The number of shoppers putting fashion sustainability front and centre is growing. Fashion brands have realised that manufacturing sustainably and ethically is not only more principled, it’s a smart business move. Even fast fashion chains such as H&M are promoting “green” garments, such as a recycled polyester dress. But with so many brands cashing in on sustainability and ethics, knowing which ones to trust can be difficult.
“There’s a lot of green-washing now where brands say they do this and that, but there’s no evidence,” says Melbourne designer Courtney Holm. For three years Holm worked on her men’s made-to-order street-luxe brand, Article. But with her concern about her own fabric supply chain, she put the brand on hold to launch a label based around the idea of “full disclosure”.
“I’m trying to put the evidence out there, say: ‘Here’s all our information’,” she says. “We reveal all our suppliers.”
Holm’s newly launched brand, A.BCH, is a small range of men’s and women’s T-shirts and shirts. Holm uses GOTS-certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) cotton, Belgian linen and Indian denim. She also sources from companies with ethical labour standards endorsed by GOTS, Fair Trade or the Fair Wear Foundation. Every A.BCH garment comes with a list of companies behind each component – thread, buttons, lining, fabric and packaging.
Holm’s full-disclosure policy wasn’t easy to sell to most suppliers. “That was part of the filtering process,” Holm says. “I’d speak to a supplier whose fabric wholesaler didn’t want to tell me who the knitting mill was. But it’s about building relationships with suppliers so they know you’re not trying to expose their secrets.”
The story behind each of A.BCH’s items is a fascinating look into fashion’s global supply chain. Take the women’s A.03 striped cotton T-shirt. It began as organic cotton fibres grown and spun in Turkey before being knitted into fabric in Japan and, finally, being stitched into a T-shirt in Coburg.
A.BCH’s linen was grown by a group of French flax farmers who spent 10 years working to change their farm into a GOTS-certified operation. And the biodegradable buttons on the shirts are made from the seed of the corozo fruit, which is harvested and cut into buttons by small communities in Panama City.
While Holm is proud of A.BCH’s commitments, she is always trying to find fabrics that are more sustainable. Her next challenge is to make the brand’s labels fully compostable (they are currently made of recycled polyester, which takes decades to break down after being thrown out).
Currently A.BCH is sold online only, to keep prices at wholesale levels. “It’s important to keep prices accessible,” Holm says. “Even if they’re not fast-fashion prices – and they shouldn’t be – a $55 tee isn’t completely out of reach. We want to build a community and show people how to be more conscious.”