A Beginners Guide to Shopping Ethically

As someone who is a supporter of ethically manufactured clothing and is often promoting it, it can be hard to engage other people in it. When I talk about it most people just say ‘it’s too expensive’ or ‘too hard’ to buy. Today I’ve decided to put together a little guide on how to start shopping ethically and no, it doesn’t mean only ever spending $300+ on a dress and no, it doesn’t make you a ‘snob’

A great place to start is the Ethical Fashion Guide published annually by Baptist World Aid Australia. The report grades Australian and New Zealand companies based on 4 key factors: Policies, Knowing Suppliers, Auditing & Supplier Relationships and Worker Voice. Their website even includes a handy search bar so that you can individually search for brands to find out the grades they were given.

You can find a more detailed guide here which is a really insightful read.

Many people and pinups choose to shop for basics at ‘high-street’ stores as they can be an easy source for things like sweaters and shirts.

I choose to shop at Cotton On, who recieved an A- score this year. Over the past 5 years they have actively been working on improving their ethics as a company- and doing so publically. Scrolling down their homepage you can find a link to the Cotton On Foundation with a strong focus on trying to aid poverty in multiple countries; as well as their ethics with a full list of all of their suppliers and where they source their materials.

We all know – or should – that op shopping can be very fruitful and highly rewarding. I will forever be thrilled by my find of $6 Pinup Couture shoes from a local Opportunity for Animals and my $12 handmade 50’s style dress from Paperbag Princess. If you don’t op-shop you should, even if you don’t find the perfect piece there are often shoes and belts galore and for the price it is easy to pick something up to have altered. The downside is sometimes you can trawl these shops for days and not find anything worthwhile, which is where online shopping comes in.

Etsy and eBay can offer some tremendous bargains, if you are lucky and have the right search terms, but there are other websites to find afforable vintage. Facebook Buy/Swap/Sell pages are a goldmine for vintage and reproduction and you can often find pages dedicated to your favourite brands. If you don’t mind a bit of 80’s does 50’s then Rusty Zipper is the place to be, I highly recommend a look into their Square Dance section as there are some impeccable patio pieces! I’ve also recently discovered The Frockery which has some great finds for around $40-$50.

One of my best kept vintage shopping secrets is Vintage Martini. They stock such a large range of eras and have some really stunning and unique pieces. They also have a ‘graveyard’ section where you can find damaged garments. The above 1950’s cocktail dress and is only $45 USD, with a delicate wash and a quick hem you could have a perfect dress ready and waiting!

Next I’m going to take a look at a few brands that do vintage inspired reproductions, since these are bought new they are a little pricier but this doesn’t mean inaccessible and last very well in the long run. As someone who has been wearing the same handmade skirt about once a week for the last 5 years I can vouch for the quality and craftsmanship of these kinds of garments.

One ethical brand and affordable brand which I was introduced to through Two Lippy Ladies is Holi Boli – a manufacturer of women’s clothing from rural India. Their clothing is made from local Indian cotton and everything is designed and manufactured in-house. They also teach sewing classes to local women. Their dresses range from about $100-$140 and they can be bought from Two Lippy Ladies, or straight from the Holi Boli website, which also sells their one-off makes which are made from offcuts. I personally love the Olivia, Alice and Sachi cuts!

An instantly recognisable brand, I want to highlight Vivien of Holloway. This brand is all designed and manufactured in London under the watchful eye of Vivien. They use great quality fabrics and construction and all designs are adapted straight from traditional patterns of the 40’s and 50’s.  Though this brand is a little more expensive I’ve never met anyone disappointed with a Vivien of Holloway garment and have seen them cherished for years thanks to the quality and heart put into them.

Vixen by Micheline Pitt is a fairly new brand which has already taken the pinup/vintage scene by storm. Micheline understands glamour and comfort which were both very important to her while designing her products, not only for Vixen but also her darker line La Femme en Noir. If you have read my review of her Troublemaker Swing dress (and if not, why not?) you will already understand my love and respect for the brand. Her products are designed and manufactured in the USA. She was previously employed as a production manager and quality assurance for Pinup Girl Clothing so she understands clothing and keeps it to a well-made and high quality standard. This is another brand which isn’t cheap but the garments are definitely investment pieces. Before the summer heat really set in it wasn’t unusual for me to have worn my Troublemaker dress 2-3 times a week since I bought it.

New Zealand also have a myriad of amazing and talented local seamstresses and vintage inspired brands. I am particularly fond of deVol Clothing myself. We also have Cry Cry Cry Clothing, Rizzo, Honey L’amour, CurvyCouture, Vanessa Kelly, Mavis and Bob, Devel, Pixie Pocket, Dariel Dearlove Design and possibly a few others. All of these brands are locally owned and produce everything right here in NZ as well! I love the range we have and how every line has it’s own aesthetic, I recommend checking out any you haven’t already!

I hope this post has inspired you to try thinking more about the ethics of clothing you buy. Even just a small change like choosing to shop at Cotton On rather than Glassons makes an impact and shows them customers are thinking about these things. Checking out op-shops and Facebook groups instead of buying new also helps to slow the boom of fast fashion. There are of course many more ethical brands than I have mentioned so hunt around and find a hidden gem that not only benefits you, but also workers and the planet!

Feel free to share any of your favourites in the comments below!

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