Conscious Living

The rise and fall of New Zealand brands in the latest Ethical Fashion Report

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Kowtow winter ’18 collection


New Zealand has some of the most ethical and sustainable fashion brands in the world. But for many Kiwi brands, tightened industry standards have seen grades slide, as the latest Ethical Fashion Report shows.

The depletion of our globe’s resources and the rise in the conscious consumer have forced a growing number of brands to acknowledge how their clothes are produced and under what conditions. The Ethical Fashion Report, conducted by international aid and development organisations Tearfund New Zealand and Baptist World Aid Australia, verifies just how well brands understand their supply chains in a bid to end exploitation and poverty around the world.

However, tightened industry standards since the publication of the 2017 report has resulted in many of New Zealand’s assessed brands sliding in their ratings, with heightened validation required on their policies, traceability, transparency, auditing, supplier relationships and worker empowerment efforts across their entire supply chain.


Who are the most ethical New Zealand brands?

Despite cracking down on assessment criteria, persistent efforts in the ethical space saw New Zealand amass three of the top five companies assessed in the world. New Zealand brands that produced industry-leading scores included:

Icebreaker, A+
Freeset, A+
Common Good, A+
Kathmandu, A
Kowtow, A

Kowtow founder Gosia Piatek says they’re proud to have maintained their A grade.

“We believe it is important to reflect ethical working conditions with fair wages, and although there are challenges working with countries that measure the living wage differently, our suppliers meet the survey standards and additionally we pay a fair trade premium on every garment,” she says.

“We put a lot of research into our manufacturers, ensuring that everyone in the production line is being treated and rewarded fairly for what they do; from the farmers who grow our cotton to the cutters, makers, and those who dispatch the finished garments.”

According to the report, New Zealand companies scored a median grade of B-, unchanged from 2017. The international average is C+.


New Zealand Company Grades

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Transparency is progressing, living wages remain a concern

New Zealand’s Kowtow, Icebreaker, Freeset and Common Good scored in the A range for worker empowerment, which takes into consideration living wages.

  • In 2013, only one-sixth of the 42 companies assessed had published supply chains, and now approximately one-third of the 114 companies have followed suit.
  • However, of those 114 companies, only 12 have developed or are using a living wage methodology and have calculated a living wage for each region they operate in. Three of these are New Zealand companies.
  • No company is paying a living wage all the way down the supply chain.

“On top of visiting our manufacturers every six months, we are developing a Kowtow code of workplace ethics and will be visiting every supplier to ensure they are meeting not only the requirements of the fair trade certification but also our own standards for fair working conditions,” says Piatek, on Kowtow’s future focus.

Read next: Millennial entrepreneur from Wellington raises $1.2m to fund tech platform tracking garments from origin to sale


Go behind-the-scenes and watch Kowtow’s manufacturing process in action here:


How did some of New Zealand’s popular international brands’ score?

Brands Alphabetically (A-B)
adidas, A-
ASOS, B+
American Apparel, B+
ASICS, C+
Ben Sherman, C-
Berlei, A-
Billabong, C
Blue Illusion, D
Bonds, A-
boohoo, D
Bras N Things, F

Brands (C-G)
Calvin Klein, B-
Cheap Monday, B+
Converse, B-
COS, B+
Cotton On Group, A
Country Road, A-
Cue, C
David Jones, B-
David Lawrence, C+
Decjuba, F
Dorothy Perkins, C+
Dotti, C+
Elwood, C
EziBuy, D+
Forever New, B-
Gorman, C+

Brands (H-N)
H&M, B+
Hugo Boss, C+
The Iconic, D+
Ivy Park, C+
Jacquie E, C+
Just Jeans, C+
Jeanswest, B+
Jockey, A-
Just Jeans, C+
Kmart, B+
Kookai, B-
Ksubi, C+
Lacoste, D+
Lee, B
Lorna Jane, C
Lululemon Athletica, A-
Marcs, C+
MINKPINK, F
Mirrou, D
New Balance, B
Nike, B-

Brands (P-Z)
Patagonia, A
Peter Alexander, C+
Portmans, C+
Puma, B
Ralph Lauren, D+
R.M. Wiliams, B
Sass & Bide, C+
Seafolly, B-
Seed Heritage, C-
Tigerlily, D
Tommy Hilfiger, B-
Topshop, C+
Veronika Maine, C
Victoria’s Secret, D+
Witchery, A-
Zara, A-,
Zimmermann C+

Favourite brands not here?

Download a full copy of the guide or report by visiting: behindthebarcode.org.au

Words: Terri Dunn
Photos: Supplied by Kowtow

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