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When Harry Met ... Laura?

Posted on 23 May 2019

 by Laura McCluskey

Here’s one for you:
Q. What does ethical fashion and Harry Potter have in common?
A. They both started off, for me, with Emma Watson.

My interest in ethical fashion began with my all-encompassing admiration for Emma Watson. Not only did she play Hermione – an unapologetic teacher’s pet (something that really resonated with 11-year old me), but she grew up to be a considerate, educated, and exceptional young person; demonstrating that ‘celebrity’ can most definitely be a powerful force for good.

IMAGE Harry Potter and ethical fashion
I had been following Emma on Instagram for quite a while, so I was aware that she had started posting more and more about sustainable fashion, even creating a separate account, The Press Tour to showcase the ethically sourced pieces she wears to events. When she invited her followers to do the ’30 Wears Challenge’ an idea promoted by Livia Firth of the doco The True Cost, it was the first time I properly looked at my wardrobe and realised how many items – usually dresses I bought for specific occasions, but also some shirts and skirts – that I had only worn a handful of times. What a waste – of my money, of the garment, and also, of the maker’s time. The next time I went shopping and saw something I liked, I reminded myself to consider the practicality of the item – would I wear this at least 30 times? Could it be dressed up/dressed down? Was the quality good, or would it start to fall apart inside 30 wears? And lastly, did I really need it? Just having this inner monologue made me return so many items to hangers and leaving with no regrets.

Laura in one of her Theo purchases!IMAGE - Laura McCluskey in Theo
SO, WHO MADE MY CLOTHES?

The next step for me was considering the background of the clothes – where had they come from? Who made them? I used to love shops like Glassons and Dotti, but walking into their stores and seeing 20 styles of the same dress on sale for $20, it made me wonder … if I’m paying $20 for this dress, what profit is the store making? The distributor? The warehouse that holds all the stock? But, most importantly, the person whose two hands put this fabric together … what’s their profit? For a $20 dress, surely not everyone in that chain can be earning a fair wage.

A creative letter to K-Mart outlines the very true cost of cheap labour



So I started Googling brands to see which, if any, allowed transparency in their supply chain – basically, which companies were willing to say where the clothes they sell are made, and by whom? Thankfully, I am not the first person to go down this path, so some of the really hard work has already been done; there are a bunch of blogs and websites that specifically research large and small brands to track their supply chain, and certify if they meet acceptable ethical standards.

A really handy app I use is Good On You, which has a huge catalogue of local and international brands. They rate brands based on their impact on people (policies and practices ranging from fair wages to child labour), the planet (energy use, waste disposal, and if harmful chemicals are involved), and animals (harming animals – endangered or otherwise – or refusing to reveal the sources of their fur/wool/feathers/leather).
I discovered some really discouraging stuff about a lot of major brands; big names like Bonds, Dotti, Glassons, Sportsgirl – most of the shops you see as you walk down the fashion strip of shopping centres – either don’t provide crucial information about how their clothing is sourced, or they have been outed for using materials and chemicals that are damaging to the environment.

IMAGE-leatherwork

THE TOUGH STUFF
I’m not going to lie – shopping through an ethical lens can be hard. Finding brands that are 100% committed to slow, sustainable fashion can be tricky, especially when big brands (H&M, Zara, Showpo, and Boohoo) use greenwashing to manipulate buyers into thinking they’re making ethical choices. It’s especially hard to resist when their clothes are on-trend, heavily marketed in beautiful, glossy
campaigns, and cheap as hell.
That’s the next struggle – the cost. Shopping ethically is expensive to most people, including myself. I don’t begrudge that inflated cost because I know that it means everyone in the supply chain is being fairly reimbursed for their work. But when you’ve got an ethically-made plain white tee priced at $50, and an identical $5 version from Cotton On, it’s definitely tougher to make a conscious choice.

Laura in a thrifted outfitIMAGE - Laura McCluskey

About those plain white tees … slow fashion brands are full of them. And tunic dresses. And boxy shapes. And neutral tones. Don’t get me wrong – I like all of those things. But I definitely struggle to find ethical pieces that suit my personality and individual style. I want patterns, and colours! I want edgy cut-outs, and dresses that are slinky, sexy, and fitted to my shape! I know that keeping designs simple means they have more longevity, as patterns and cuts can fall in and out of style, but sometimes I want something cute and flirty to wear out and about, and that’s not always an option when you’re choosing to buy consciously.

HONESTLY, THOUGH
Since starting this journey, I shop way less – so when I do buy something, I don’t mind spending a little extra money on it. I also shop at op shops, charity shops, and Savers – buying clothes second-hand is a great way to recycle fashion, and avoid contributing to the profits of big brands. IT IS ALSO CHEAP. I am planning to learn how to alter, and make my own clothes, so I can whip up something I really
want, but may not be able to find. My grandma has been altering clothes for ages, and is always our first call whenever we’ve got a costume party, so I’ll be trading a bottle of gin for sewing lessons very soon.

I don’t ever want to sound preachy on this subject – I am not the perfect example of leading an ethical lifestyle, but I am committed to trying – to letting my conscience lead my purchases, to researching and learning about this industry, and to sharing what I know with the people around me.

 IMAGE - Laura McCluskey Headshot

This post was written by Laura McCluskey, full-time writer, part-time overall-wearer and beloved member of our Theo community. Laura volunteered her writing expertise to contribute to our sustainable clothing education mission - thank you, Laura! Our individual ethical fashion journeys are wonderfully unique so I thought it useful for her to share her own experiences and acknowledge the progress it takes to develop a slower, more meaningful mindset. Be encouraged to persist in wearing your own values loudly and proudly - your impact can never be underestimated.

Want to contribute?! I love involving others who are passionate about sharing ethical fashion in their own unique voice and means. Email me at hello@theothelabel.com and let me know that you're keen to be involved in some shape or form. From guest writing blog posts, assisting photo shoots or helping out a market - this small business runs on good vibes from you as a treasured member of our community (and lots of chai, manual labour from Tim and many a frustrated cash flow system) so never underestimate your ability to contribute to a fairer future in the small things!

IMAGE Esther Sign Off

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