Millennial consumers impacted by ethical fashion report

Fast fashion is taking over our malls, with designs going from drawing board to department store in less than two weeks.

But wearing the latest threads comes at a cost, with worker exploitation and forced labour rife in the factories where our clothes are being made.

However, an industry expert says consumers do have the power to change companies' ethical practices by educating themselves about where their clothes come from.

AUT industrial design and innovation lecturer Dr Amabel Hunting says young people are taking a particular interest in ethical companies.

"Consumers do care about the ethical side of fashion, but we find that millennials in particular have a high level of awareness. They are highly connected and as a result they are much more mindful of this," she told the AM Show on Wednesday.

Tearfund has just released its latest ethical fashion report which has grades 242 brands available in New Zealand, including 12 New Zealand companies:

  • Kowtow A
  • Liminal Apparel A
  • Karen Walker B+
  • Kathmandu B+
  • AS Colour B-
  • Glassons B-
  • Macpac B-
  • Ezibuy C+
  • Max C
  • The Warehouse Group C
  • Icebreaker D-
  • Farmers F

Each company is rated on their policies, their knowledge of suppliers, auditing and supplier relationships and worker empowerment.

Overall, the dozen New Zealand companies were awarded a median grade of B- which is higher than the overall average of C+.

Only seven percent of companies know where their cotton comes from (Tearfund)
Only seven percent of companies know where their cotton comes from (Tearfund)

Dr Hunting says awareness is key.

"Millenials have grown up surrounded by social media, seeing what is happening on the other side of the world, they don't believe that there should be these types of working conditions going on."

She also believes consumers really do listen to these reports and change their spending habits accordingly.

"People vote with their money, and when they vote with their money then companies do pay attention and so any of the companies that came out at the low list today, I guarantee in the next year they will be making changes because they definitely don't want to be there."

New Zealand fashion label Glassons is a perfect example of how change can be made. In the 2015 ethical fashion report, the label landed the worst possible F rating. Over the past two years, they have made changes to their business and now boast a B- rating.

Since 2013, there has been a 30 percent improvement in companies tracing second tier suppliers, while 45 percent of companies trace raw materials suppliers. However, just 7 percent of companies know where their cotton is coming from.

Dr Hunting says the difference to consumers is miniscule compared to the difference made to workers.

"Five years ago there was the garment factory disaster and since then, in response to a lot of these ethical fashion reports, the wages have gone up 90 percent, the factory conditions have improved but they are still not fair and liveable wages.

"To have a fair, liveable wage, we are talking a 2 percent increase in the cost of a garment. So these are very small, marginal differences which make a big difference to workers lives," Dr Hunting says.

She says if you look at the future of brands, consumers are not going to care about how they market themselves, they are going to look at what companies are doing for the world.

"[Millennials say] 'If a company is not accounting for the social side and they are not accounting for the environmental impact, then that is not a brand I am interested in'.  So it's really about authenticity."

You can view the full report here