How to make the best ethical clothing choices (made by people not robots!)

It was announced this week that the first robot has been developed that can assemble and sew a basic item of clothing. It is claimed that this could put an end to sweatshop labour, as well as creating items quicker and at lower cost.

On first glance, this sounds like great news, but as I started to think about it more, the less I liked it!

Robots are no replacement for real people

In order for the robot to be able to pick up the limp fabrics and feed them into the sewing machine, the material needs to be temporarily stiffened. This is done using a liquid version of the thermoplastic chemical that is used in 3D printing. The chemical is then washed out of the clothing again at the end of the production line.

No mention is made of what additional processes might be needed to treat or dispose of the cleaning water. Or what impact the chemical might have on the finished garment. Neither of these sound like something that is going to lead to a healthy outcome. Not for the planet and not for the people wearing the t-shirt!

Also rather than ending sweatshop labour by improving pay and conditions for workers, this would eliminate the very jobs that they rely on. Surely this isn’t the responsible answer to how we treat those that work so hard to clothe us.

Last but not least, the focus on creating fashion items at ever decreasing speed and cost just continues to fuel the over consumption and throwaway culture that is rampant across our society.

Put like that, it begins to feel less like good news. And more like another way of increasing profits at the expense of both people and the planet.

We can all make fairer clothing choices

Clothing has always felt to me like something that you can think carefully about before making a purchase. Unlike food, or other daily consumables, there’s no need for panic buying. Grabbing the first thing you see because you’re hungry or thirsty!

As with many complex issues, there are a number of factors to consider when deciding what to buy and where from.

Ask yourself whether you’re buying from an ethical company

It’s probably fair to say that the majority of high street fashion labels are focused purely on shareholder profit at any cost. But there are alternatives. The best of these are the companies that employ the principles of Fairtrade throughout their supply chain.

These are the organisations that make people and the environment central to how they do business. As well as aiming to turn a profit, they also aim to treat their supply organisations with respect. They do this by creating long-term relationships, providing additional skills training, and paying them a fair price up front.

This in turn strengthens the communities they work with, helping them to move beyond poverty.

In addition, they often have an environmental policy that focuses on doing business in a way that minimises their impact on the world around them. This could include avoiding polluting substances and other damaging chemicals in the production process. It may also mean protecting water supplies and forests, or using recycled and recyclable materials wherever possible.

Ensure that it’s made of something you want to wear

There’s a lot that can be said about the various fabrics available today, but two of my favourites are organic cotton and hemp.

Conventional cotton farming accounts for only 2.5% of the world’s farmland. Yet it uses 10% of all chemical pesticides and 22% of all insecticides. As well as having a devastating and ever-worsening impact on the environment, these chemicals are also harmful to health, waste huge quantities of water, and lead to an upward spiral of debt for the farmers involved.

On the contrary, farming organic cotton has a massive positive impact on both people and the planet. The farmers use natural farming methods that work in harmony with the land, promoting biodiversity and protecting local water supplies. Their farms are a healthy and safe place to work. And they are able to build seed banks that don’t leave them beholden to external organisations.

Hemp is on my list because of the speed at which it grows and the minimal amount of water it requires. Both of which make it a truly sustainable choice. Added to this, it’s hypoallergenic and soft yet super strong. It’s also UV resistant and will biodegrade on the compost heap once it’s worn out. All-in-all, a great fabric!

Share your favourite brands

Two of my go-to fashion websites are People Tree and Thought Clothing. Both have great clothes that leave a tiny impact on the planet. But I’d love to hear about your favourite sustainable, ethical and Fairtrade brands. Do leave a comment below and let me know who you love. It’s always great to get new recommendations.

With love,

Angela x

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