Sustainability and Ethics
Can a fashion label be sustainable and ethical?
The short answer is that even with a lot of hard work and dedication, no brand can truly be 'sustainable' and ethics are very personal. So we take a unique approach. In addition to providing full disclosure of how each of our pieces came to be, we follow a circular design method to minimise environmental impact and help create positive change in the fashion industry. The approach feeds through these pillars: Research, Sourcing, Education, Action + Sharing.
What is Circular Design?
Circular Design is an approach to developing products and systems that incorporates three key circular economy principals; designing out waste, keeping materials and products in use and regenerating natural systems.
Informed by the work of Cradle2Cradle and The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Whole Systems Thinking and our learned experience, we've forged the path for what circular fashion means in practice. We've been developing our methodology since 2016 and continually reflect and refine our knowledge and practices over time.
Learn more about Circular Design here.
From inception, we only design clothes that will safely biodegrade or that can be recycled at the end of their life. Sometimes we use materials up-cycled from waste but every raw material must have a circular projected lifecycle in order for us to use it.
This goes for everything, including buttons, labels, threads and interlining. We love clean shapes, thoughtful minimalism and timeless design functionality so you'll find pieces in our range that are wearable for a long time and can be effortlessly mix/matched with other A.BCH goods. Customer input is a part of the development process, which makes our finished pieces more relevant to our customer's needs. We call this Customer Centric Design.
We seek out suppliers and partners that share our values (like carbon neutral operations and fair work conditions for employees and contractors) and that are willing to offer supply chain transparency. Not only do we do extensive research before choosing suppliers, we also are continually looking for the best raw materials to use in our garments that have the highest positive impact on people and planet. Our metrics include greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, treatment and discharge, chemical usage, impacts in the use phase, end of life pathways and meeting certain certification standards - like GOTS or Fair Trade.
We preference local raw material suppliers, followed by closest proximity suppliers, and manufacture all our garments locally under Ethical Clothing Australia accreditation. Our fabrics are certified organic and are natural, renewable materials with non-toxic finishes/dye. We also seek out suppliers with carbon neutral factories that ensure ethical treatment, fair wages and working conditions of workers across the supply chain via GOTS, Fair Trade or Fair Wear Foundation.
If and when we choose to work with protein fibres, we will choose cruelty free, such as peace silk and locally sourced, non-mulesed, RWS traceable merino or recycled wool.
Not only do we reveal our entire supply chain from fibre to finish, we also help customers extend the life of their clothes via our Care, Repair, Wear program. With every order, we provide a care guide to help keep clothes looking fab for longer. We also offer free repairs on A.BCH clothes for the life of the garment and facilitate repair and zero waste workshops within our community. Our founder, Courtney Holm is a thought leader who speaks regularly at fashion and sustainability events across Australia and abroad.
At A.BCH, we encourage re-use, return or the composting of our products. We facilitate a recycling program where we will sort and repair returned garments for second hand use, re-make the garments into something else entirely or preserve for a cellulose recycling program we've initiated with top scientists here in Australia. Every single product we create is designed for circularity, but we need our customers' help to send our products back when they are no longer worn in order to keep textile waste out of landfill.
Where are your garments made?
All our clothes are currently made in Melbourne, Australia, either in-house (about 90% of our production) or with one of our Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) accredited partner factories. Each adhere to the Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award and Fair Work Australia and are third party audited yearly by ECA.
Australia has some of the highest garment worker wages in the world and we're proud of that. Australia has an amazing textile and clothing industry and we will always support it and preference making here. However, the industry is small and some things just aren't possible to make in Australia due to the lack of specialty skills, machinery and technology in certain areas. Because of this we may need to diversify our manufacturing in the future to include places outside of Australia, but will always be upfront about this with our customers.
Where are your fabrics made?
Our fabrics come from a diverse range of suppliers, although 95% of our knitted fabrics (sweaters, t-shirts etc) are knitted within 25km of the studio, in a suburb just outside of Melbourne. Each product page discloses exactly where your fabric is made for that particular product, plus where the fibre is grown, spun and dyed. As part of our commitment to full disclosure, we also reveal the origin and suppliers of our thread, labels, buttons, elastics, trims and even packaging.
Why aren't all your fabrics made in Australia?
We source our woven fabrics offshore because those capabilities and industries simply don’t exist in Australia anymore. That said, the knitting industry still exists here if you know where to look, so we will continue to use Australian made jerseys in a majority of our garments.
Certifications and Claims
What is GOTS?
This one's important. We use fabrics that are certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) to ensure compliance within the organic textile industry. GOTS certification is only possible if suppliers meet strict (soooo strict) environmental, technical quality, human toxicity and social criteria.
Our GOTS certified fabrics are made from 100% organic materials, as are our threads, which is nearly unheard of in the fashion industry. We request certificates from each supplier that claims organic status, and keep each shipment certificate on file.
Read more about GOTS at their offical site here.
What is Ethical Clothing Australia?
The Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) voluntary accreditation program provides certifications to Australian businesses that are manufacturing locally. ECA ensures that our Australian supply chains are fully transparent and legally compliant.
The ECA program maps a company’s Australian supply chain throughout the entire cut, make and trim process, including all value adding processes. This is done via annual third-party compliance audits conducted by the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.
A.BCH is proud to be ECA accredited since 2018. Read more about ECA here.
What is circular design? What's a circular fashion label?
The fashion industry operates on a linear model of "take, make, waste". Circular design is a method of design that from inception to death, phases out harmful materials and all wastage in a continuing cycle. We learned a lot of what we know about circular design from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The idea that the way we create and consume is fundamentally flawed and that there is a better way, is exactly why A.BCH exists. We will not create any product that doesn't have a clear birth, life and afterlife trajectory. Each item we produce must first have a lifecycle assessment to help shape design decision-making, and every A.BCH piece must be able to be recycled (via a pure materials stream) or composted safely back into the earth.
We don't just source great fabrics for our clothing, we look to the details as well. Even seemingly invisible components like buttons, labels, threads, interlining and dyes must meet our circular lifecycle criteria.
At A.BCH we believe that unless something is designed and communicated for circularity, then it cannot be sustainable. But the term "circular" is used loosely by many companies. ie. Using recycled PET in a garment and calling it circular. Circularity is so much more than one lifecycle for a material, and it's so much more than recycling. Our purpose is to act as custodians rather than a corporation, to tell it how it is and provide simple solutions to complex problems for our fellow citizens.
What does Made in Australia mean?
We are an Australian owned business. We design our product in Australia and we manufacture all of our goods in Australia. Our raw materials come from many other countries, even our Australian knitted cotton is grown in India. As global citizens, we celebrate the skills, raw materials and artisanship that other countries bring to our diverse supply chain. While we aim to keep jobs in Australia for industries that still exist here, we’re also pleased to support our partners in other countries by importing goods to Australia such as Belgian linen, Japanese denim and Indian organic cotton. Of course we only choose to work with companies that align with our values.
What is Vegan clothing?
In order for a clothing item to be vegan, it must not contain any animal product or by-product, including in its processing, dyeing and manufacturing. That means garments with silk, wool or leather components can’t be vegan. Many of our garments are naturally vegan, and we’ll always be transparent about which of our items are not.
What makes wool ethical?
Australia is renowned for producing merino wool (thought to be the softest) and remains one of the world’s biggest wool exporters. Unfortunately, Australian farmers have to deal with something called flystrike, which is when flies lay eggs in the moist wrinkles and fold of the lamb's skin around the tail and breech. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed off the flesh of the sheep which can be fatal if left untreated. Awful, right? Farmers have a way to ease flystrike by cutting the skin around the tail and breech to allow taught scar tissue to remain, and viola, flies don’t like to lay their eggs there. This “cutting” is called mulesing and on a pain level is similar to castration for the sheep.
Mulesing has been rejected by the industry in many countries, including New Zealand, however Australia is yet to get with the program, despite promising to do so by 2010. There are several solutions for farmers to start making the change to cruelty free wool, the most promising is breeding out the genetic traits in sheep that flies are attracted to. Even with all this, the general treatment of the sheep is still an ethical concern especially during shearing.
So in a nutshell, ethical wool, to us, is where the animals are treated well, are not subject to mulesing and can live a relatively free-range life. We'd also only consider incorporating wool when we can work directly with small holder farmers and keep the supply chain as localised as possible to reduce the carbon footprint of moving raw material around. Plus, we'd need any virgin wool we worked with to be certified by the Responsible Wool Standard (which also includes a guarantee it's mulesing free). So, how do we find that kind of transparency and commitment? With plenty of patience to find the right stuff and asking a lot of questions before committing to anything. Another type of wool we are willing to work with is rescued pre or post consumer recycled wool waste.
What is Peace Silk?
If we do work with silk in the future, we've committed to only purchasing silk that is ethically extracted. 90% of the world’s silk production is obtained by gassing or boiling the silkworm alive in order to obtain its cocoon, which ensures an unbroken silk fibre. Silk is incredibly special, its fibres are literally made from the silkworm's own creation! For that to be overly commercialised and cheapened for thoughtless consumption isn't right in our eyes.
Peace silk is different. It allows the silkworm to exit the cocoon before silk is harvested and is done in such a way that doesn’t harm the worm. We think that silk, especially because of its process, is pretty special, and something to be treasured, not worn and treated as fast fashion. We currently don’t offer any silk garments, but we are open to ways we can incorporate Peace Silk into our pieces in the future.
What does Cradle to Cradle Certified mean?
Some of our raw materials and components have an additional certification called Cradle to Cradle Certified, meaning they receive a basic, silver, gold or platinum rating based on a series of environmental and regeneration factors in the making of their products. This certification system was released as part of the Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things publication in 2002 by William McDonough and Dr Michael Braungart. In 2010, they began to offer the certification system and methodology to the public via the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute- a not-for-profit open source of information. For more information check them out here.
What is a Good On You rating?
The Good On You app has independently rated A.BCH as 'Great'. Which is its highest possible score. The team at Good On You use criteria based on People, Planet and Animals to determine their recommendations for a wide selection of brands around the world. You can get it for free on the app store here. We are pretty chuffed about our rating, as we are only just getting started!
End of Garment Life
What is your Recycling Program?
We take back our own branded garments for recycling purposes. These garments are assessed and either mended for a second life, re-made into something new, or kept and used for our recycling program, where we’re developing open-source recycling solutions for cellulose garments. If that all sounds a little cryptic, we're shredding materials (from very small off-cut waste and unusable A.BCH garments), re-blending them with varying ratios of virgin cotton and re-spinning + re-knitting into brand new, recycled fabrics that still retain biodegradability due to the way our garments are made in the first place.
This whole process takes a lot of time as we build up enough waste material to meet high MOQs for this kind of processing, however in 2022 we have plans to release our first % recycled fabric garments including t-shirts and denim.
Want to contribute? Customers can send pre-loved A.BCH garments back to us anytime, just email us for a free shipping label and we'll sort out the rest. We will build on our returns program as we grow our unusable materials library, allowing customers to see behind the scenes and learn about our research and ideas.
Can I really compost my t-shirt?
If you're really done with that cutie… then yes! All of our garments are bio-degradable (with the removal of the brand label in articles 01-31), while any undyed garments are totally compostable. Our materials are put together strategically to ensure biological circularity, which means our clothes are able to return safely back to nature.
Check your garment digital care guide before biodegrading or composting. Note: our clothes (and all others for that matter) will not biodegrade easily in landfill due to the toxic and oxygen-starved environment. Bio-degradability requires oxygen! So, bury that tee out in the garden or cut up your undyed goods and place in your compost. Best of all, you can send it back to us and we'll make the call for its afterlife. But, please don't throw it in the bin, or the circle in circularity will be broken.
What is A.BCH doing about Carbon Emissions?
All carbon emissions generated at the A.BCH factory and HQ are offset via UN Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certificates. Not only this, but our factory and HQ run on 100% wind-power energy which supports the small renewable energy sector here in Victoria.
Next, we offset the carbon emissions of all our deliveries – both inbound and outbound. So every parcel delivered, worldwide is carbon neutral.
When it comes to raw materials, we preference working with CO2 neutral mills to achieve the lowest outputs of carbon in production, for example all our linens and hemps are woven in a carbon neutral mill in Belgium.
One of the bigger impacts is the transport of goods. Australia has lost many skills and processes in the textile and garment industry due to the rise of of cheaper offshore manufacturing. It has therefore become imperative that we source fabrics, fibres and trims from around the world to acquire quality goods in line with our strict requirements for ethical production and circular lifecycles. We help neutralise this by manufacturing materials within Australia wherever possible. This greatly reduces emissions and we are always looking for ways to improve.
Does organic fibre farming have a lower carbon footprint than conventional?
Organic farming practises are thought to produce around 43% less greenhouse gasses than conventional farming. This is due to a variety of things, such as soil health, minimal to no use of chemicals and the synthesising of nitrogen fertilisers. Organic farming also "stores" around 100-400kg of carbon per hectare in the soil per year (also known as a carbon sink, in case you're wondering, that's a good thing). This makes for one great reason to source GOTS certified organic whenever linen or cotton is required or to seek out top performers and regenerative farmers in the local farming sector.
Which fibre, fabric or material is the most environmentally friendly?
Sadly, there is no "perfect" fibre. Cotton uses a lot of water, Tencel uses a lot of trees, recycled PET uses a lot of energy and virgin polyester uses even more (neither one will truly biodegrade and will shed countless microfibres during wear, wash and decomposition). Hemp is expensive and difficult to source with integrity, linen (unless organic) uses a chemical retting process. Bamboo is not what it is marketed to be.
It's important to us to consider each of the fibres from a threefold perspective; birth, life and afterlife and to be careful not to rely on certifications alone without scientific evidence.
There are a lot of innovations in fancy new fibres which are promising for things like leather replacements and feedstock from waste, but they will take more time to become accessible to the mainstream. We don't like to herald any fibre as being the "most eco", however, we've compiled a nifty list of the ones we like to work with and the ones we avoid. Check all that out on our Materials List.
Does the textile industry use a lot of water?
Yup. Not only is water required to grow fibre, process and dye materials, but the spent water that's released back into waterways can be hugely problematic especially in places where polluting factories dump effluent into rivers. The UN estimates that the textile industry is the second largest polluter of fresh water in the world.
The amount of water that materials require for production is as varied as the materials themselves. While water is a very important impact area, materials that use less water to extract, like polyester, will have larger impacts elsewhere, like energy intensity and chemical use. There are ways to improve fashion's thirstiness, from water saving practises in farming to new technologies in dyeing and even just by washing your clothes less!
It's important to note that some crops like cotton may be irrigated or may rely on rainwater entirely. It really depends on the location and the farm practises. That's why we prefer to work with GOTS organic cotton as well as other farms where we can trace directly to source to learn more about the practises of the farmers, for example, Australian Super Cotton – an Australian grown cotton of superior yield and excellent water management.
Do your suppliers recycle their water?
Shout out to one of our local textile mills, ABMT Textiles. These guys are the only mill in Australia to recycle 85% of their spent reactive dye bath water into Class A Grey Water. This is then re-used in parklands, agriculture and households. Go ABMT!
In fact, all of our GOTS suppliers (from harvest to fabric finish), are required to have written environmental policies on water resources management and have target goals for reducing these over time. All wastewater from wet processing units must also be treated in an internal or external functional wastewater treatment plant before being discharged into the environment and meet strict guidelines around pH and temperature. If you want to get scientific, we'd love to nerd out with you so hit us with your questions here.
Where are you based?
A.BCH HQ is based in a wind-powered, carbon neutral design studio + Circular Factory in West Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Can I come to the studio?
Yes - we are open by appointment for trying on A.BCH pieces in real life or for personalised wardrobe consultations with our head designer. If you'd like to visit, simply contact us via email@example.com.
From time to time you'll find us in a temporary concept store or running community events like workshops and talks that have taken us all over the world. The absolute best way to stay informed is via our community newsletter. Our newsletter subscribers + community are the first to know about all we do, including pop-ups, new products, innovations and collabs.
I have questions about shipping…
See our shipping policy for timeframes, costs and more.
I have questions about returns…
See our returns policy for how that all works.
I have questions about privacy…
We value your privacy! See our privacy terms for more info.
Something we missed?
There's a loooot of information here, but if we missed something, let us know! Reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org