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Which NZ fashion brands rated best in the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report?

A small number of New Zealand fashion brands are leading the way in ethical manufacturing practices.

Four New Zealand fashion labels are demonstrating clothing manufacturing and ethics can go hand in hand. 

Kowtow, Icebreaker, Liminal and Freeset received A+ grades for their ethical manufacturing practices, in the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report and Guide released today by Tearfund.

The report grades fashion companies around the world on their efforts to address worker exploitation in the factories that produce their clothes. It started as a response to the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 which killed more than 1000 garment workers. 

Almost 30 New Zealand companies featured in the report with AS Colour, Kathmandu and Nature Baby also receiving high grades.

Companies are assessed at three critical stages of the supply chain – raw materials, inputs production and final stage production. 


In the past year, 38% of companies improved their overall grade, including The Warehouse, Ruby and K&K. Farmers' score fell, to an F.

Overseas brands with stores here, like H&M, Gorman and Lululemon scored between B+ and A.

Some prominent Kiwi brands chose not to participate in the survey for the report, so researchers assessed them on publicly available information.

WORLD stated they didn't think Tearfund's survey was applicable to, or understanding of New Zealand garment production, while Karen Walker and Kate Sylvester both said it wasn't suited to boutique brands like theirs. 

Kate Sylvester has put resources into a fashion industry collective instead, co-founding Mindful Fashion, "to support the local garment industry and create benchmarks for ethical clothing production in New Zealand".

This year's report also assessed how companies are monitoring and mitigating their environmental impact throughout the supply chain, due to the waste and emissions produced in clothing manufacture.

Freeset, Icebreaker, Kowtow, Liminal and Nature Baby scored A+ in the environmental section.

Tearfund noted the high number of New Zealand companies that received low grades and emphasised that more and more consumers want to know how their clothing is made.

Read more: 12 of the best op shops in Auckland | Reversing fast fashion: The slow revolution of ethical clothing

“The fashion industry is moving in a particular direction and that is towards ethical practices, transparency and care for the planet," said Claire Hart, Tearfund’s Education & Advocacy Manager.

"...Ultimately these companies risk their bottom line if they fall much further behind the international trend, because public demand for transparency and supply chains free of exploitation is only growing."

Read the full 2019 Ethical Fashion Report and more information on the grading system and methodology.