In a globalised world, it’s hard to say where anything comes from these days. But a company that secures an A+ rep for their effective tracking of all aspects of the production chain – from “the cotton growers to our store cupboards”? You know you’re buying something good.
“Our core motivation is to prove that ethical textile production is both possible, profitable, accessible and wanted by consumers,” Mighty Good Undies co-founder Dr. Hannah Paris tells Collective Hub. “If we couldn’t do it ethically, we wouldn’t do it at all.”
Deciding to do “some good in the world,” co-founder Dr. Hannah Paris realised that unlike food, transport, housing and energy sectors, which had included some aspect of ethical and/or ecological responsibility, there was one industry, fashion, that was falling behind the others, Hannah turned her attention to it.
“Clothing seemed to be the odd one out that hadn’t made much progress,” Hannah tells Collective Hub. “I realised that we still needed ‘stuff’ in our lives – so why not start a business that helped people have more ethical ‘stuff’ in their lives?”
Hannah’s decision to explore the ethical aspect of fashion was a self-fulfilling journey, once she realised she was on the right track.
“The more I researched, the more I engaged with clothing, the more I realised its importance as both a driver – as well as a solution – to core problems I had been concerned with my whole life. The size, scope and global nature of the clothing industry is so huge it touches on every aspect of ecological sustainability and social justice that we may care to think about.”
Teaming up with PR guru Elena Antoniou, the co-founders set about making a change in the industry.
The result is the underwear brand Mighty Good Undies: a company that has such a commitment to ethical production, they recently scored an A+ on the 2016 Australia Fashion Report: The Truth Behind the Barcode.
“The Baptist World Aid Report, called The 2016 Australia Fashion Report: The Truth Behind the Barcode (or Behind the Barcode or BTB), is a project to help consumers understand how their favourite fashion brands addresses labour rights, human rights and wage related issues in their supply chain,” Hannah explains. “Fundamentally, it is testing brands knowledge about what goes on in their supply chain and the transparency of each brand. Experience in the industry shows that the more ethical and engaged a brand is with their supply chain, the more likely they are to be transparent about what they do. Transparency therefore acts as a good proxy for supply chain ethics.”
The report is generated by the responses (and hard evidence proving them) to a detailed questionnaire on labour rights and wage issues in the supply chain.
Here, co-founder Hannah chats about how the brand secured the rating, why it’s a lot more than just a letter and how you can do your part.
What does it take from a practical perspective to get an A+ on the report?
Hard work! Our A+ rating comes from us being certified under the Fairtrade Cotton Standard (FLO) and the Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) — together considered the ‘gold standard’ in global ethical textiles production. Readers are probably familiar with the FLO system through their Fairtrade certified tea or coffee. GOTS does essentially the same thing, but with textiles, once the cotton leaves the farm.
What this means in practice is that we have a whole system that tracks, and documents, our supply chain from the cotton growers to the manufacturing stage to our store cupboards. Each stage is required to implement a long list of ethical labour standards and worlds best practice environmental standards and each is independently assessed by a third party NGO or expert assessor and reported against publicly available standards.
Together these two elements – transparency/traceability and high ethical practices – earned us our A+ rating.
As a small brand, with limited resources, engaging with these broader certification systems is the only way we can ensure our supply chain meets high ethical standards. It is possible to achieve the same outcome using company based systems — and most of the big brands do this. But it requires a lot of resources and they are essentially asking the public to ‘trust them’ that they are doing the right thing.
What does it take for a company to actively put the ethical aspect first?
It needs to be in the core of the business, the main principle of why the brand exists. Consumers are very savvy and smell green-washing a mile away. Having a commitment to ethical practices is the only way to genuinely be taken seriously as an ethical company.
What’s your opinion on companies who ignore ethical practices?
We’ve never understood people who put money above everything else. Of course, business should be profitable — they need to be to survive. But profitability should not come at the expense of the planet or the people in the supply chain. If it does, then we are doing it wrong.
What’s your advice for a company wanting to incorporate ethical practices into their company?
- 1. Avoid greenwashing.
Using recycled paper or energy efficient light bulbs in your office does not make you an ethical company – this is just good housekeeping. An ethical company is one that looks at its supply chain, looks at the biggest social and environmental impacts that it creates and addresses those.
- 2. An ethical company addresses both the labour rights issues and the environmental impact of their activities.
I get frustrated that many companies only focus either or of these issues — and call themselves ‘ethical’. In reality, ‘ethical’ companies address both.
- 3. Just start.
There [are] a lot of things that can be done in your supply chain right now and a lot of people who are willing to help you (give us a call, we are more than willing!). Start with researching your supply chain and start tackling the biggest issues first. It will take time. No one expects you to be perfect, but they will expect you to be transparent and to improve over time. In fact, be open with your customers, they will love you for taking them on the journey with you.