How did your favourite clothing brand stack up in this year’s Ethical Fashion Guide?

Main image Ian Deng on Unsplash

New Zealand’s top fashion brands have come under the spotlight again. So which brands tell-all and what brands are afraid of going under the microscope?

Each year, Tearfund produces a handy shopping companion that grades around 400 brands from A+ to F.

Grades are given to companies to measure their efforts at addressing worker exploitation and environmental impact in their supply chains.

When most of the country reached level 2, shoppers flocked to the malls (within restrictions) to get their fashion fix. And those of us in Auckland, still in a level 3 lockdown, jumped onto our phones, searched up our favourite brands online and with the click of a button, we ordered our favourite pair of jeans advertised on Instagram.

But is the brand you bought ethical? Let’s find out, shall we…

Well, the good news is that five Kiwi companies made it into the top 20 of 98 companies assessed. One New Zealand company even ranked in the top four companies overall with an A+.

AS Colour, Hallensteins Glassons, Kathmandu and Macpac all received an A, with Joyya, formerly known as Freeset, receiving an A+. If you bought something online or in-store from these places, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Why did these brands score so highly?

For one, they all participated in the research. But most importantly, they scored well across all five sections for environmental sustainability, policies and governance, tracing and risk, supplier relationships and human rights monitoring and worker empowerment compared to other brands. 

What other recognisable brands also received an A? Adidas, Bras N Things, Champion, Converse, Country Road, H & M, Ice breaker, Lululemon, Athletica, Nike, Patagonia, Puma, Reebok, Rodd & Gunn, Timberland, VANS, Witchery and Zara. Kudos to these brands! 

The importance of transparency 

Some brands you can buy in New Zealand didn’t score so highly though, with Jeans West and Farmers both receiving an F. An important thing to note is neither of these brands participated in the research and didn’t have much information available publicly meaning that they were unable to be assessed properly.  For these brands, the F grade is an accurate reflection of their transparency.  

Tearfund’s Education and Advocacy Manager Claire Gray says, “Tearfund assesses all companies regardless of their engagement because the lack of transparency within fashion supply chains is why labour rights and environmental abuse take place. 

“If companies do not disclose their efforts to prevent the exploitation of workers and the planet, it is almost impossible for consumers to know if they are mitigating these risks- and that’s just not ok in 2021,” she says. 

Claire says the fashion industry has made great leaps towards transparency over the past few years. Transparency is the new standard. 

What did the report reveal overall about the fashion industry? 

The Ethical Fashion Report revealed that overall, companies were improving on the basics. Companies publishing supplier lists has increased, more companies are working to trace their raw materials (ie cotton) and more companies are using sustainable fibres. 

Photo by Johannes Pokorn on Unsplash

But Claire says significant outcomes for workers are not being achieved. 

“Paying a living wage is the most important factor in changing the lives of millions of workers, yet it is consistently the lowest performing area of the Ethical Fashion Report,” she says.


“Our research also shows that complex problems like forced labour and child labour are not being resolved. And only four per cent of companies are paying a living wage at all factories.” 

Claire says, “Fashion is an immensely lucrative industry, but the profits barely reach the worker in the supply chains. This means the people who make the clothes and their families remain trapped in poverty by a system that exploits them for profit. This has to change.” 

To make change for makers and the planet download Tearfund’s Ethical Fashion Guide here and buy from brands with good grades. 

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