMPANIES boycott particular factories. So, putting pressure on companies to pull out of particular factories or countries, like China, Bangledesh or Cambodia, is not the right way to go about fixing things because this will indeed cause massive unemployment and hurt those economies. The right way to go about this is putting pressure on companies to improve the conditions at the factories they already use or own. And yes, that can be done by letting them know why you're not shopping there. Vote with your dollars.

How do I know if a company is actually ethical?
It's true that a lot of companies have "ethical statements" on their websites or in stores, but you're totally right - these are just words. How much of them can you trust?

Well, there's actually a number of independent companies and charity organizations that look into these things, especially for bigger brands. There are quite a few resources that can help you to decide where to shop. Shop Ethical and Behind the Barcode are two Australian organisations that I use (they also have some big international brands listed. Internationally, I'm not so sure of good resources so if anybody would like to help out, that's what the comments section is for!). Also, Good On You App is a new app that you can get on your phone, to help you out while you're shopping! These organisations investigate companies and create a "grading system" based on transparency, payment of living wages, traceable suppliers and efforts to avoid or reduce slave/child labor. Where a company's items are made also gives you some indication of the ethics behind them, however just because something says "Made in Australia" or "Made in America" this doesn't immediately qualify a company as ethical. Sweatshops still exist in richer countries. There are still underpaid, overworked home-workers. Many are migrants or illegal immigrants who can't find stable and legal work, and so abuses and underpayment go unreported. Look for things which are certified organic or fair trade, or find out if clothes are being made in a factory, and where that factory is (this will give you some indication if minimum-wage standards are being enforced). Email companies. Tag them on social media posts. Make a fuss. Google the shit out of them. Do your research. This article is full of useful tips on investigating a company if you can't find out much about them online!

Oh boy, Annika's getting drunk off her advice-wine - this article has gone on for a very long time. But don't worry - we're almost at the end!
What if I don't have a lot of money?
As you mentioned, charity shops are a good place to buy clothes from! Besides from not supporting bad manufacturing processes, you're usually supporting charities who pump the money back into the community! However, if you don't have very good charity shops in your area, don't stress - there's still plenty of other options available to you.

I've actually created an Ethical Fashion Directory for affordable-but-cute online clothing stores! Go and check those stores out!

Perusing market stalls and second-hand-sellers on places like Depop, Etsy and Ebay are also good ways to get cute clothes without giving your money to companies that you'd rather not support. And there's a LOT of people out there trying to sell their old clothes, especially in the age of online shopping!

Not all big brands are bad. Do your research. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that an Australian company I quite like, Sportsgirl, is actually pretty damn decent and so I recently bought myself a new pair of overalls and some denim shorts (both things I find difficult to make for myself). While they're slightly more expensive than similar "fast fashion" chains, the items are much better made and will last a lot longer. So really, I'm saving myself money in the long term.

This leads me to my next point, which is learning to appreciate quality over quantity. Buying a $5 shirt which will fall apart at the seams in a matter of months might save you money in the short term, but won't save you in the long term. You're much better off purchasing quality items that will last, instead of having to buy new clothes every couple of months and throw out your old ones, because they're not even good enough to donate to charity stores. It's both better for your wallet and better for the planet.

You can, of course, make your own clothes and learn how to repair clothes to extend their lives. And, of course, my youtube channel exists (along with thousands of other tutorials on the internet) to help you to learn how to do that! ;)

And remember, moral absolutism in any form is not really achievable. Most people cannot ensure that everything they wear is 100% percent ethical, and that's okay. Don't beat yourself up about it. Not everybody is going to be ABLE to purchase ALL of their clothing from ethical brands, either due to costs, limited accessibility or time constraints. You don't HAVE to cut yourself off from cheap fashion entirely - some things are really hard to find secondhand, cheap & ethical, or to make for yourself such as handbags, backpacks, shoes, socks and bras. And as you said, a small change in a positive direction is better than no change at all! You'll probably also even inspire the people around you to make more conscious decisions as well, which will have a knock-on effect of causing more companies to care about these issues - so the effect will be larger than you think!

All the best - keep questioning the world around you and keep being awesome!


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Sunday, 8 November 2015

DIY Heart Cutout Top!

How to make your very own heart-cutout shirt (or any other item of clothing!)

Difficulty Level: Total beginner
Time to Finish: 10-20 minutes

I wanted this tutorial to be a really quick & simple way to upcycle/cute-ify your clothing. Both because beginners will find it easy to do, and also because I have exams to study for and couldn't spend all day sewing ;__; (Wish me luck!)
 You can sew around the edges of the resulting cutout if you want extra durability - but it's not necessary! The heart will hold its shape thanks to the interfacing behind it.
ps I don't 100% recommend using velveteen/napped fabrics like I did, just because the velveteen gets a little bit crushed & you end up with an outline of where you ironed! It's not *super* noticeable but if I do this again I'll be using non-nap fabrics (so like everything that isn't velvet, corduroy, suede etc) instead. T-shirt (jersey) material will work really well - just make sure that it's stretchy and won't fray!


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Thursday, 29 October 2015

Making A Square Circle Skirt?? | Make Thrift Buy #27

Hello! Today I learned how to make a square circle skirt. Which sounds totally nonsensical. But I promise - it's actually a thing!

Enjoy the video! :)


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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Print All Over Me - I Have Merch!

I've been working on an upcoming collaboration video with Print All Over Me - an amaaaaazing website for designers and artists and aspiring-clothing-designers alike if you haven't heard of it already - but I just couldn't wait until the video to share some of these pieces!

The most exciting thing is that all these prints are 100% my own designs! I'm no artist, but I like to think that I have a good eye for patterns and design. I also tried my hand at pixel art, and I'm actually really pleased with the resulting designs!

I also receive a 20% commission for anything that you purchase (or 40% store credit, which I think I will be using at least a little bit...) which will help me out a LOT since I decided that Youtube is now my job... (oh hey! I don't think I've mentioned that on my blog before! Youtube is now my part-time job! Haha. Along with becoming a scientist, which I am still 100% doing so don't worry about that).

Also, all the clothing is ethically manufactured! Which is why it's a little bit pricey but hey, slow fashion = good quality that'll last for ages & peace of mind!

You can check out all of my designs here, but right now I'm going to show you a selection of my favourites. I've also tried to give the collections some pun-derful names, so make sure you click on them to see what I've named each collection (and have a good groan too, because they're pretty awful puns haha).

If you like any of these designs and want to a) support me & b) adorn your body with some beautiful stuff, then please consider purchasing some of these items! And you can check out ALL of my designs here.

If there's a design you want on a different piece of clothing that I don't have, just let me know and I'll make it just for you. ALSO ALSO if you want any of these in fabrics, there's 23 different fabric types that I can use for these prints, so just leave me a comment/email me, and I'll make it up just for you!

Have a beautiful day - I'm working on a new make thrift buy video right now, which will hopefully be up on Youtube by tonight tomorrow! Woo hoo!


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Wednesday, 21 October 2015

I am declaring myself the thrifting queen...

...because I obtained this Pin Up Girl Clothing dress secondhand for $5. In exactly my size. This is the original that retails for $108.

There's a lot to be said for jumping off your bus in the middle of nowhere in a sleazy neighbourhood because you spotted some very hungover young adults in a sharehouse throwing a yard sale. That's exactly how I obtained this dress. I also got a cute polkadot skirt for $1 - which sadly didn't fit, but I regifted to my friend!
That's all. To be honest I'm just popping in here today to gloat. ;) 
(Also in case you were wondering, the shoes are from a shop that no longer exists.)

Hope you're all having a lovely October 21st (AKA BACK TO THE FUTURE DAY OMG).

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Saturday, 17 October 2015

DIY Bat Wing Hooded Shirt | Make Thrift Buy #26 - Halloween Edition!

Hello everybody, and I hope you're all having the spoopiest of Octobers! ;)

I'll let you in on a secret - occasionally, when I embark on some of these projects in the Make Thrift Buy series, I don't actually think I'll end up wearing what I create. And it was the same with this project. When I was planning to make this hoodie, I thought that there would be no way I'd actually wear it out and about.

Ha. I pretty much haven't taken it off since I completed it 2 days ago. It's SO comfy, and SO cute, and *just* weird enough that I've fallen completely in love with it, but not weird enough to make me scared to leave the house wearing it! I think I'm actually going to wear this year-round (well, in the colder months, at the very least!)

Here's the video! I hope you enjoy it :)


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