There are so many ways to wear a humble t-shirt, from throwing them on as baggy loungewear to dressing them up with some jeans and a nice jacket or even layering them under some overalls or a jumper – it’s no wonder t-shirts are a staple for building a sustainable capsule wardrobe!
If you’re going to wear something so frequently, you want to make sure that every time you put it on, you feel confident that the people who made it were treated fairly and that it didn’t cost the Earth to get it to you. The most sustainable shirt is, of course, the one you already own, but if you need to buy a new t-shirt, read on to find out how to identify which shirts are sustainable and ethical as well as which Aussie brands are getting things right.
It’s important to look at what a brand is willing to tell you about how they make their t-shirts. Transparent brands often have a section dedicated to sustainable and ethical practices, usually linked either along the top bar or at the bottom of the webpage under a label like ‘Sustainability’ or ‘Responsibility’. If you’re having trouble finding it, check a brand directory like Good On You that compiles the same sort of information.
However, plenty of brands know how popular sustainable clothing is becoming and will talk vaguely about helping the environment without actually making their clothes more sustainable or ethical; this is a marketing trick known as greenwashing. To make sure you aren’t being fooled, read what the brand says about their manufacturing processes to see if it actually addresses the things you’re concerned about.
If you’re not sure what signs to look for, here are some questions that will help you tell if a brand is serious about being sustainable and ethical:
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into knowing whether a t-shirt has been made sustainably and ethically, so to save you some research, we’ve compiled a list of five Australian brands that we think are doing the right things.
Boody creates a huge range of clothing basics, from t-shirts to socks and underwear, using material woven from naturally anti-bacterial, pesticide-free bamboo. They have a huge list of certifications and require all factories that they work with to sign their Code of Conduct, which emphasises the importance of fair and safe working conditions.
Etiko’s t-shirts are produced and manufactured in India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan – countries not typically seen to have strong worker protections – but Etiko ensures that every step in their supply chain meets Australian fair trade standards so that they can help improve living conditions for the people working for them. They have also won several awards in ethical and sustainable production.
Afends make their t-shirts from hemp, which grows faster and uses less water than cotton. They provide lots of detail about how each of their materials are made, including identifying the factories that do the work, and have worked carefully with the airlines, shipping lines, and haulage companies that transport their goods so that all their production shipments are now carbon neutral.
Citizen Wolf custom-make their t-shirts to fit everyone perfectly, meaning no excess stock is left for landfill. Their fabric is knitted at one of the few knitting mills left in Melbourne and their garments are made in Sydney, with offcuts turned into scarves, yarn, and even kits for building your own tote bag!
Arnsdorf was the first leading fashion label in Australia to become B Corp Certified. Each item comes with information about the people involved in making them, from the designer to the machinists, and they offer lifetime repairs on all garments to ensure their clothes are as durable as possible.
It might seem like just a t-shirt, but even this everyday item invokes a lot of ethical and sustainable issues behind the scenes. Although the fashion industry often puts profits before people and the planet, there are lots of brands we can buy from out there trying to do better with our wardrobe basics, so long as we are willing to ask the right questions to find them.
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