When was the last time you stopped and thought about where your clothing came from, about the working conditions of the people who produced your seasonal attire or about the environmental impacts of how and what we buy?
What if we told you that there are 170 million children involved in child labour, most of which are in the apparel industry. Would it make you think twice about how clothing is so mindlessly consumed?
One company, Mighty Good, is seeking to change all that with their responsible, ethical and environmentally sustainable new underwear line.
Elena Antoniou and Hannah Parris joined forces to combine their industry knowledge and appreciation for Fairtrade cotton, starting Mighty Good to empower consumers to make better choices.
We sat down with the founders to talk ethical fashion and find out how we too can make a difference.
How important is it that people know the value of ethical and sustainable consumerism?
These days most people realise that what we buy and consume has an impact on the environment — but oftentimes they don’t realise it is much bigger than they think, or that our clothes have a social impact as well.
Cotton is a great example of this. Most people think it is a ‘natural’ fibre — and it is — but it has an enormous environmental and social impact.
What do you think is the most important message of ‘Mighty Good Undies’?
How you spend your money is a vote on what kind of world you want to live in. You are powerful, you can do something, no matter how small. Making ethical purchases is one thing you can do and it makes a big difference.
How did the brand start? Where did you first come up with the idea?
The brand started as a collaboration between Dr Hannah Parris, an activist, academic and business owner and Elena Antoniou a PR specialist and entrepreneur. Our shared vision to build an accessible, quality Australian brand that was guided by ethical principles that had minimal impact on peoples, health, wellbeing and the planet.
‘Fast fashion’ has steadily replaced ethical or sustainable consumerism, what can we do to ensure we are making the best choices when it comes to purchasing items of clothing?
Starting Mighty Good Undies and learning about the industry has certainly made us re-examine our personal relationships with our own wardrobes — so we totally understand the dilemma facing people who want to break the ‘fast fashion’ habit.
We do get asked this question all the time and advise people there are four things they can do when they next thinking about buying some clothes:
- Can you buy it second hand? Or borrow it from a friend? Or, for special occasions, can you rent it? There are many ‘fashion for rent’ services available these days.
- If you must buy, then try and find labels that are compliant with an internationally recognised ethical textile standard. Our favourite labels include Audrey Blue, Alas the Label, Kowtow, People Tree, Pure Pod, Nudie Jeans, No Nasties, Good Society, OccApparel, Bhalo, Braintree and One Colour.
- If you don’t find anything you like from ethical brands, buy the best quality you can afford in a style that suits you and matches what you already have. That way you’ll get a lot of use from your cotton purchase. Remember to only wash in cold water and sun dry to minimise the environmental impact of your use.
- Choose the most ethical options from amongst Australian mainstream brands. Check out their ethical rating using Behind the Barcode Report found here. This report only assesses the labour standards used by labels. There is no equivalent for ranking the environmental aspects of brands but Greenpeace have tested the chemical residues found in a range of clothes. You can find that work here.
At the end of the day, people need clothing and end up buying something. But if we stick to Vivienne Westwood advice to “buy less” and “choose wisely” then that is a good guiding principle to use.
Where do you make the undies and how are the conditions of the workers different from other global manufacturers?
We produce our underwear in India using two main organisations: Chetna Organics who grows our cotton and Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills who processes the cotton and turns it into our underwear. Both a considered world leaders in ethical textile production.
Two things set apart our supply chain from others. First, the supply chain is fully certified under the Fairtrade Cotton Standard (FLO) and the Global Organic Textiles Standards (GOTS). Readers are probably family with the FLO system through their Fairtrade certified tea or coffee. GOTS does essentially the same thing, but with textiles, once the cotton leaves the farm.
What this means in practice is that we have a whole system that tracks, and documents, our supply chain from the cotton growers to the manufacturing stage to our store cupboards. Each stage is required to implement a long list of ethical labour standards and worlds best practice environmental standards and each is independently assessed by a third party NGO or expert assessor and reported against publicly available standards.
Together these two elements — transparency/traceability and high ethical practices — earned us our A+ rating in the recent Baptist World Aid Report, The 2016 Australia Fashion Report: The Truth Behind the Barcode.
How did you come across ‘The Hope Foundation’ and why is their message important to you?
Would you believe Google?
Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills is located in Kolkata — one of the poorest mega cities in India. It is an amazing city fully of beauty and culture but also poverty. The need there can be overwhelming. So we wanted to do something concrete by supporting a charity that has a track record of addressing the fundamental causes of poverty in that city.
We searched and found the Hope Foundation very quickly. We feel very lucky!
How do you hope your brand can change consumer opinion?
If our customers stop and think about how they spend their shopping dollars and re-direct them towards ethical choices, then we feel we have achieved a lot.
Simply by selling good quality underwear at a great price, the Mighty Good Undies brand will make a significant contribution to breaking down the “cost” or “quality” attitudes that currently act as barriers for customers in choosing ethical options. We back this up by generating as much information and stories as we can on ethical textiles — so that people can start to identify with the story of why their clothes are precious and why wise choices are important.
How do you hope your brand can make a difference?
By proving that certified Fairtrade and organic production is profitable, commercially scaleable and attractive to retailers and consumers. Our core philosophy for Mighty Good is definitely a ‘showing by doing’ ethos.
Once we can prove it can be done, hopefully other brands will make the switch — as they say, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery!
Say I buy a pair of undies. What does that mean to the greater good? How have I ‘helped’ in purchasing these undergarments?
The FLO and GOTS systems are important because they are a systemic re-design of the way our garments are made — so purchasing our underwear is a vote for a new type of economic system for our clothing. But that can seem a bit obtuse to most people (ed — we blame Hannah’s academic background for this!) — so it is easier to think about it in terms of our producers and their impacts.
Chetna Organics and Rajakashmi Cotton Mills invest a great deal in ensuring their operations are ethical and sustainable. By purchasing our underwear you are supporting a supply chain that:
• Pays cotton farmers a decent price for their cotton
• Invests in business and community development projects in cotton farming communities, controlled by the farmers themselves.
• Cotton production that does not use GMO technology, highly toxic chemicals and farming methods that conserve carbon and promote food security for farmers.
• Avoids the use of toxic chemicals in the cotton processing and dyeing stages
• Ensures all the processing facilities the cotton uses are safe for workers and that workers get paid a living wage.
So, what’s not to love?
To get involved with Mighty Good and contribute to their crowdfunding campaign, visit their page here.