New Zealand’s first ethical clothing guide has been released

The fourth Australian Ethical Clothing Guide has just been released, and this time, thanks to Tearfund, New Zealand fashionistas are getting their own version. Amongst top international brands – including the likes of Zara and H&M – the New Zealand guide includes 12 Kiwi owned-and-operated brands and companies.

“New Zealand companies ended up with a grade of B-, the global median is C+,” explains Tearfund education advocacy manager Murray Sheard. “We were pleasantly surprised about that. New Zealand companies are not great in the transparency of their suppliers, one of the interesting things is that this was true of the Australian brands four years ago when the report started,” he says. “Since it’s been going, year on year, brands have increased their grades in this area. Kiwi companies are starting from a low bar. It’s really encouraging, we can see how companies can improve and we want to help them to do that.”

Kowtow came out on top receiving an ‘A’ –  the highest grade given to the Kiwi brands included. “We were excited when Baptist World Aid approached us to take part in the survey.The questions are very stringent and a lot of supporting evidence has to be submitted. To be given the highest grade of all New Zealand fashion businesses shows that we really are who we say we are. No green washing,” says art director and founder, Gosia Piatek. “We are proud to show that you can have a successful fashion brand without compromising on sustainability and ethics.”

The Method

“The first thing the research team does is invite companies to be part of the research, the first step is assessing information that’s publically available from each company or brand. From that we get a preliminary grade,” explains Tearfund project manager, ClaireHart. The preliminary grade is then sent through to the company and they are invited to engage further with the research. “We sit down with them and look at information that they have that’s not publically available and we come to a point where we decide on a grade that we both think really reflects the company. If a company chooses not to participate then we can only base the grade of the publically available information.”

The Grades

All companies involved are assessed across four areas: policies, knowing your suppliers, auditing and supplier relationships, and worker empowerment. The final grade is an average of all these grades. “A company might get a real spread of results,” explains Hart.Hart explains that a higher grade indicates that the company has a labour rights system that, if they are implementing it will highly reduce the risk of worker exploitation. “A lower grade means that a company is not doing these initiatives or is choosing not to disclose them.” Some companies, Hart uses Nike and The The Warehouse as examples, have great commitments to public transparency already. “If they don’t engage, but because they already have so much information out there, we can learn about them and they get quite a good grade.”

Download the report here and grab the June issue of MiNDFOOD, on sale 1 June, to read our feature on ethical fashion.



Pretty Passionate: Damaris Coulter

With an exuberant energy and a smile that lights up the room, it’s hard to imagine Damaris Coulter has ever exuded anything but graceful confidence. But Coulter, one-half of the sister duo behind Auckland’s legendary Italian dining spot, Coco’s Cantina, says her biggest lesson in life has been learning to feel good about who she is. “When I feel good about who I am, I feel well and happy, and when I’m well and happy, I feel at my fullest and most beautiful,” she says.

For Coulter, beauty stems from confidence. “I can’t rely on someone else to make me feel beautiful,” she says, turning to Bobbi Brown training manager Olivia Wild. “Beauty has to come from within.”

Self-acceptance has helped her find her feet, and Coulter admits an important part of that journey was giving up alcohol in her early twenties.“I spent the next 10 years really trying to figure out how to be happy and getting to know myself without outside feel-goods,” she says.

While Coulter once used to struggle with her quirks, these days she embraces them. “Women are complicated, we’re layered, we’re beautiful, and I’ve come to love that,” she says. “I just don’t see these things as flaws. I’m a tapestry. Who wants to be a picture-perfect tapestry? I like the colour, I like the mess, I like complexities.”


It’s not only Coulter who has had to embrace her eccentricities. For Coco’s Cantina to be as successful as it is, she and her sister Renee have had to invest a lot of time in their relationship. “We do couples counselling,” says Coulter, laughing. “It’s obviously sister counselling; we are complete opposites.”

In her own words, Renee is the lion tamer while Coulter is the lion. “We have amazing qualities that complement each other but also clash.” One of the biggest challenges Coulter faced recently was realising there could only be one chief to run the tribe. “I had to relinquish the reigns, and that was hard on the ego,” she says. “But Renee’s the chief of the tribe. That’s what she’s amazing at.”

Her honest approach seems to have rubbed off on her staff. The chefs at Coco’s all wear T-shirts emblazoned with the sister’s mantra and ethos: be kind. “It reminds us all that we’re human. We’re here on the planet for a short time but we should still be kind to people.”Coulter says that being female in the male-dominated hospitality industry isn’t without hurdles but the sisters have risen to the challenge and take an honest approach to the way they do business.“We’re open, we might even over-communicate,” she says, laughing. “But now all our chefs have this amazing ability to share ideas and critically think.”

As for a uniform for the female staff – and some daring men – Coulter says the only uniform is red lipstick. The pair realised early on that it was too hard to put people with unique styles into a uniform but they still wanted something beautiful and to make a statement.

“Coco’s became a ‘she’ when we started. It was originally going to be just Cantina but we wanted something feminine.” A bold, deep red lipstick has been the rule since day one. And now it’s Bobbi Brown’s Rich Lip Colour in Old Hollywood, and Art Stick in Harlow Red, that her staff are wearing. “It makes sense to align (with Bobbi Brown),” says Coulter. “It’s important for us to align ourselves with people and brands that are healthy, that are well.”