Keep Boutique

Ethical clothing and how to make your mark

As environmental concern seeps into the public psyche, we take a look at how the fashion industry can be a vehicle for change

Fast and throwaway fashion is showing little sign of abating, but the true cost of the clothing on our backs isn’t always the figure displayed on the price tag, often coming at an environmental and ethical price. Toxic textile dyes spill into rivers and pollutes water, cheap fabrics like polyester – derived from fossil fuels – contribute to global warming, all the while shedding microfibers that add to the increasing level of plastic in our oceans every time it’s put through a wash.

Bargain buys can also come at the expense of labourers who often work in dangerous conditions, for low wages, and without basic human rights – a fact epitomised by the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza Factory in 2013, which killed more than 1,200 people in Bangladesh. Inevitably, an ever-increasing number of consumers are calling out the fashion industry.

Wardrobe warriors 

Bucking this trend are ethical brands that ensure quality and safeguard workers. One firm starting from the bottom up is the Good On You app, which launched to help consumers make more informed fashion choices. The app pulls information from more than 50 global standards and certifications, and rates a brand’s impact on people, the planet and animals, with the ultimate aim to influence a shopper’s final decision at the checkout.

“The right to know is a fundamental consumer right – and knowing how a brand impacts on the issues we care about is essential to allow us to assert that right,” founder Gordon Renouf explains. “Our vision is for a world where consumer choices drive brands to be sustainable and fair.”

So education is power, but Gordon also advises those keen to transform their wardrobe to take a considered approach to shopping. “Stop, take a breath and ask yourself if you truly need something before you buy. If the answer is ‘yes’ then, as Vivienne Westwood would say ‘buy less, choose well and make it last.’”

Keep Boutique

Keeping it local 

With an estimated £140 million items of clothing ending up in landfill each year, fast fashion is breeding a worrying disposable attitude to clothing, which ethical brands hope to change.

In 2017, lawyer Jennifer Ison started her
own premium clothing brand in Wimbledon, Jennifer Anne, which offers petite women more choice in what they wear. It is a carefully curated and considered collection, with high quality pieces – produced from materials like 100 per cent superfine Merino wool woven in Yorkshire – that are made to last – the antithesis of fast fashion throwaway.

“With fashion there is a pressure of having something new, but Jennifer Anne is not fast fashion, it’s high quality clothing,” Jennifer explains. “Our collection is an excellent resource for petite customers who are looking to put together a capsule wardrobe of clothes that complement each other and enables them to own fewer pieces of clothing.”

Jennifer Anne’s packaging is also 100 per cent recyclable, and clothes are manufactured locally, in Wimbledon, meaning the whole process is transparent. “The production is local and fair,” Jennifer explains. “I am able to pop in to our local manufacturing studio and feel comfortable with the working environment there for the staff.”

With an estimated £140 million items of clothing ending up in landfill each year, fast fashion is breeding a worrying disposable attitude to clothing, which ethical brands hope to change.

People Tree

Kate Richards, owner of the Brixton-based stylish and ethical clothing shop, The Keep Boutique, also encourages consumers to consider the real price of what they are buying. “We should be asking how can this support an entire chain of people involved in its creation? Does the pay translate into what we would deem acceptable for ourselves? Can we be assured that child labourers were not involved?” Kate says.

Among Kate’s favourite brands are London-based Gung Ho, with 100 per cent organic fabrics and thoroughly researched dyes, as well as Quazi Design, which sees the potential of craftsmanship as a vital economic sector for Africa, with each item handmade by women from Swaziland, all employed on a full-time basis.

Designer intention

It’s not just smaller labels pioneering the ethical approach to fashion either – Stella McCartney’s eponymous brand helped kickstart the conversation in 2001 with her eco-friendly label that uses no leather, fur or PVC.

Kate advises that those keen to embrace ethical fashion decide carefully what suits them: “Look back at all the things that you’ve kept and still wear to see if there’s a common theme. Also, don’t buy on impulse.”

Jennifer agrees, advising buying carefully, with consideration is good for your style, and the world: “Buy better and less often, go for quality and sort out your wardrobe.”