One of the most popular segments at this year’s Fashion Exposed was the [eco]logical Evolution seminar series. Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia (TFIA) in partnership with Sustainable Fashion Australia brought together a leading line-up of local industry thinkers, graduates and designers for a three-day sustainability workshop including Melbourne fashion icon, Karen Webster and award-winning retailer and Premiere boutique trade show exhibitor 3Fish.
The seminars showcased successful and compelling case studies for current sustainable business models in the textile, clothing and footwear sector, with emphasis on holistic business, sustainability and transparency.
But what exactly is sustainable fashion? Why is it so important to consider `fair trade’ and `ethical values’ when choosing our clothes? and what does this mean?
We asked 3Fish founder, Natalie Dillon to explain.
Why is it so essential for people to think of their clothing in an ethical framework? What does this mean?
The time has come for all of us to take responsibility for the end results of our demand. Every single dollar we spend has the power to create global change. It is no longer acceptable for example to say “o but I didn’t realise…that by buying that brand of coffee I was buying into child slavery”. There is by far and away sufficient main stream media for reasonable, everyday people to realise that these issues exist, and the money they hand over in their latest favourite boutique creates the market for questionable business practices.
An ethical framework is really just jargon for being informed about the product you are purchasing, what it is made from, who made it, and how it came to you. It is a seemingly simple proposition that in reality is incredibly far-reaching.
Sustainability has become a cool buzzword for many brands now, what does it take to actually be labelled as sustainable? Why is this so important?
Sustainability is an extraordinarily broad term. Certainly choosing to use a Keep Cup and recycling your waste is a great way to start but there is so many other things we as a society can and should be doing. It is just unacceptable to be using the planets resources at the rate we are at the moment.
We believe there is a rising awareness of sustainability that consumers, given equal or similar alternatives within a price range, that a growing number will choose the more sustainable alternative. So yes, there is a commercial imperative.
At the end of the day, as a business owner, other than fulfilling all my creative and commercial goals, I want to know that beyond producing a garment that does no harm, I want to produce a garment that does good; that provides sustainable livelihoods for everyone involved in creating our products. I actually believe that more and more companies are shifting to a far more active corporate social responsible position. And that is definitely a good thing!
Most people hear and see the term free/fair trade on many of their clothing and food products now, but what does this actually mean? How are they helping by actively purchasing these products?
We are definitely seeing rapidly rising awareness of the fairtrade mark. There was a significant jump when Cadbury chose to certify their Dairy Milk chocolate fairtrade. Australia is behind the UK and Europe, but catching on fast.
Fairtrade is an international system of certifying the different stages of supply chains. In our case with cotton, for our garments to bear the fairtrade logo, everyone from the cotton farmers to the ginners, spinners, dye-house, and cut, make and trim facilities must be fairtrade certified.
Fairtrade has an extensive list of credentials that all elements of the supply chain must meet, and these cover off everything from working, pay and healthcare conditions, to minimum age requirements, equality between genders and discrimination.
It is also rigorous in establishing a minimum guaranteed price per kilo of product to the farmer. This floor price guarantees small scale farmers in developing countries a fair price for their crop. As of today, an estimated 500,000 people in developing countries have benefited directly from fairtrade cotton. 3Fish as a Fairtrade cotton licensee and a key driver of fairtrade cotton sales in Australia over the past 3 years has contributed to this number.
Our findings, on the ground in India show that:
• Women are employed equally throughout our supply chain, including the widows in central Maharashtra who have taken over the family farm, of those men who committed suicide as a result of being caught in the “Conventional Cotton Trap” ;
• Children, including girls attain an education. And when we invest in girls, we have the best chance of halting intergenerational poverty in its tracks:
• An educated woman has healthier and fewer children and they are more likely to go to school;
• A woman or girl will reinvest 90% of her income into her family
• Organic cotton farming methods create healthier soils, healthier families, healthier communities;
• Hideous disease and genetic mutation often associated with conventional cotton farming is avoided.
We would like to think that every garment we sell, with the reduction of chemical pesticides, insecticides, dyes and inks, that not only has it created healthier lives for the people who grew the cotton, and made our garments, is a far healthier option for the people who wear them.
You are now the fastest growing fair trade company in Woodend, how does this feel?
Every time we hear ourselves referred to 3Fish in this manner it makes us smile. Woodend is pretty small! It was our way of laughing at ourselves and this crazy journey we are on! We have found Woodend to be a perfect place for us and our business and we actually highlighted this in our submission to the United Nations World Environment Day awards and the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability awards!
So, for the fastest growing ethical clothing company in Woodend, we are pleased that by being based in Woodend from a sustainability perspective we have been able to:
• base our office 5 minutes from home! (around the corner from school & kinder)
• use the incredibly talented pool of local (ie Macedon Ranges preferably, and otherwise Victorian) businesses and talent for our outsourcing requirements including printers, designers, photographers, stylists etc.
• chose the location of our 3rd party warehouse provider based on their proximity to Tullamarine aiport, and Melbourne, the freeways and Woodend.
• do our photo shoots locally around Woodend
• Marty (co-founder) rides to work one day a week, whenever possible!
• Consolidate our client meetings on one or two days a week
• Keep domestic travel and international travel to a minimum, only going to India when our production requires it, and offset it when we do.
We make technology work pretty hard for us, and interestingly many of our city-based clients know that we try to minimise our trips to Melbourne and so make time to see us on the days we are in Melbourne! Ultimately we have clients all over Australia, and indeed the world, so technology is an important business enabler for us.
What we love about living in Newham and Woodend is that in the vein of “it takes a village to raise a child”, our kids learn to live sustainably not as a “bolt-on” to their lives but as a constant thread in every day. It’s being part of the local landcare group, the tree planting, the frogs, the snakes, the seedsaving, the Woodend Children’s Garden, the Primary School Seasonal Feasts, making billy carts from the bounty at the transfer station, climbing trees and rolling in the mud. It’s a far greater connectedness to the land, the broader environment and our community than we could have ever imagined or hoped for….it is pretty idyllic, and it is so incredibly inspiring.
How do you ensure your products are sweatshop free? Have you visited some of these sweatshops, what are the conditions like?
Marty and I traveled extensively in developing countries in our pre-children days. Much of this travel informed and galvanised us in wanting to do more. Marty has traveled extensively through China, Bangladesh and India and witnessed firsthand the effects of child slavery, bonded labour and terrible working conditions. One cannot bear witness to these and do nothing. And the time has come for shoppers on high streets, and in our shopping mall monoliths to take their head out of the sand and understand that if you are paying $10 for a tee shirt on the streets of Australia, the likelihood that a child has been involved, or people have not been paid remotely fairly somewhere along the supply chain is high. In actuality, the end price of the garment does not preclude child labour or sweatshop conditions.
As we speak, hideously toxic chemical-drenched cotton is being harvested by children in forced labour camps in Uzbekistan. Some of this cotton will find its way to sweatshops in China, Bangladesh and India to be made into the garments we covet so dearly.
3Fish ensures that our garments are sweatshop free by embracing the fair trade ethos throughout our supply chain. After extensive research, including walking our supply chain to the absolute source and meeting the farmers who grow our cotton on the cotton fields of central Maharashtra, we selected India as the location to source our organic cotton because India is the perfect environment to grow cotton.
Our organic cotton is 75% rain-fed by the monsoonal rains of India, which is the largest rain event on earth, and handpicked. We also selected India as our manufacturing base as we could achieve all our fair trade, and organic cotton certifications in service providers, who are also able to meet our quality specifications in closer proximity to the cotton fields, limiting the movement of our product, and thereby making achievement of carbon neutral status more commercially viable.
How can shoppers ensure they are buying a sweatshop free product if they don’t promote it as a brand? What symbols or signs can we look out for to ensure we aren’t supporting unethical practice?
In short, if a product does not bear any 3rd party accreditation it is very difficult to be sure that you are not buying into unethical practices.
Of course some 3rd party accreditation’s are better, broader, more rigorous and more encompassing than others, and as a shopper I do tend to inform myself of the detail that sits in behind claims or accreditation’s. I don’t tend to believe random claims unless they are supported by accreditation, and in terms of accreditation I look for robust systems of assessment, review and transparency along a supply chain.
I have a deep sense of trust in the fair trade mark, and the Australian certified organic mark, both of which we selected to certify our supply chain…. and I look for these marks when I am shopping for myself and my family.
You now help to continue the ethical supply chain with private label, offering fair trade certified organic cotton apparel, accessories and home wares to brands wishing to incorporate this into their line – how successful has this initiative been? Can you mention brands that have come on board?
Through our private label service we provide production management for other brands, enabling them to leverage our ethical supply chain.
In 2010 we partnered with Mambo Europe to produce their first range for European distribution. We also produced the Tour merchandise for John Butler Trio’s April Uprising tour of 2010.
We are also thrilled to report that we are managing the production for a very new label called Alas, established this year by 2 young local designers who are in the process of launching their first range. It is very early days, however they have just won the Innovation Awards Pure Spirit Award, run by the Ethical Fashion Forum based in London and PURE trade show and will be featured and showing at UK’s largest trade show Pure in early August.
We thoroughly enjoy working with brands who bring fabulous creativity with a strong commitment to production ethics toward developing a strong and ongoing team-working partnership.
Is there any other company news you wish to share?
We are thrilled to report that 3Fish has recently won two major awards: the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Awards and the Sustainability Leadership for SME’s award at the United Nations Association of Australia’s World Environment Day Awards both in the SME category.
The Premier’s Sustainability Awards highlights the role leadership, creativity and innovation plays in forging a future of sustainable energy and resource use for Victoria. The Small Business Category which we won recognises the achievements of small businesses in adopting and implementing sustainability principles to reduce their environmental impact.
The United Nations World Environment Day Award, WSP Lincolne Scott Sustainability Leadership Award, was awarded for environmental, social and commercial best practice program for a small business, employing less than 500 employees.
“The United Nations World Environment Day Awards and the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Awards help us shed light on the environmental and social tragedy that is the growth and production of conventional cotton garments, and the massive difference that organic cotton farming and fair trade practices can make to environmental sustainability and the eradication of extreme poverty” says Marty Dillon, 3Fish Founder.
“We hope that through the profile of these awards, more and more personal shoppers, big and small businesses, governments, retailers, bands, not-for profit organisations will realise that they have ethical, commercially priced garment options available to them right now, and that every dollar they spend can create change in the world” says Natalie Dillon, Co-Founder.