This simple question made everyone here at the SAFE HQ question how ethical our high street stores are? We hit the streets of Cardiff to see what some of our favourite retailers had to say about ethical policy, clothing lines and the #whomademyclothes movement.

The High Street: which shops are Ethical?

The culture of fast fashion has transformed the British high street over the last thirty years. You can easily pick up items of clothing for under £2. Common sense tells us that clothes that are cheap can’t have been made in fair working conditions. However, the industry of fast fashion continues to thrive. So, what high street stores can you trust to do right by its workers?

Many shops we visited had no knowledge of any ethical policy or clothing lines associated with the stores. High street brands such as Ted Baker, GAP and Zara had no ethical policy or campaigns whatsoever.

Out of all retailers we visited around Cardiff, only White Stuff had a genuine engagement with ethical fashion. White Stuff is a member of the ethical training initiative and the modern slavery statement. Sadly, White Stuff was the only retailer to have heard of the #whomademyclothes movement.

Ethical or Eco-Friendly?

We found that retailers around Cardiff had a blurred view of what was deemed ethical and what was deemed eco-friendly fashion. Ethical fashion and eco-friendly fashion (production of clothes with a limited impact on the environment) are being employed interchangeably by retailers. We questioned Cardiff’s retailers about their ethically policies.

Zara told us they no longer use leather. M&S showed us their in store clothes recycling box. They also highlighted a campaign whereby M&S clothes donated at Oxfam are rewarded with a £5 voucher to spend back in store. H&M couldn’t give us any ethical answers either. Instead, they highlighted their impressive environmental efforts; 98% of clothes donated to H&M are turned back into clothes and by 2020 H&M aim to make their garments out of 50% of organic cotton. H&M even had a ‘conscious’ week (16th-22nd April) with a focus on recycling!

You could say that eco-friendly fashion is a far more approachable issue for the high street to tackle in comparison to ethical fashion. To even propose ethical changes would be to challenge the workings of fast fashion.

Online VS In Store

What retailers preach online is not exactly what they practice in store. Online retailers are the first to shout about how they are improving ethically. However, knowledge on the ground doesn’t seem to match up. We found that hardly any retail staff on shop floors in Cardiff knew anything about their employer’s ethical policy. Apart from the highlighting the modern slavery and human trafficking statement, retailers’ ethical online presence was limited. However, White Stuff was the only retailer which proved impressive online and in store with their ethical policies.

#whomademyclothes?

The #whomademyclothes movement was a two-week campaign that ran in April, in memorial to the Rana Plaza factory disaster. #whomademyclothes is part of a wider campaign – Fashion Revolution – a global movement involving designers, policy makers, retailers, workers and consumers to celebrate fashion and ensure a positive change in the way our clothes are sourced, produced and consumed in a safe, clean and fair way. Unfortunately, Fashion Revolution’s message of change seems to have not reached some of Cardiff’s consumers.

Is Vintage the answer?

Vintage shopping has exploded in the last decade into a fun and affordable shopping pursuit. Vintage shopping gives new life to other people’s unwanted clothes. Given Cardiff’s huge student population, vintage shopping has taken on a new lease of life in the city. But is vintage the answer to shopping responsibly in Cardiff? By voting with our cash and shopping vintage instead of high street we can send a clear message to retailers that we want our clothes ethically produced.

What can I do? Come and say Hi at our new SAFE ethical boutique!

If this has made you think differently about how you shop & you want to make a difference, come down to our new SAFE Ethical Boutique! Come over to shop, donate clothing and even volunteer. We are even running up-cycling classes, where you can learn how to transform items of clothing and homeware. You can check out items in store or on our charity shop Instagram.

You can find our new SAFE Ethical Boutique on Whitchurch Road, Cardiff.