Why Kmart & Marie Claire’s recent piece: ‘what to buy to create the perfect (and ethical) capsule wardrobe on a budget’ is nothing but greenwashing.

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The ethical fashion world, including us, are in a state of anger and frustration. For those who aren’t aware, on the 14th of March 2019, Marie Claire published an article, sponsored by Kmart, titled ‘what to buy to create the perfect (and ethical) capsule wardrobe on a budget’. Sounds pretty great that a) ethical fashion is hitting the mainstream and b) Kmart is ethical now?

We were excited at the thought too. But if you take off your rose tinted glasses, you’ll see this article for what it really is: greenwashing with a humble side of undercutting actual ethical brands.

For those who don’t know what greenwashing is, it’s a tactic brands use to convince customers they are environmentally and socially friendly, without actually walking the walk.

To be honest with you, at first we couldn’t believe it. Is this a sick pre-April fools day prank?

The article directly compares some of our most beloved ethical fashion brands (Reformation, Organic Crew, and Bare Bones), with Kmart alternatives that are fractions of the price. It’s almost as if they are trying to make us angry, deliberately disrespecting those who are putting all their energy into creating a sustainable fashion future, and laughing in the face of sustainable fashion change.

Why is this so damaging? Why are we so mad? We’ll tell you.

If you break down the cost of a garment, we’re sorry to say it, but $4.50 just does not cut it.

In her own cost breakdown, Elizabeth Susann explains that it costs $8.25 alone for simply the cutting of a garment. That’s without consideration of the fabric, sewing, washing, tags, packing, shipping, and labelling. Oh and the retail assistant who sells you the item at the end should also be paid fairly too.

Dorsu has broken down their pricing model simply for us to review:


The average per garment breakdown as you can see in this image is:
COGS $5.54 (per below; fabric, labour, finishing and packaging)
OPERATIONS $7 (non-production staff, insurance, utilities, training, marketing, web)

“But if you’re after something a little friendlier to your hip pocket, your budget-friendly go-to's are also focused on sustainable sourcing and ethical design.” - The Marie Claire article we’re boiling over.

To correct the writer, this is a little friendlier on the hip pocket, but a little harsher on the makers. Perhaps they truly are ‘focused’ on sustainable sourcing and ethical design, but there is nowhere that Kmart proves how and why this is true. Perhaps their ‘focus’ is not actually action.

Then there’s Kmart’s recent partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative. Yes, certifications and concrete evidence of sustainable practices is great, but this is only a promise. Kmart has promised to try source their cotton more sustainably by 2020. We don’t want to be skeptical, but a promise from a brand who cannot give us information about their current suppliers, is not enough to cut the mustard. This BCI promise also tells us absolutely nothing about how Kmart labourers are treated in the workplace, and the wages they are paid.

Giving consumers a way out from buying ‘expensive’ ethical fashion (check out what we think about that here), and instead paying the price of a coffee, is a slap in the face for ethical fashion brands.

We’re sure all ethical fashion brand owners are feeling the same as Hanna, co-founder of ethical fashion label, Dorsu...

Kmart Australia and Marie Claire are literally undermining brands, big and small, making true efforts to thread sustainability and fair labour practices across their supply chains. As a producing brand, this is both infuriating and heartbreaking. Flogging off $4.50 T-shirts as "ethical" and taking up space with greenwashing noise is shameful. We'd love to have a chat, Kmart Australia, perhaps you can shed some light on how to produce, ship, distribute and profit off a $4.50 t-shirt in an ethical way? Also, can you share your thoughts on the recent Oxfam report on living wages and your plans of action to improve the working conditions of the people making your garments?”

Clever people can understand how a $4.50 t-shirt cannot be fairly made, but if you don’t yet believe it, let’s discuss Oxfam’s 2019 ‘What She Makes’ report. This report was one of the most extensive research pieces ever.

Released in February 2019, just a month prior to Kmart’s ‘exciting ethical news’, the report sheds light on garment workers in Vietnam and Bangladesh who are paid terribly low wages (approximately 55 cents an hour), and forced to work up to 12 hour days- they used Kmart’s factories as direct examples FYI.

The most concrete conclusion of the report was a need for both planned actions communicated publicly, and timelines on those actions. Although Kmart released a long (it’s huge) list of all their factories, they give no extra information about how these factories have been, quote: ‘independently audited’, what is made in each factory, or if these factories are contracted out. This list, in the context of the report, can be seen as a cop out “action”. It’s not good enough.

To put the cherry on the cake, Primark recently released a shoe which is strangely similar, heck almost identical, to the well known ethical shoe brand, Veja. It seems it’s cool to copy the design of world renown ethical fashion companies, but not so cool to copy the way they are made and the story behind them. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but when people’s lives and wellbeing are at stake, it’s hard to feel flattered.

We’re not out there to push down the big guys, or think boycotting is the way forward, but on behalf of the ethical fashion industry: Kmart, Marie Claire, and Primark, please sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done.

Meanwhile, us, the wearers of clothes, need to think about what we are doing too. Where are we shopping? Who are we listening too? Are we doing our research properly? We are why clothes are created, we are the end consumer, and it is our job to vote with our pockets for the type of fashion we think is right too.

Written by Kate Hall.

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