It's all well and good to 'say' that the products you make are 'ethical' - but what does that really mean? Ethical consumption is the idea that you should make buying decisions based on environmental impact and social considerations. It's about asking questions about what the company is doing to fight climate change. And it's ensuring that its operations make the world a better place rather than simply extracting from the planet and people's pockets. But given the many stories about fast fashion companies burning stock and employing sweatshop labour, it's harder than ever to find ethical fashion. So what do eco-friendly ethical t-shirts look like?
One of the best guides to ethical buying is the publication Ethical Consumer, a publication and reporting organisation in the space since 1989. Over the last 30 years, they've developed the world's most sophisticated ethical rating system, providing critical information based on detailed research of over 40,000 companies, brands and products.
The criteria they've developed can be used by anyone to assess the people you buy from. We turned these criteria into a helpful infographic and explained them below.
Fair wages and working conditions
An ethical clothing company sees itself as responsible for the welfare of everyone within its production and supply chain. Whether they are farmers growing the crops for fabric, the people stitching, to those who work in the warehouse, everyone should receive a living wage (not a minimum wage) and enjoy a safe and dignified workplace. Check out what the International Labour Organisation defines this as. Often many of these working conditions are covered under certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fair Trade Certified, or professional memberships like the Fair Wear Foundation.
THTC's hemp production partners go a step further. Our Chinese hemp production is collectively owned, meaning the workers get paid correctly, and their interests are also represented on the company board. Profits from farms and factories go back into the community - not an offshore bank. We place human rights above profits.
Transparency and Traceability
In recent years, exposés about billion-pound UK fashion brands like BooHoo using sweatshop labour in the UK have shown how companies go to great lengths to obfuscate the origins of their cheap clothes. You should know exactly where your products came from, how the fabric was made - and the company that made them should be as open as possible about those facts. If the company says they use sustainable materials, the company needs to be able to prove that.
THTC's approach to transparency is through our labelling and organic certifications with GOTs, along with ongoing relationships with fair trade organisations. You can also ask us on social where our stuff comes from - we're very open about it!
Good Environmental Practices
An ethical company is constantly looking at how to make its operations cleaner and more equitable - rather than more profitable and ubiquitous. Such companies look for more sustainable fabrics, ecologically sound dyes, cleaner production processes, using renewable energy and working on systems such as upcycling and the circular economy. They will commit to producing organic clothing from organic materials and constantly look at how to reduce their corporate carbon footprint and emissions.
Alongside our organic cotton production partner, TeeMill, we encourage the circular economy through end-of-life clothing collections. Teemill can collect full organic t-shirts (made from organic cotton and hemp) and recycle those used fabrics into new yarns. Their parent company Rapanui also uses renewable energy to power their entire operation.
As our hemp production partners are collectively-owned, they rely on the Chinese state energy policy, which has seen renewable energy capacity grow exponentially year on year. In 2022, renewable energy accounts for 43.5% of national generation. We also guarantee our hemp production is free of pesticides.
The one fly in the ointment is our logistics. We use international shipping, which is still one of the most polluting industries. To mitigate this, we've been looking at how to build capacity for hemp production in the UK. Issues with Brexit, the hemp licensing regime, and a lack of subsidies to assist with machinery purchasing have prevented this.
How long does your product last? How long did you think it would last? An ethical company doesn't treat its customers like a cash machine, encouraging them to keep mindlessly buying the product, just as the last one falls apart. - instead, they make products with a high degree of durability. Sustainable t-shirts are ethical t-shirts.
This is the very spirit of fast fashion - cute trendy looks dumped as soon as some famous TikToker gets bored of wearing them onstream. Ethical brands sell lasting clothing and don't buy into arbitrary trends as a cynical cash grab.
THTC t-shirts last a long time. Some of our customers have t-shirts that have lasted over 15 years. We even wrote a blog about how long our hemp t-shirts last. We don't do 'seasons' as such. We have periods when we print up brand new designs - or the old ones that people liked- based on what kind of feedback we get on email or social media. (Which is a great reason why you should follow us on social)
We've mentioned it before, but it's important enough to have its own point. Becoming circular means that you're developing closed loop, circular business models. This means you're reclaiming fibres and garments, designing processes that create waste, investing in the innovation of new materials that support a circular textiles economy, and discouraging excessive consumption.
We make our products so that they can fit into a circular economy. They are simply designed, organic, compostable and repairable. However, the idea of growth makes a circular economy impossible. The number of recycled materials will always be smaller than the material needed to support growth. So we're caught in a catch-22 situation.
Suppose any business would want to be completely circular. In that case, we need to change society - decouple from the need to grow endlessly, which is a symptom of capitalism. Capitalism really is a disease.
The fashion industry has exploited animals since its inception. Animals have consciousness, self-awareness and rights. Humanity is supposed to be nature's steward - not a torturer. An ethical clothing brand will avoid using animal products in its production. Remember, this principle doesn't apply to indigenous peoples who live in balance with their environment and use animals for their clothing. Under capitalism, the exploitation of animals becomes an issue of profit - not survival.
Very recently. THTC Clothing was officially certified by the Vegan Society, meaning that our products are entirely free of any animal suffering.
Disclosure: THTC Clothing has been ranked as the UK's leading ethical menswear label by Ethical Consumer for several years. However, they're one of the few organisations doing great, objective work in the space. So you'll see many of THTC's excellent competitors there too.