• Judith Newton

Ethical Fashion: Denim Jeans

We all love wearing denim jeans right? But are all denim jeans made ethically, fairly and free from slave labour? Let's see but first, did you know that historically slavery has been linked to denim jeans? Back during the transatlantic slave trade, slaveholders provided slaves with a poor quality material usually made from cotton, linen or hemp, and the slaves had to make their own clothes. These clothes were made to be durable so that they could withstand the hard work the slaves were forced to do. These clothes were only worn by slaves and weren't considered to be fit for anyone else to wear. Even the indigo colour of denim jeans comes from the dye of a West African plant that was taken to the United States to grow in the South (Irlen 2019).

So is slavery still linked to the production of denim jeans today? Most probably YES for many companies but there is hope that legislation like the Australian Modern Slavery Act 2018 will make businesses, with annual consolidated revenue over $100 million, more accountable and transparent about the potential for slavery in their supply chains. Only time will tell. However, there are some things that we can do now to make sure we are buying ethical jeans. We can check out the Baptist World Aid Fashion Report to see how our favourite jeans companies rate in relation to forced labour and modern slavery. Not only can this help you make ethical choices when buying clothes you can also use to guide to lobby those companies that are not seriously tackling the issue of modern slavery. Never underestimate the collective power of the consumer's voice!

And now a little bit about a company that does make ethical denim jeans. Do you remember during the 2018 Australian Royal Tour when Meghan Markle (Prince Harry's wife) made headlines when she wore a pair of ethically-made jeans by the Australian company Outland Denim? As you can guess with such a high-profile endorsement, the jeans rapidly sold out! Great for the company and even greater for the ethical fashion cause. Outland Denim has a great story to tell. Their founder, James Bartle, first became aware about the issue of modern slavery when he saw a movie about human trafficking. It really made an impression on him and he sought to learn as much about the issue as he could. He travelled to South East Asia and saw first hand the horror of modern slavery and human trafficking. Understandably, he wanted to do something about it so he started the company Outland Denim, employing people who have either experienced or are vulnerable to modern slavery. The workers are treated respectfully and are paid a living wage. Not only does Outland Denim care about its social responsibility, but they're also using technologies to care for the environment too. All-round a great business model for ethical fashion, let's hope other organisations soon follow in their footsteps!

If you know of other businesses who are working to help end modern slavery, please let us know in the comments section below.

Til next time,

Judith x

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