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ECA ACCREDITATION

ETHICAL CLOTHING AUSTRALIA

As of 2019 all our facilities are fully accredited with Ethical Clothing Australia. We wrote an article for ECA about our journey to accreditation.
When I started Good Studios in 2012, ethical and sustainable fashion was not the recognised movement it has become post-Rana Plaza.  I knew the fashion industry was problematic but believed – naively as it turned out – that I could get it right from day one. To see the ECA logo on our swing tags seven years later is an incredible triumph, but I’m more aware than ever that small labels like mine are beholden to much larger forces.
 
The road has been eye-opening and at times heartbreaking. We seldom hear about the ‘dark side’ of the local fashion industry, so I share my journey to accreditation with you in the hope that it will provide a greater awareness of the challenges faced by those trying to produce ethically in Australia. Ultimately, all of us are at the mercy of the fast fashion machine in some way.
Good Studios began as a small side project to my art-directing day job. I had no industry experience, no money, but a ton of determination. The first collections were made in Bali, in a state of delightful chaos.
 
Production in Indonesia did not go well. I learned about the lack of transparency and unethical production practices for the first time and had to walk away from my producer, along with my patterns and samples too. Over the next 18 months I worked with another Bali manufacturer, who had all their sewers in-house. I had reservations but I persevered because they would produce my small runs on my even smaller budget but I was frustrated by opaque production practices and with no power to audit them, again I walked. By now I had caught the bug, so with my expanding dreams for the label in tow, I raised just enough funds to bring my manufacturing back to Australia.
 
Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation was the goal from the beginning. I started sampling in Adelaide and immediately began to learn just how complex meeting the legal obligations within a fashion supply chain can be. Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation ensures labels understand and take responsibility for every part of their onshore manufacturing supply chain. This includes ensuring workers are getting paid fair wages and are receiving leave benefits and superannuation in accordance with the law and working in safe conditions. Ethical Clothing Australia works with the union to audit these supply chains, visiting factories or, in the case of outworkers, their homes to certify they are meeting these requirements. The large number of outworkers and the fact that too often manufacturers are ignoring their legal obligations by treating these outworkers as contractors (thus avoiding leave and superannuation requirements) makes accreditation incredibly valuable to ensure a business is meeting its legal obligations.
 
I found that outworkers could spend their whole working lives with one manufacturer only to retire with no superannuation. Some are unaware or even in fear of the laws that are there to protect them. I have learnt ‘made in Australia’ does not automatically mean fair labour and that it is our legal responsibility as labels to ensure our supply chain is compliant and our workers know their rights.
 
An example of just how complex accreditation can be; my first manufacturer in Australia worked with his wife in a facility set up out the back of his house. But as it was also his residential address, he could not be accredited unless I employed him as an outworker, and paid him and his wife full time wages, benefits and superannuation. This law is there to protect against exploitation of outworkers working for larger factories. However, as a small business in its early days, I was unfortunately not in the financial position to employ them, as I wasn’t even paying myself. Again, I had to walk away.
 
My second Australian manufacturer was a much bigger supplier. While he claimed he had been accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia before, I struggled to get him to undertake the necessary audit. When he retired, I worked with the new owner on the accreditation process – he and his wife had become like family to me and we were excited.
 
Once we started, we began to understand the scale of the task. The structure of the business he inherited was somewhat of a mess with incorrect advice from lawyers, accountants and third parties complicating things further. Some of the outworkers were nervous about all the changes so we worked tirelessly with the union to make sure they were aware of their rights as we moved the factory towards compliance. While I knew the value of accreditation, some of the factory’s other bigger clients were not on board. When they threatened to move huge production orders away from the factory, the process halted. My intention was to use a best practice approach in supporting my manufacturer through accreditation no matter what the cost or how long it took, but fast fashion had effectively taken this off the table and it was truly devastating to have no choice but to walk away. It’s this price squeezing culture that is killing the local industry.
 
Today, all the manufacturers we work with are accredited facilities which we’re so proud of. But in an industry that prizes shiny outcomes I think it’s also important to share the struggle against apathy that underpins these kinds of accomplishments. I hope that sharing my experience will help us move towards a culture where we can learn these lessons together and demand more transparency from brands. I don’t want this to be the legacy of the fashion industry and doubt many consumers do either. It is essential we all take responsibility for the clothes we wear and for the quality of life of the people who make them.


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