Most of the clothes in your wardrobe weren’t made in Australia

We all want to cheapest price for our clothes, but are we ready to consider the ethics of that choice?

We all want to cheapest price for our clothes, but are we ready to consider the ethics of that choice? Someone somewhere has made that item of clothing, and it’s likely they work in poor conditions. Are you ready to think about where your clothes came from?

A quick check around the Starts at 60 office showed us that every single one of us was wearing a top, pair of pants or shoes made in China or Bangladesh. It shocked us to find not one person had something made in Australia. But that is the reality of today: demand for cheap clothes has meant even Australian brands have had to take their manufacturing overseas, where conditions can often be very bad.

A number of cases have come into mainstream media where sweatshop workers have sent messages within clothes or packaging, begging for someone to hear their plight.

Last year a woman found a note that said ‘SOS’ in the pocket, along with a message in Chinese. All referred to “sweatshop conditions” and being forced to work “exhausting hours.”

“I was really shocked when I saw the label saying it was degrading sweatshop conditions,” a woman told Wales Online.

“I used to shop a lot at [the clothes shop] but not so much now. The label has made me think about how my clothes are made”.

Consumer group Choice looked into how much our clothes cost to make and where they come from, why ethical sourcing codes and audits haven’t solved the problem, and what the major Australian brands say.

They also found that ‘Australian made’ doesn’t always mean it’s made ethically.

Many workers are paid below-award wages according to the Textiles, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA) – often about $7 an hour and, in some cases, as little as $4.

A recent report into clothing supply chains by Australian Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid found 61% of companies didn’t know where their garments were made.

Russell Mullane, CFO and group logistics manager of Sussan Group, which owns Sussan, Sportsgirl and Suzanne Grae, told CHOICE that while he feels safe in the knowledge his company is acting ethically, they can’t possibly monitor every link in the supply chain. “We live in Australia and it’s happening way up yonder. How can we really know?”, he said.

Around 92% of clothes sold in Australia are imported, according to the Council of Textiles and Fashion Industries of Australia. While China is still the biggest exporter of textiles, clothes made in Bangladesh and Cambodia are becoming more common.

So how can you shop ethically? Take a look at the price tag. If the shirt is $2, it’s just common sense that the person making it was paid just a fraction of that price.

If you have favourite brands, ask them about where they source their clothing and the conditions of the workers.

Ethical Clothing Australia is a good place to start as it has a list of 85 accredited brands including Cue, RM Williams, Collette Dinnigan and Carla Zampatti.

If you would like to know where stores such as Country Road, Target, Kmart, Big W and Best n Less source their clothes, click here.

We want to know your thoughts on this today: Do you shop ethically? Will you think more about it now?

  1. Most pensioners live within a budget, they buy what they can afford

  2. There is so little actually made in Australia any more; the manufacturing industies have all gone off shore. Time was when half the district where I lived in suburban Sydney was employed by Bonds but that’s sadly long gone. I do think we need to ensure the clothing etc is manufactured under ethical conditions but how do we know?

  3. My friend an I would love to find some ” NICE ‘. clothes our size ….Everthing in shops are far …..” TOO BIG ” … all for the ” fat ” people are some gorgeous fashions , but not for …” us ”

    • inclined to agree with Wendy, I am a size 16 in some brands but in most I find 16 is way too tight, I bought a camisole underwear top mail order to wear under see through tops, I bought an xl because I used to be bigger, it wouldnt go anywhere near me then, remembered it the other day, thought it might fit now I am smaller but no still unbearably tight !!! size on the label obviously had no relevance to its actual size.

    • I find quite the opposite! I am not huge but my common catch cry when shopping for clothes is that if you are not a size 10 twenty year old you have to take what you can get.

  4. That would be impossible to do. we have no means of checking the ethics of an overseas manufacturer. Since Australia makes virtually nothing any more we have little alternative other than to buy imported goods.

  5. Sadley the majority of clothing and all shoe manufacturers have gone offshore because the labour and other operating costs are too high to make them competative. Even now industries offshore are relocating to other countries as some asian manufacturing is becoming too costly. This si what happens when you sell the furniture to pay the rent. Look at our farmers, consider how many products are coming from overseas. The Chinese have bought into our dairies, why, so they can produce powdered formla for their own domestic market. Other nations have purchased pastoral properties, why/ so they can export the produce to their home country and neighbouring contries, especially the Middle East. The rot set in a long time ago.

  6. I came across a shop at Kippa-ring in Nth Brisbane called The Works Australia. A lot of their clothes are made in Australia and are very nice and fashionable.

    • They used to be here in Cairns too but i havent seen them around lately !? I always found good quality clothes made in oz there!

  7. This is not new. Bonds closed their factory in Australia a number of years ago because people would rather buy cheap imports. We should all pay a bit extra & buy Australian made here in Australia. The money then stays in Australia & more jobs for us.

  8. I agree, but where do you go to find Australian made clothes on a budget

  9. Designed in australia made in china on their labels i worked in fashion and my boss had a factory where all the clothing in his shop were all australian made from size 8 to 24

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