Not so much a rules girl

A friend who read my last post interpreted it in a way that I didn’t intend – as a judgement against people who wear makeup, and fashionable clothes and things. The post was never meant to be judgemental of people, but I can see how it may have felt that way, because I was angry when I wrote it. But let me be clear. I wasn’t angry with people who wear makeup, or with makeup, or even with fashion. It was not a post against makeup, or clothes, or shoes, or anyone who chooses to glam up and feels good about it.

It was a post against the idea that I MUST shave my legs in order to be seen in public.

A post against the idea that I MUST shave my armpits in order to be. Just be.

A post against the idea that my skin or hair isn’t good enough the way it is, that I must slather it in a million “beauty” products, merely to go to work.

A post against the rules. The rules that say whoever I am, I must avoid being myself at all costs.

Above all, I am angry with myself, for believing I had to buy into all that. I am angry that when, earlier this year, I decided to stop shaving my legs, it took me months to stop flinching at the sight of them. Flinching at the sight of my own natural legs, with their own natural hair.

Which is nothing to how ashamed I felt when I stopped shaving my armpits. How embarrassed I was by my own armpits. I’m sorry, but in a world that contains the Abbott government, there is so much shame and horror to go around that there should be none left for my armpits.

As it turns out, the square, conservative, front row dwelling child who compulsively did as she was told throughout her school days is downright rebellious at heart. There were signs of it even before I allowed my body hair to run wild. I wear odd socks. I sometimes wear odd earrings – I like the whimsy of a bird chasing a cat around my head all day. It seems somehow appropriate.

I started the sock thing as a way to add a little more colour to an often drab winter wardrobe, but in truth there’s a part of me that continues to do it so that I can say “Why not?” to people who call me on it. So that I can say “they’re just socks, people – why do they matter?” and to explore the idea that they seem to matter to some people with an alarming intensity. Why is that? It’s provocative, and I’m ok with that.

My rebellious side looks at rules and says “oh really? Why should I?” (This sometimes gives me some trouble as a teacher, I must admit.)

My scientific side wants to understand.

My teaching side wants everything to be fair and just and, let’s face it, many of our rules are not. Men can go topless in public, women can’t. Men are strange if they shave their legs and armpits, women are strange if they don’t. I could go on indefinitely, but I think you take the point.

I say: to hell with the rules.

Be who you are. Wear what you want. Shave what you want. Make your own rules. I won’t judge you, you won’t judge me, and we’ll try like hell not to judge ourselves.

Dressing right

It used to be said that beauty was only skin deep, but now I reckon beauty isn’t allowed to involve skin. At least not your real skin. Nor hair, for the most part. (Although it’s ok on your head as long as it is not your natural hair – coloured, straightened, curled, shampooed to take the oil out then conditioned to put the oil back in, blow dried until it looks nothing like itself – that’s the way your hair should be.)

No hair on your legs or armpits. Shaving probably isn’t enough because it grows back and people might see that you are not strictly hairless for a minute or two. Waxing is best. I know it hurts on the armpits and bikini line, and the stubble when it grows back is a nightmare, but it’s really not optional. Grit your teeth and bear it. There’s no way to be beautiful otherwise. Meanwhile let’s look at your eyebrows. Minimal and strictly formed is the rule here – you can get it professionally shaped or wax it at home, but heaven forbid your eyebrows should contain much in the way of actual hair.

Now let’s look at your skin. Cover that stuff up, for goodness’ sake. If it’s pale, you’d better use some fake tan so you look darker. Or go to a tanning salon – who cares about skin cancer when your appearance is at stake? Now if you’re naturally dark skinned make haste to lighten it, seriously, no-one needs to see your real skin colour. Then slather it with a thick layer of goo to make sure your skin isn’t showing anyway. Oh, but don’t let it look like you’ve used makeup. Natural, that’s the look we’re going for.

Now to clothes. Firstly your shoes. There are two rules here: if you’re short, the higher the heel the better. There’s nothing worse than a woman displaying her real height and able to walk without discomfort.  Taller than average? Only flats for you. We mustn’t ever be taller than the boys, eh? That would never do. And since you are not allowed under any circumstances to date anyone shorter than you, if you’re really tall you might want to consider surgery. What’s the risk of death and a lifetime of pain compared with betraying a social norm? And then you’ll be able to wear heels, because heaven knows your legs don’t look at all attractive when they’re in their natural shape and you’re walking easily.

Ok, so let’s look at your legs. Now that you have made them thoroughly hairless and a colour as unlike your own as possible, best to hide them under tights or leggings.  And make sure they are the shaped variety. You don’t want to show your actual shape anywhere, if you can possibly avoid it. Make sure they enhance (or create, if necessary) that all important thigh gap. Which brings me to underwear – naturally you want boned, tummy tucking, uplifting, downtrimming, tightly shaped underwear here, too. Don’t worry about being able to breathe. It’s overrated. Remember, the natural look is what we’re going for.

Ok, we’re ready to choose a top – it had better be something flattering for your shape. You can only wear stripes if you’re tall. Tight body shaped tops are best unless you’re a little curvy, in which case you want to hide those shameful curves under as much material as possible. Nobody needs to see your actual body shape. How gross would that be? Now if you’re thin you’ll want some judicious padding to pretend you’re not. Curves where you don’t have them, flat where you do is the general rule.

We’ve already talked about makeup, but now that we’re up to the face, remember that glasses are a no-no. Don’t worry, reading isn’t sexy, so you won’t want to do any of that, and you’re not going to be able to walk far anyway, so distance vision is optional. Wear contacts if you must, but make them coloured so that you can make the most of your eyes. Remember, they’re the window into your soul, so let’s disguise those suckers. Sunglasses are ok as long as they are up to the minute style. A new pair once a month is a must, otherwise you risk being dangerously behind the trends.

Ok, we’re almost ready to go out, but don’t forget your accessories. Handbag absolutely must match the shoes perfectly, and jewellery must be a full set. You’ll never be able to hold your head up high unless your accessories are both expensive and perfectly matched. Of course, your hairstyle might be so painful you can’t hold your head up anyway, but that’s the price of fashion, right?

If you’re not too exhausted by all of that, you’re ready to go out. But don’t eat or drink in case you smudge your makeup. And remember to spend at least 20 minutes out of every hour in the ladies reapplying makeup, fixing your hair, and adjusting your clothing. Make it look easy, that’s the key.

What is the most important thing you will do today?

What is the most important thing your daughter will do today? What do you want her to believe is the thing people will judge her on? Because, as a society, even here in 2014, we are still teaching our daughters that the most important thing about them today is the way they look.

“Oh!” you scoff, “surely you exaggerate!”

But let me ask you this: If you are female, how much time do you spend on grooming in the morning? Are you careful to ensure that your handbag matches your shoes, and that they both match the rest of your outfit? Do you always put on makeup before you show your face in public? Do you ever ask “Does my butt/tummy/body part of choice look big in this?”

Do you ever say “that dress makes me look fat” or “gosh, she shouldn’t wear that, it makes her look old/fat/short/tall/flushed/pale”? Do you obsess over whether your hair is frizzy/curly/straight and spend hours with a straightening wand/curling iron/leave-in conditioner and a hair dryer?

What do you think this says to your daughters?

Some time ago I was chatting with a bright, talented young honours student. She was about to deliver her honours talk, summarizing a year’s amazing research. Do you know what was worrying her most? She had a pimple on her nose. What would people think?? Never mind the quality of her research, it was her appearance that she was convinced people would care about, and remember. I never, ever, heard a male honours student fret about his looks before his honours talk.

But who can blame her? Our first ever female prime minister endured regular commentary on her dress sense and hairstyle. Yet, apart from the occasional justifiable shudder of horror over the budgie smugglers, our current PM’s dress sense rarely rates a mention.

Karl Stefanovic recently wore the same suit on TV every day for a year. Do you know how many people noticed? None. Until he started to make noise about it to make a point, bless his smelly jacket. Imagine if his female co-host had worn the same outfit every day for a year. The screaming! Actually there’s no way it would have lasted a year, it would almost certainly have cost her her job inside a week.

Yet the screaming and the clothing critique is largely a female phenomenon. It’s not men imposing this on us. It’s not men saying “hey, aren’t you going to hide your face before you go out?” (Except possibly in the media.)

This is only the norm because we make it so. We say “I have to put on my makeup before I go out.” Newsflash: you don’t. I haven’t put on makeup in 15 years, and I make it out the door just fine.

We say “I can’t wear that, it makes my tummy look huge.” and our daughters hear “Big tummies are shameful. We have to be careful of how we look.”

We say “I have to go to the beautician, my legs are hairy” and our daughters hear “Hairy legs are shameful. We have to be careful of how we look.”

We say “Hang on a minute, I have to put on my makeup before we can go” and our daughters hear “Our faces are shameful. We have to be careful of how we look.”

Pretty soon our girls are obsessing over their weight, their pimples, and their hair, and we wonder why. After all, don’t we tell them they’re beautiful? Well yes, we do, but what we show them, is that beautiful is a perfectly made up face, a meticulously composed ensemble, and matching shoes. What we show them is that this stuff matters. That when they leave the house tomorrow what they will be judged on is not the quality of their work, their kindness and compassion, or whether they leave the world a better place, but whether their makeup cracked or their hair frizzed in the rain. Oh, and whether their clothes are so last season.

What we show them is that appearance is all important. That we must always be careful of how we look before we show our makeup (and never our faces) in public, because we will be judged by that more than anything else.

But you know what? We don’t have to be careful about how we look. Sure, it’s lovely to wear nice clothes and to feel like we look good. But it doesn’t matter. We don’t have to spend hours applying makeup and styling our hair before we leave the house. If you don’t believe me, ask Tracey Spicer. She has cut down her grooming time by an hour a day (AN HOUR! PER DAY! I haven’t got the patience to spend that long on my looks”). And you know what? Nobody died. These things only matter to us because we let them.

We shouldn’t be judging ourselves, or anybody else, by how well our earrings match our designer dresses. And we shouldn’t be teaching our daughters to, either.


Body Imaginings

Today I made the mistake of going shopping for a bra. Reading all the signs, I was struck by the number of ways I could reinvent myself. I could tuck my tummy, smooth my back, conceal my nipples with a “modesty panel”, uplift, separate, reshape or a whole range of other possible changes that I don’t even understand.

Seriously? My back might not be smooth enough? Good God, there’s a whole level of trauma I didn’t even know I could aspire to.

As a woman I am expected to shave my legs, shave my armpits, tuck my tummy, conceal my face behind a whole slew of gloopy chemicals, pluck my eyebrows and thicken and extend my eyelashes, just for starters.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want to do those things, go for it. I completely understand a desire to reinvent yourself. A couple of weeks ago I had purple hair, and I am currently sporting a henna tattoo. What I object to is the overwhelming message that we should completely reject our bodies as they are. That simply being who we are is inadequate, even gross, and must be slavishly hidden in order to be acceptable to polite society.

You may think I am exaggerating, but my 6 year old can’t bring herself to wear a dress without adding shorts underneath, lest someone see her knickers. Not her bottom. Her knickers – the purpose of which I thought was at least in part to conceal her bottom. But now we must conceal the concealers. This is the overwhelming message of the primary school playground – that knickers must be hidden. So now we are not only twitchy about hiding skin, we are twitchy about hiding the hiding of the skin. If we take this to its illogical conclusion we will all be padded up like the Michelin man.

Bras are apparently no longer sufficient to contain and conceal my breasts, unless they have thick padding (getting thicker every season) artfully designed to pretend that I don’t have nipples and that my breasts are a highly unnatural, but apparently now inoffensive shape.  Almost every bra in the shops has this padding, and it is both uncomfortable and unattractive, if you ask me (which clothing designers never, ever do – perhaps it has something to do with the way I glare crankily at them from under my bushy eyebrows).

Clothing is increasingly designed to hide our bodies.

We must have tummies unlike our own, breasts entirely unlike anybody’s own, skin that is closer to plastic than a living organ, and a body that is pulled, pushed, warped, plucked, and padded until it resembles nothing more than a Barbie doll.

We are told in every ad, every shop and by every beauty product that who we are is no good, but don’t worry! We can fix you!

And we wonder why our children develop eating and body image disorders.

I would love to be able to tell you that I am proud of my body, but I am not. But I refuse to buy into the tummy tucking, nipple hiding, waist cinching culture that tells me I should be ashamed. This is my body. This is my shape. I have skin. I have wobbly bits. And I have better things to do than waste my energy being ashamed of it.

Memo to the fashion industry – I exist

Attention fashion designers, buyers, and clothing companies: I exist. Not only do I exist, in fact, but I also like pretty things, and I am beautiful – at least on the inside. I have the right to feel beautiful on the outside too, but at 185cm tall, the fashion industry has declared me non-existent. Frankly, I am over it.

Today I tried on a floor length skirt – Target thought it was a long strapless dress, but what do they know? It was a skirt to me. It’s not just that I want floor length skirts and dresses (although please believe me when I say I yearn for them). I can consign them to the too hard basket if I must (and learn to make them myself if necessary). It’s all the pretty things that I can’t find. A typical day’s shopping reveals shirts with sleeves that barely make it halfway past my elbows. Bustlines that bisect my bust rather than underlying it. Pretty, lacy, feminine bras that only go up to size 14B. Socks in attractive colours in size 6-8. Oh, and jeans that only make it halfway down my calves, and do up somewhere under my hips.

The comments from sales assistants over the years have really impressed me. When asked if they stock any pretty bras in size 16C, one commented “Oh no. Some things just don’t look good in that size, you know.”  And when asked for women’s socks in a size 11: “No, they’re women’s socks.” I refrained from asking what she thought I was – never ask a question you don’t want the answer to. The ultimate comment came while shopping for a wedding dress: “Well you’re just too tall, aren’t you?” My bridesmaids were all for committing murder on the spot, but I was so used to that sort of comment that I hardly reacted.

It is perfectly possible to make pretty bras in my size (they have them by the handful in France, but it’s a long way to go for some underwear shopping). For some reason, though few companies do – and even fewer shops stock them. I have come to loathe shopping, as even browsing the racks to find anything worth trying on takes hours, and I often come up empty handed. Not for me the casual wandering in to a shop and trying on a stack of clothing. It’s a long and tedious trawl through the bottoms of the racks (to see which pairs of pants are a little longer than the others through some freak manufacturing accident). An endless rummage through rack upon rack of clothing that is simply not made with me in mind.

The odd thing is I am no longer unusually tall – there are plenty of women as tall as me these days, and some even taller. I know some teenage girls who are going to tower over me when they finish growing. It’s time the fashion industry woke up to this untapped market. To be fair, the footwear industry is slowly getting a grip on the idea. I recently bought a pair of tall boots (my first ever!) and a pair of court shoes. Both on special, and in both cases I had choices – 10 years ago I wouldn’t have found one pair, much less had choices. Progress is a fine thing.

This might all come as a surprise to those of you who are not vertically blessed – after all, isn’t the ideal model magnificently tall?  Sadly the clothes models wear on the catwalk are not the off-the-rack variety.  They are specially made, and impossible to buy. Also I am not a size 8. (Can you imagine? Size 8 and 185cm tall – you could slip someone like that under the door. Terribly handy if you forget your keys.)

Just because I am tall (never, if you value your life, use the words “huge”, “enormous” or “gigantic” – although “statuesque” is acceptable) does not mean I am unfeminine. I love frilly, lacy, pretty things. Fashion industry, hear this: I want to give you money. Why won’t you let me?

How ethical are your clothes?

Most of us are dimly aware that some of the clothes in our shops are made in sweatshops. If we think about sweatshops at all, we think uneasily of poor people in overcrowded, unsafe and probably unsanitary conditions in far off countries. We don’t like to think of ourselves as contributing to that, but it’s hard to know how to avoid it. And most of us are blissfully ignorant that similar scenes are happening in Australia, every day.

So how do we buy ethically? Short of growing our own cotton and making the clothes from it ourselves, how can we buy attractive, fashionable clothes and be sure that we are not exploiting the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised in the process?

It’s a difficult business. There are a large number of ethical problems with the clothing available in our shops. There’s the fabric the clothes are made from – if it’s synthetic, is it sustainable, and environmentally sound? If it’s natural, is it fairly traded? Then there’s the manufacture of the clothing. If you buy Australian made, secure in the knowledge that Australia has labour laws, and minimum wages and entitlements, and generally reasonable working conditions, then surely these are ethical clothes? Unfortunately, it turns out that buying Australian made is no guarantee of … well, of anything, actually. The Brotherhood of St Laurence’s ‘Ethical Threads’ report found that Australian clothing workers are routinely getting paid as little as $6 per hour, and some are actually getting as little as $2.50.

The legal minimum wage in Australia is currently $14.31 per hour, so how can this be? These workers get no annual leave, no superannuation, no sick leave, and no work cover. They provide their own workplace and equipment, and frequently their whole families work all hours of the day to scrape together enough work just to survive. Due to poor working conditions and inferior equipment, these workers are 3 times more likely to suffer work related injuries than factory workers.

How is this possible? I’m going to try to explain the problem, but you’ll have to concentrate – it’s like a magician’s sleight of hand, only harder to follow. Company A sells t-shirts. They contract company B to do the “CMT” – cut, make and trim the t-shirts. Company B farms out the work to companies C, D, and E, all three of which often farm out work to each other, depending on how much work there is this week. Company C farms out the work to Company F, which hires outworkers, or homeworkers, to do the actual work. And this is a relatively simple supply chain. They are routinely much more tangled and difficult to trace than this one.

Once the work reaches homeworkers, they are paid a piece rate, rather than an hourly rate. That is, they are paid a certain amount for each garment or task that they finish. There is some room for conjecture about how the piece rate translates to an hourly rate. There are often sham contracting arrangements in place, where the company that employs the homeworkers argues that they are sub-contractors, not employees, and that they are therefore responsible for their own leave, work cover, superannuation etc. Homeworkers are often migrants who don’t know that their rights and entitlements are legally the same as factory workers. The union often doesn’t know who they are or how to find them. And even if the homeworkers become aware of their rights, they are afraid that if they speak up and demand them, they will lose the work.

Out of this quagmire comes the “No Sweatshop” label – a joint union and clothing industry initiative that aims to map the supply chain and encourage clothing companies to sign on to the “HomeWorkers Code of Practice” (HWCP). Complying with the code only requires that companies meet their legal requirements. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. Unfortunately not meeting the legal requirements is standard practice in the clothing industry.

Companies that have signed up to the HWCP have mapped their supply chains, and know how many outworkers are being employed to make their garments. They are committed to ensuring that these outworkers are being paid the correct hourly rates, as well as receiving all the standard annual leave, sick leave and superannuation entitlements that most of us take for granted. These companies earn the right to apply the “No Sweatshop” label to the garments for which the supply chain has been fully mapped.

The HomeWorkers Code of Practice ensures that the supply chain is transparent, and that the workers right down at the bottom of the chain receive at least the minimum legal conditions.

Tommy Clarke, National Program Coordinator of the No Sweatshop Label, says “With such complicated supply chains, fashion houses can easily lose sight of who is actually making their garments. Other times, it’s more a case of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ or ‘hear no evil, see no evil’. It’s a convenient ignorance. Whereas with the Code, we’re asking the fashion labels to take responsibility for their entire supply chain.”

Clarke admits that asking companies to meet their legal entitlements is not setting a particularly high benchmark. “Unfortunately the clothing and fashion industry both overseas and here in Australia is so riddled with exploitation, that we are willing to recognise the ethical credentials of companies that are putting in the effort to tackle exploitation by making their supply chains transparent.”

And that’s just the manufacture of the garments. What about the fabric itself? The cotton trade, for example, is notorious for, among other things, the use of forced child labour. Uzbekistan, the third largest cotton exporter in the world, only agreed on September 12 2008 to stop using forced child labour to pick its cotton. It had previously argued that the children “volunteered” to work 11 hour days in the fields picking cotton for less than $2. There is some doubt as to how effectively and honestly the ban is being implemented. As well as slavery, the cotton trade is rife with problems such as unsafe pesticide use (workers are frequently not given any protective gear when they apply the chemicals, many of which are banned in Australia), and subsidised farming in industrialised nations that often leave small farmers in the developing world without a livelihood.

To tackle the concerns about the ethics of cotton, Fairtrade Labelling Australia and New Zealand (FLANZ) released Fairtrade Certified Cotton in Australia in November 2007. Cameron Neil, Australian Operations Manager for FLANZ, explains that Fairtrade certification carries with it a number of conditions. “For any product that carries the Fairtrade Certified Cotton label, the cotton growers are smallholder farmers organised into some sort of cooperative or collective, and they meet the minimum social and environmental standards that are in the generic Fairtrade rules. They have some democratic form of governance so that when they are getting paid the Fairtrade premium they have some way of democratically deciding how it gets spent, and they are accountable for that, and they are inspected on that every year.”

However, it is only the cotton that is certified, not the fabric, or the clothing itself. Neil says that the Fairtrade system internationally has put the problem of fully certified Fairtrade clothing on hold for the moment.

Because Fairtrade certification means that producers are paid a fair price and a fairtrade premium, the question of fairtrade clothing is more complicated than it looks. There are so many steps in the supply chain, from growing the cotton, spinning, ginning, weaving, and dyeing the fabric, to the making of the garment itself, that applying the fairtrade premium at every step risks making the end product economically unviable.

The Fairtrade labelling system is really set up for simple agricultural products, such as coffee, rice, and quinoa, which have a fairly straightforward supply chain. It doesn’t map easily to the sort of complicated supply chain that goes from the cotton seed through to the finished garment.

To begin to address these issues in Australia, FLANZ requires that companies wanting to sell products made from Fairtrade cotton must be signatory to the Homeworkers Code of Practice (HWCP) for all of their Australian manufacturing, not just the products carrying the Fairtrade Cotton label. Neil says, “We’re using the label as a pull factor to get people to clean up their supply chains. Part of our long term vision is that the Fairtrade Certified Cotton label becomes so attractive that more and more businesses are willing to engage with the HWCP because they want to use the Fairtrade Cotton label.” Clothes made from certified Fairtrade cotton outside Australia must have independent evidence that basic International Labour Organisation conventions are being met.

Unfortunately there is not a lot of Fairtrade Cotton clothing available yet, and in the absence of a Fairtrade clothing standard, some manufacturers are creating their own ethical business models. Daron McFarlane, of Ecowear, a Melbourne-based clothing designer, retailer and wholesaler, argues that you don’t have to be Fairtrade certified to be doing the right thing. In business since 1991, McFarlane has gradually evolved a relationship with his suppliers that he describes as a win-win. “If you treat people well, they’ll do a better job and you get a better product. It all comes back in a karma kind of way. I don’t feel like I need to have someone tell me that I’m fair trade, because I know I am. I don’t have anything to prove.”

Ecowear’s clothes are largely manufactured in factories in Nepal and China. McFarlane doesn’t audit the books and check up on how much the workers are paid in his suppliers’ factories. He says it wouldn’t be feasible to check up on all the details. But he is sure of the character of his suppliers. He pays higher prices and encourages his suppliers to treat the workers well. McFarlane argues that he can tell a lot from meeting the workers, seeing the conditions they work in, the way they are dressed and the way they respond to him. He is confident that they are being treated better than most of their compatriots.

As well as requiring his suppliers to pay his workers better, McFarlane has set up a health fund for the workers in one of the Nepal factories, through the owner of the factory. For one of his other suppliers he pays a levy on each piece which is paid to, an organisation that helps street kids in Nepal by setting up cottage industries and giving the families a sustainable livelihood.

McFarlane uses organic cotton where he can, and also produces a lot of hemp and bamboo clothing. He uses more environmentally friendly dyes. Although he admits that not all of his products are sustainably produced, McFarlane says he works hard to find the win-win. “Even for the things that I do that are not necessarily eco-friendly, I try to make sure there’s a strong ethical vein running through everything that I do.”

The trouble with Ecowear’s ethical credentials is that we have no way to verify them. All we have is Daron McFarlane’s word for it, and it could be argued that he plays somewhat fast and loose with the terms “fair trade” and “sustainable”. The other problem is that McFarlane himself can’t be entirely sure that his ethical endeavours are operating precisely the way he believes they are. Some of his clothes are made by outworkers in Nepal, and if we can’t be confident of the conditions for Australian outworkers, how can we be sure of conditions in distant Nepal?

Perhaps McFarlane is naïve, and I am naïve for believing him. Despite the lack of hard evidence, though, I find myself believing that Ecowear is making a difference in a disturbingly unethical industry. Personally, I would rather buy my clothes from a company like Ecowear that seems to be trying to do the right thing, than from a chain store that I can be fairly certain is exploiting people, somewhere along the line.

The range of unquestionably ethical clothing is currently so limited that we have to make these sorts of judgements ourselves. As Cameron Neil puts it, “With the information available to me today I make the best choice I can, knowing full well that I may get information tomorrow that means the choice I made was the wrong one, and I’ll have to do better next time.” According to Neil, the key is to ask questions. “We’re encouraging people to look for independent sources of evidence. There are a lot of people out there who are very genuine about what they’re doing. But it’s so hard to tell the difference between those people and people that are dishonest, who are making claims without any ability to back it up whatsoever, and who have no credibility.”

So how do we buy ethically? Neil’s advice is simple. “Talk to people with credibility – World Vision, Oxfam, Fairtrade, Fairwear – and say ‘give me a list of where I can go.’ and just go to those places. Find places that have some credibility and take your business there, until the system gets better and the information is better.”

Tommy Clarke says that the best thing we can do is to speak up. “Ultimately it will be up to consumers to be the driving force. So I recommend getting vocal and letting clothing companies know that there is a market for ethical garments made in Australia.”

It’s either that or start growing your own cotton.