Jaleesa Simpson from the Live for Less team spoke with Nick Savaidis, the founder of Australia’s eco-friendly Fair Trade fashion brand Etiko.
Q. Why did you create Etiko?
A. I’ve had a long-term interest in ethical fashion because my mother worked in the industry when I was growing up in Melbourne. I was always struck by how she was paid 15 to 30 cents for a garment being sold for $15 to $30.
When I went to university I started reading New Internationalist magazine, who were reporting on the exploitation of workers and farmers. I used to ask shops if their clothing could be guaranteed child-labour or sweat shop free, and most retailers had no idea. It’s amazing how people still don’t know how the products they’re selling are sourced.
A few years after teaching in high schools I started teaching at remote Indigenous communities and was given the opportunity to set up social enterprises. One of them was Yurrampi Crafts, which would print traditional art onto t-shirts and sell them. There I saw social enterprise as empowering. Apart from providing income for people in the remote community, it gave them a lot of pride to see their artwork and their culture being appreciated by others.
When I returned to Melbourne I decided to start my own business and launched Etiko in 2006.
Q. How is Etiko different to other fashion brands?
A. We’re a values-based brand selling normcore clothing; the most ethical and eco-friendly of its type. When you buy an Etiko product it’s going to have maximum social and minimal environmental impact.
Another thing that differentiates us is we take our commitment to social justice seriously. As a result we’re the only fashion brand to achieve an A+ on the Australian Ethical Fashion Report every single year, and we’re the only Australian fashion brand to win the Human Rights Award. I think anyone who takes ethical fashion seriously would be a fan of Etiko.
Q. What’s the positive impact of Etiko?
A. Our entire supply chain, as far back as where the cotton seed comes from, is certified Fair Trade. Within Australia we’re a B Corp, so how we operate is accredited as being genuinely ethical and keeping the impact on the environment at an absolute minimum.
We’re making sure people in our supply chains are looked after by being paid a living wage. That means they’re getting paid enough to feed their families, put a roof over their heads, educate their kids, and put some money aside for a rainy day.
We’re also helping Australian consumers shop their values by making ethical fashion affordable.
It’s quite hard to buy genuinely ethical, eco-friendly products. Firstly because they’re not wildly available, and secondly because they tend to be expensive. Except in our case.
Q. What have been some of the highlights so far of running an ethical fashion brand?
A. Whenever we buy a product we pay a 15% premium to the suppliers, which has to go back to the workers or farmers. When we visit our suppliers we get to see what they do with those Fair Trade premiums to assist their communities. In the case of farmers, that could be building a toilet block in a village.
With factories, they use the Fair Trade premiums to educate the workers’ children. Recently they’ve been using the premiums to buy bicycles for staff. We don’t tell them what to do with the money, they choose what’s important for them.
Q. How have you seen industry change in recent years?
A. Since the Australian Ethical Fashion Report started in 2013 there’s been a lot more discussion around ethics and supply chains. Thanks to the report more companies are starting to look at supply chains and there seems to be an improvement across the board.
But I think it’s going to be a long time until you see a major brand doing the right thing across the board. They might have some small initiatives where they make a sneaker from plastic collected from the ocean, but the reality is 99% of their products are made the same as everything else. Look to the small brands to lead the way, which is what they’ve been doing for years.
Q. How can people make a difference?
A. As a society we over consume. Only buy stuff when you really need to and when you do buy it, make sure it’s the most eco-friendly or ethical option.
The reality is big retailers won’t come on board unless people ask. We’ve had major retailers tell us that they’re not convinced their consumers care. We’ve also had retailers tell us they feel uncomfortable about what we’re doing because it raises too many questions about what they’re doing. That can be overcome by people saying, “Unless you start offering a genuine eco-friendly ethical alternative, we’re not going to shop here.”