The Rise and Rise of Sustainable AND Ethical Apparel - Image Magazine


Feature Articles

The Rise and Rise of Sustainable AND Ethical Apparel

The Rise and Rise of Sustainable AND Ethical Apparel

With the purchasing power of Gen Z and Millenials on the increase, the one thing we do know is that their consumption is becoming more values-driven. You only have to look at the heightened awareness around eliminating single-use plastic that has not only resulted in fundamental changes to choices we make in our day to day lives but has also driven legislative changes.

One area that has yet to become as mainstream is people's conscious decision to buy clothing that has been made using ethical and sustainable practices. How soon before we reach the tipping point where the bulk of consumers are as aware and focussed on ethical and sustainable apparel as they are about eliminating single-use plastic? Like single-use plastic, the current trends and the ongoing impact on the environment and society are not sustainable:

Fast Facts

  • Apparel consumption is expected to rise by 63% from 62 million tons today to 102 million tons in 2030. (Global Fashion Agenda 2017)

  • The average person buys 60% more items of clothing and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago. (Greenpeace 2017)

  • Australia is the second-largest consumers of new textiles, each person buying an average of 27kg of new textiles. (Textile Beat 2016)

  • The average Australian consumer spends $2,288 on clothing and footwear per year. (Choice 2014)

  • Impact on the environment

  • The global apparel and footwear industry accounts for 8% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, releasing four metric gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. (Quantis 2018)

  • More than 50% of the emissions from clothing production comes from three phases: dyeing and finishing (36%), yarn preparation (28%) and fibre production (15%). (Quantis 2018)

  • The fashion industry's CO2 emissions are projected to increase to nearly 2.8 billion tons per year by 2030— equivalent to the emissions of 230 million passenger vehicles driven for a year. (Global Fashion Agenda 2017)

  • Australians throw out 6 tonnes or 6,000 kgs of clothing textiles every 10 minutes (War On Waste 2017)

  • Australians dispose of 500,000 tonnes of leather and textile waste. (ABS)

  • Garment manufacturing accounts for 20% of global industrial water pollution. (World Resources Institute 2017).

  • It takes about 2,720 litres of water to produce just one cotton shirt (EJF)

Impact on Society

  • In Australia, 92% of clothes sold in Australia are imported. (Choice 2014)

  • 4% of what Australians spend on clothing goes to the wages of workers in garment factories across the globe. (Oxfam 2017)

  • Over 50% of workers within the fashion industry are not paid the minimum wage in countries like India and the Philippines. (Global Fashion Agenda 2017)

  • In Pakistan's garment sector, 87% of women are paid less than the minimum wage. (Global Fashion Agenda 2017)

  • In Australia, some garment outworkers earn as little as $7 an hour and, in some cases, as little as $4 well which is below the minimum wage of $17.49 per hour. (Choice 2014)

In June 2018 NSW became the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce Modern Slavery legislation. This was quickly followed at the federal level by the introduction of The Modern Slavery Act, which became effective on 1 January 2019. The Modern Slavery Act requires entities that are either based, or operating, in Australia, that have annual consolidated revenue of more than $100 million, to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains. This annual report, known as a ‘Modern Slavery Statement', must list the actions a company has taken to assess and address those risks, as well as gauge the quality of the company's response. This statement must be approved by the company's Board of Directors, or an equivalent, and signed by a Company Director. Once submitted, this statement will be made publicly available on a central repository known as the ‘Modern Slavery Statements Register'. It is estimated that these requirements will affect approximately 3,000 businesses according to the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report prepared by Baptist World Aid Australia.

The challenge with terminology like "Ethical" and "Sustainable" is that they can be vague. When it comes to corporate social responsibility, it is up to companies to be transparent about their policies and commitments, governance, traceability, and how they are taking demonstrable action to close gaps in terms of their impact and the environment and their impact on society. This allows you and your customers to judge for yourselves. Some of the questions we should be asking include:

  • Does the company have an ethical sourcing code? Is it public?

  • Does the code cover relevant International Labour Organization conventions: living wage, no forced or child labour, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, safe and hygienic working conditions, working hours are not excessive, no discrimination, regular employment is provided, and no harsh or inhumane treatment is allowed.

  • Does it audit its factories? How often? Are the audits independent, unannounced, and are results made public?

  • Is it aware of its fibre and textiles supply chain?

  • Are its factory locations public?

  • What global sustainability initiatives do they participate in?

  • What industry recognised independent organisations do they have certification from

As textile printers and garment decorators, we have two options, do nothing and hope that it doesn't gain momentum as quickly as single-use plastic has. Alternatively, get on the front foot and leverage it by starting conversations with your customers to raise awareness about the issue and how you address it in your business. Now more than ever through social media, you have the opportunity to increase awareness and position yourselves as having a solution. What have you got to lose? Better yet you might be able to gain some new customers!

Insights for this article were shared by Gildan Brands Australia for more information visit 

Previous Article Making it Stick! – How to select the right adhesive
Next Article Orafol - Then and Now

If you have a news story, or story about an interesting project or installation please contact

Sign up to Image Magazine Newsletter.