Why Kate Sylvester Co-Founded The Mindful Fashion New Zealand Collective

One of Britomart’s founding local fashion designers is also behind an initiative to make choosing conscious fashion easier for consumers.

Making clothes that people can feel good about (as well as good in) has long been part of Kate Sylvester’s ethos. And with fashion consumers increasingly becoming interested in the traceability of the garments they’re investing in, more people are prepared to invest in clothes that have been made ethically and well, and designed to last.

But aside from the assurances of the retailer, it’s often hard for individual buyers to ascertain exactly how well and fairly a garment has been made. The Tearfund Ethical Fashion Report, a international guide that ranks fashion brands on the transparency and quality of their supply chains – the manufacturers that fashion labels use to produce everything from cutting patterns and weaving and dyeing textiles to sewing garments, embroidering buttonholes and creating specialist details – is one form of assurance.

However, Tearfund’s assurance process can be extremely expensive, so tends to be more manageable for large international brands who can negotiate package deals with manufacturers or swing their weight with threats of pulling large contracts. For smaller New Zealand brands, the cost of auditing sometimes as many as 30 different suppliers (at a cost of around $2000 per supplier) can become completely prohibitive.

This has led to several local brands receiving Tearfund ratings that appear damning, but actually are more reflective of their inability to supply audited documentation for their supply chains, than the actual quality of those supply chains. A clue to how this works is the way that some international manufacturers have been able to jump from extremely low ratings to high ratings in the space of a single year – indicating that rather than completing an arduous improvement of their supply chains, they’ve actually simply improved the documentation of those chains.

Despite its issues, the Tearfund rating is still important to consumers and high ratings do give a legitimate assurance of higher standards. So along with the General Manager of Ruby, Emily Miller-Sharma, Kate Sylvester is leading the Mindful Fashion New Zealand movement to band New Zealand designers together to achieve more bargaining power and share auditing expenses.

Several clothing producers have already signed on – including fellow Britomart local Juliette Hogan, as well as  Ingrid Starnes, Paris Georgia, Twenty-seven Names, Wynn Hamlyn, Stolen Girlfriends Club, Nature Baby, Harman Grubisa, Tanya Carlson and Maggie Marilyn, and Dame Pieter Stewart has signed on as patron.

We’ll keep Britomart shoppers updated as more local labels sign up, and as progress is made on the initiative.