The too good to be true deal?
We have spoken and brands are starting to listen! Across the fast-fashion spectrum we are starting to see a movement towards more responsible manufacturing. Or so it seems. How much of this is just too good to be true? Well, I’m investigating Best & Less Australia for their organic cotton range. If you are a E(co) Newsletter subscriber you will have seen a link to this Australian discount retailers new range of organic cotton tees earlier in the week. I’m super excited that they have noted that their customers might want toxic free goodies, but I’m going to call them out that this is not a very responsible way to sell ‘organic cotton’. Let’s examine why it’s good to look a little deeper.
Organic cotton at what cost?
If you have had a look at the link to Best & Less organic cotton tees you might be surprised to see that you can take home your very own certified organic cotton tee for $5. Seems too good to be true right? For some colours of products it is- with a note at the bottom and top of the site to state that some colours are an organic cotton blend. Further research on their website will find a fairly solid set of ethical sourcing policies and environmental notes. Giving the overall impression that the purchase of a Best & Less $5 organic cotton tee appears (on the surface) to be a not-too-shabby investment.
The real report card.
However further investigation at the Behind the Barcode report for 2017 shows that Best & Less aren’t total angels. They have an overall report card of ‘C’ but there are some questionable antics happening. For policy they get a A+ (which is reflected in their pretty gosh-darn-impressive looking Ethical Sourcing Commitment page) but you can see from the image that they aren’t making grade with their worker empowerment. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that if I were running a garment factory where I was selling my t-shirts on to be sold at $5 RRP there is a good chance I wouldn’t be spending time fussing about on worker empowerment- I would be watching the team like a hawk to make sure orders were completed in the most efficient way so we can spin some kind of profit.
What is worker empowerment?
Workers who are empowered have a voice. They are allowed to address any concerns they have about the working conditions they are presented with. Empowered workers are allowed to unite through democratic trade unions; whether collective bargaining agreements have been established; whether effective grievance mechanisms are in place; whether workers are receiving a living wage so they can support their families; a brand’s efforts in moving towards paying living wage
This is an important part of a more transparent fashion supply chain because it ensures that we as consumers, and designers aren’t fed a ‘green washed’ image of what we are buying. Unless brands are vigilant with auditing, knowing suppliers, and developing long-standing relationships, we rely on suppliers or middle men to give us the OK that clothing is made in an ethical or eco minded way. Worker empowerment our guarantee that those promises made by companies and suppliers are upheld. Without this it’s pretty difficult to be really sure that promises are being delivered- that a $5 organic cotton tee wasn’t made under appalling conditions.
Should I buy a tee like this?
Well as far as purchases go getting yourself a certified organic cotton tee for $5 from a supplier that gets a C grade isn’t a totally awful idea. However, there are some better options to consider before you go down this path. Here are some steps you can take before you choose to buy a Best & Less tee.
- Decide if you really need a new tee. Is this a need or are you just shopping because it’s cheap?
- Can you repurpose something you already have? Instead of spending money on a new tee because you wanted a specific colour why not dye something you own to suit. This can be a really good way to refashion items that look tired, stained or faded.
- Shop second-hand. Some of the best-most-comfy and totally delicious tees you will own are purchased secondhand. Manufacturers spend a great deal of time trying to wash, blast and treat virgin cotton to give it that ‘worn-in’ softness. Skip the middle man (and all the carbon emissions and pollutants) and buy something worn with love- not machinery.
- Borrow from a friend or loved one. T-shirts from friends and family not only have that ‘worn-in’ feel, they also have sentimental attachment.
- Save your coffee money for a month or two by BYO coffee in a keep cup. If you do this then you can afford to buy from a brand that gets an A rating. I’ve purchased from Vege Threads (pictured above) in the past and love their super soft, ethical clothing Australia certified organic tees.
Other factors to consider before you opt in for Best & Less bargains are:
- Do you think that Best & Less share your personal values?
- Do they stand for anything other than a throw-away society?
- Do you trust the certification of their cotton?
- Do you believe that they will walk their talk when it comes to meeting their Ethical Sourcing requirements?
- And finally… do you want to use your dollar to vote for brands like Best & Less over other more ethically and sustainability motivated labels?