The True Cost of Clothing

Clothing ourselves is something we all have in common. Yet doing it in a way that isn’t causing harm either to the people making our clothes or the planet is proving to be increasingly difficult. In this age of fast fashion where clothing is made to be cheap and disposable, it takes a concerted effort to find clothes that are truly ethical.

Refuse, Reduce, Reuse

It is most sustainable not to buy new products at all, and instead buy from op shops, repair clothes when they need mending and simply reduce the amount of clothing we own. But if we are going to buy something new, which inevitably we will need to from time to time, it is best to buy good quality clothing that will last and from a reputable company that has proven ethical standards.

You can look for clothing made from organic materials, but that is only one part of the manufacturing process—there are the dyes used, the environmental impact of the growing process, the energy consumed during manufacturing and the disposal, not to mention the welfare of those involved in the production process from paddock to wardrobe.

 There are many things to look for in a company to see if they are truly ethical, but that can be an overwhelming task. Ethical Clothing Australia is an accreditation body that lists brands with transparent and legally compliant supply chains.

Finding the right companies

Organisations such as Good On You and Ethical Clothing Australia can help us make informed decisions about which companies we want to support. They show us which companies are ethical, what they are doing well and where they need to improve.

Good on You is an app that rates garment makers based on these three measures:


They look at the brand’s impact on workers across the supply chain. These include policies and practices on child labour, forced labour, worker safety, freedom of association (the right to join a union) and payment of a living wage. They also consider a brand’s supplier relationships and auditing practices.


They consider each brand’s resource use and disposal, energy use and carbon emissions, impacts on water, as well as chemical use and disposal.


They identify the use of fur, angora, down feather, shearling, karakul and exotic animal skin and hair. They also consider how wool is grown and whether and how the brand uses leather.

Changing your buying habits

If you are buying new, search out clothes that have been made to last, produced ethically and if possible produced locally. And value what you already have—take pride in and care for your clothing by repairing or repurposing it. Wear your permaculture ethics (earth care, people care and fair share) on your sleeve.

6 of our favourite ethical brands

ZoeO the Label is a fashion design studio based in Pambula in coastal NSW. 

They create sustainable, ethical and functional pieces that are made in Australia using natural and earth friendly fibres such as linen, organic cotton, merino wool and denim.

They incorporate design techniques that eliminates textile waste. They ensure that the hands that manufacture their clothes have great working conditions and are paid well.

Lonely Kids Club in Sydney

make t-shirts, pyjamas, shirts and jumpers with limited edition art prints. They are sweatshop-free and not mass produced, so their unique print runs of fabric are usually one-offs. Mental health awareness is one of their passion projects, as is keeping quality garment manufacture alive in Australia.


are an ethical family-owned and operated company from New Zealand. They make underpants and other products (such as bags and aprons) from certified fair trade organic cotton. Every aspect of production (from how the fabric is made and the clothes sewn) is traceable, tested and controlled for quality. Their designs are cheeky and bright, and they even have a colour-in undie range which is pretty fun.

Vege Threads

is based in Northcote, Melbourne and makes clothing for men and women. Their swimwear comes from recycled bottles, and their eco credentials extend to donating 1% of their profits to environmental projects and NFPs. They’re also producing the garments in Australia in a sweatshop-free manufacturing process.

Vege Threads use Australian certified organic dyes and plant-based dyes as well as Woolmark certified wool and organic cotton and hemp.


is a French footwear company who produce shoes made of upcycled plastic bottles and fish leather (an agricultural waste product). Their website shows you exactly where they source their materials, how much people get paid and where they live. They don’t advertise either, so even though their shoes cost five times more to produce, they sell for the same price as a similar shoe because there’s no ad budget.

The Social Outfit

in Newtown, Sydney are an accredited social enterprise creating super fun prints and good quality items that you can keep until you’re a granny. They support refugee communities to become financially empowered through training refugees and new migrants in the design, marketing, retail and production. Their team are in our featured image of this blog.

I discovered a bunch of these brands through the Good On You app. You can type in a brand you are thinking about purchasing from and they will tell you how well they rate on 3 measures – environment, people and animals – and if you don’t like what you discover they also recommend top-notch ethical brands delivering the same style of garment, shoe or accessory.

This is an excerpt from our recent article “The True Cost of Clothing” in Issue 13 of Pip Magazine. To read the whole article and the rest of the magazine, subscribe now.

Do you have a favourite ethical fashion brand? Share the love in the comments.

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