Ethical fashion can learn from Pacific

A new report into ethical fashion choices shows Pacific designers are already at the leading edge for sustainably dressed consumers.

Sustainable and ethical fashion is being pushed as the way to go for consumers, with the call to go for quality over quantity and invest in slow fashion, which never goes out of style.

That's the view from AUT University senior lecturer Lisa McEwan, in the wake of publicity generated from the 2018 ethical fashion report. 

McEwan says while these reports are "a great wake-up call for New Zealand consumers, typically behind the rest of the world when it comes to understanding about the impacts of fashion and garment workers on the environment," she worries consumers can be be lulled into a false sense of security that all ethical fashion is good fashion.

She argues consumers need to instead take a pro-active approach and look for three things if they want to wear products that are sustainable:

  1. Buy fewer but buy better. Buy the best you can afford and only get a few key items each year.

  2.  Look at the inside of the garment. Checking the seams and hem is a pretty good indicator as to the quality of an item. If it looks rough it probably isn’t going to last more than a few washes.

  3.  Talk to the people in the store about their philosophy of their clothes. If they truly are a company that cares about their materials and the conditions in which their clothes are produced, it will be clear. 

MENA exports and marketing director Agnes Loheni says it's something her label and other Pacific brands are already on top of.

"We know that the customers that buy MENA, hold on to those garments for a long long time and if they're going to not wear it anymore, they'll generally gift it to someone else," she says.

"We know that happens quite a lot so in a sense I do think our garments are around a lot longer than the average."

Mass market produced clothing is clearly a concern she says, "so it's very easy to buy something for one season only and discard it. But where we are at with our business, is that there's a lot of work that goes into creating our product".

"With ours and a number of other Pacific labels, we are are creating garments where prints feature, so there's a lot of labour that goes into them. Because we're so small, we don't really mass produce in the numbers that these other companies are doing them in so it is reflected in the price. It does reflect a value, it reflects what we think of our Pacific."

Loheni says many MENA customers come in saying they have gifted their garments to others who like them, with the average feedback being that customers never let a piece go and can wear it for years, similar to the TAV Cook Islands brand.

The timeless quality of more expensive Pasifika designs also hinges on another factor-branding.

Both MENA and TAV give each garment and design a distinctive, individual name, almost as if celebrating creative design that has found its moment.

"What I think is special about a lot of Pacific brands is that we are used to telling a story, the colours, the style... It's just a celebration of our various Pacific stories," says Loheni.