Friday, 19 July 2013

Run With It: boring ethical clothes

The garment industry has been in the news lately, for all the wrong reasons. In April a Bangladesh clothing factory collapsed, killing over a thousand people. Some of the world’s biggest clothing brands signed a safety agreement designed to stop the same thing ever happening again in Bangladesh – and just hours later, there was another building collapse in Cambodia. More garment workers dead.

I love clothes as much as the next woman, but I don’t feel that any item of clothing justifies people working in sweatshop conditions or risking their lives. So I try to buy clothing from ethical brands: Nomads Clothing, BAM and so on. But I can’t buy my whole wardrobe from these places. I really like floaty, colourful clothes, but there comes a point when I have to go to a serious client meeting, or a funeral, and a low-cut kaftan made out of an upcycled sari just won’t cut it. (I have tried wearing a drapey daisy-print top from Nomads Clothing under a suit jacket, in an attempt to look interesting yet serious. A friend kindly took a photo and put it online, which is how I know it actually looked scrunched-up and weird.)

As for trousers, I’ve never been able to buy them from an ethical store, because they’re always too long. So I go to not-ethical-enough M&S instead. I’ll happily buy my tops from ethical online retailers, but it only recently dawned on me that “not dragging on the ground” does not equal “fits properly” when it comes to items designed to be worn on the top half of your body. It would be absolutely amazing if I could buy a basic white shirt that actually fitted me, from an ethical retailer.

I’d love it if a brand was brave enough to launch with a ridiculously limited range of clothing options and colours, but focused on diversity in sizing. Many ethical ranges just sell clothes in three sizes: small, medium and large. I can understand the business reasons behind this, but wouldn’t it be great if one shop broke the mould to sell a real range of sizes and lengths? Sizes 6-32, in a choice of lengths and fits. Perhaps with a petite fit available, and a Bravissimo-style Curvy fit for tops. You can’t do that if you’ve got 50 different items in your range. But what if you only sold black trousers? Or only sold dark-blue bootcut jeans? Or white shirts?

There is a serious gap in the market for a retailer selling boring, basic ethically-made clothes. I’m thinking of a price range that’s more expensive than M&S but cheaper than Howies. No frills, not much colour, just clothes that women think of as “the basics”, which are always much harder to buy than the frivolous extras. I mentioned this idea on Twitter and got a flood of responses from women saying they would definitely buy from this shop if it existed.

This is a Run With It! blog post. Anyone reading it is free to try the business idea described and attempt to make money out of it. If you do, please tell us about it!

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