By Hamish Litt, Guest Contributer
I first came across Etiko by chance. It was mid-way through 2021, and my friends and I had been hopping between op shops (“hop shopping”) up Sydney Road, in Brunswick.
We ambled into Etiko like the other stores we’d visited. The interior looked partly like a typical retail fashion store, but also like a bit of a trophy cabinet, or the classroom of an enthusiastic High School environments teacher. Colourful posters and information sheets were displayed proudly on the walls and from the ceiling, pouring information into visitors about refugees, exploitation in the fashion industry, tree-planting projects, organic fibres, plastic in shoes and vegan clothing production.
One thing that struck my hop shopping brigade was just how involved the brand was in so many incredible causes, from workers’ rights to sustainability. It almost seemed beyond belief that a fashion brand could be so… well, good. Most of our group had studied Arts degrees and had come to strongly associate fashion, and consumerism more broadly, with a number of ills in the world. Etiko seemed to be challenging that association.
One of the shop assistants, Andrea, came over and asked if we needed any help. With a confused expression on my face, all I could do was gape, “you guys are involved in a lot of shit!”. Andrea nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, this is a really fantastic brand.”
I visited Etiko sporadically in 2021, largely on account of lockdowns, to buy underpants and small purses to give as gifts to friends. I hadn’t given the store much more thought until I visited with my friend Flo, who was on holiday from Adelaide in February of 2022.
This time, it wasn’t Andrea, but Nick, the shop’s owner, who greeted us. “Have you been here before?” he asked. I said yes, Flo said no, and he gave us the spiel. “We’re an ethical clothing brand. All of our products are fairtrade, vegan, and use organic fibres. You’re aware of the Ethical Fashion Report? We’re one of the only brands in Australia to earn an A+ in that report. Which we could spend an hour talking about… but essentially, it means other brands aren’t doing enough.”
Until then, Etiko existed, sure – but I didn’t really believe it. It didn’t seem possible for a brand to be actually ethical, in an industry built on exploiting workers and wrecking the environment. But Etiko shows that it is possible. The proof is in pudding (and the printed t-shirts). See the photos, read the reports, feel the fibres and talk to the people that run this business. Quickly, it will become clear that our future doesn’t have to be nearly as dismal, depressing or doomsday-ish as we might normally think. If the gravity of that still hasn’t sunk in, I encourage you to visit the Etiko store or check out the website online. Buy a hoodie made of organic cotton and a pair of vegan shoes. whose ethics are more likely to resemble expensive greenwashing campaigns to protect sales.
Before we left, Nick took a photo of us to pin up to the wall near the door. We talked about ethical fashion, our personal goals, and the state of the world. Both Flo and I had a habit of buying second-hand clothes because we believed there to be no other really “ethical” option. We thought that fast, exploitative and environmentally-abusive fashion was inevitable, and that the best we could do was to not condone it by browsing vintage shops. Safe to say that we no longer have to live in the past.