Thursday, 1 February 2018

I'm only 33% ethical: the first month of my Wardrobe Diary

Since 1st January 2018 I’ve been keeping a Wardrobe Diary, to get a better idea of whether I’m actually wearing all my clothes or whether I could downsize a bit, and to help me plan future purchases. 

This month, I’ve been working out what sort of information I want to collect and focus on, as well as looking at where my clothes were made and what my ratio of new to secondhand purchases is. I also used the ratings given to clothing brands by Ethical Consumer magazine to assess a week’s worth of outfits and to learn more about the rationale behind these ratings, and what high street brands can do to improve.

At the start of Week 1, I was away on a short holiday, so I’d packed mix-and-match knits and cosy layers so I wouldn’t have to think too much about what I was wearing. I started off recording quite a lot of information, but soon realised that this would be far too time-consuming to do on a daily basis, and I’d need to focus on a particular piece of information each week.

Thinking carefully about what I was wearing every day made me realise I was probably washing outer layers like jumpers far too often, so when I returned from my holiday I planned outfits around clothes I’d already worn that week which weren’t quite ready for a wash. I also made an effort to wear clothes I hadn’t worn for a while, and discovered that a dress I’d ignored for a year was a great addition to my work wardrobe!

For Week 2, I looked at the labels in my clothes to see where they were manufactured, and was quite surprised by the results. I had expected several items from China, India and Bangladesh, but hadn’t expected to find items from Tunisia, Morocco and Romania. The only pieces of clothing made in the UK were either vintage, or made by very new start-ups (or in one case, made by me!). 

I don’t have a problem with fashion being a global industry, and I wouldn’t presume to tell people where they should or shouldn’t work, but I do think that as western consumers we should take a bit more notice when low prices for us come at a huge cost to others. As someone who is paid a good wage and has the freedom to join a union, it is my responsibility to stand with garment workers when they speak out about punishingly long hours or health and safety concerns. Next month, when I look at who made my clothes, I’ll be thinking of ways I can support them.

I kept a record of whether my clothes were new or secondhand for Week 3, trying not to have this in mind when I was planning outfits. I wanted this to be an assessment of an average week, not an attempt to wear as many secondhand clothes as possible (although I might try this as a challenge one week!). The percentage of secondhand clothes I wore was fairly low- only 9 out of 51 items, or 18%. I wonder if this percentage will grow as the weather gets warmer, and I’m not wearing so many base layers (which I don’t buy secondhand)?

As I had been gifted an Ethical Consumer Magazine subscription, which allows me to access their product guides and ratings tables, I used their table of High Street brands to give my outfits an ethical rating for a week. Their ratings system (each brand is given a mark out of 20) takes into account a company’s treatment of workers, animals and the environment, as well as any political affiliations. If you’re interested in finding out more about their ratings system, and the complex international supply chains that they track in order to give an accurate score, I’d highly recommend getting hold of a copy of their September/October 2017 magazine (issue 168). 

I tried to wear mostly brands that were featured on this list for the week, which alerted me to notable exceptions. Brands owned by the former Aurora group - Warehouse, Oasis and Coast, among others - were not featured, nor were River Island or Jaeger. I was dismayed (but perhaps not surprised) by how low a lot of reputable brands scored. It was encouraging to see that ethical initiatives like H&M’s conscious collection merit a higher rating, but it still doesn’t bring them in line with brands that market themselves specifically as ethical. Jersey basics from Thought gain a score of 14.5 out of 20, while a vest top from H&M’s conscious collection would only score 8.5.

My average outfit was only 33% ethical, or scored 6.5 or 7 out of 20. My highest score was given a boost when I wore my Thought leggings; wearing underwear and knitwear from Marks and Spencer contributed to my lowest score.

There are now several resources that help consumers analyse how ethical their wardrobes are: the Not My Style app gives a red, amber or green rating to high street brands, and Fashion Revolution's transparency index rates brands on how much information they reveal about their supply chain. I’m planning to review another week’s worth of outfits according to these different criteria to see what else I can learn.

Other weekly assessments will focus on plastics vs natural fibres, an in-depth look at laundry, and how easy it would be to recycle my wardrobe using current technology, as well as some fun outfit challenges. I’m planning to repeat a 13 week series of weekly observations four times, to see how the changing seasons affect my clothing choices.

If you want to suggest an outfit challenge, leave me a comment or say hi over on Twitter!

No comments:

Post a Comment