How can a fashion label truly 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 you with 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. It goes like this.
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 be circular 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 and are willing to offer supply chain transparency. Not only do we do extensive research on our suppliers, we also are continually seeking the most innovative raw materials to use in our garments that have the best impact on people and the planet.
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 non-mulesed, fully traceable 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 speaks regularly at fashion and sustainability events across Australia.
At A.BCH, we encourage re-use, return or composting of our products. We facilitate a recycling program where we will sort returned garments for either second hand re-sale and charitable donation, re-make or cellulose recycling. Every single product we create is designed for circularity, but we need our customers to help us close that loop, and keep textile waste out of landfill.
We’re connected to the community and make a point of collaborating with charities, designers and brands that align with our values.
Where are your garments made?
All our clothes are currently either made in-house or locally in Melbourne, Australia, in clean, cool, well-lit factories run as a family owned business. Under Australian workplace laws, our suppliers are required to adhere to the Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award covered by Fair Work Australia. But even so, are also certified by Ethical Clothing Australia, who conduct third party audits on all our local factories, from Cut-Make-Trim, to screen printing to our knitting mills. Australia has the highest garment worker wages in the world and we like it that way. We may choose to diversify our manufacturing as we grow, but will always reveal this to our customers and will always preference local manufacturing.
Where are your fabrics made?
Our fabrics come from a diverse range of suppliers, although most of our jersey (t-shirt) fabrics are made just outside of Melbourne. Each of our product pages discloses exactly where your fabric is made for that particular product, plus where the fibre is grown, spun and dyed. As part of our full disclosure policy, we also reveal the origin and suppliers of our thread, labels and buttons.
Why aren't all the fabrics you use Made in Australia?
We source all 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.
What is GOTS?
This one's important, guys. 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. You can read about those specific criteria here.
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 or "whole garment" design?
This one might ruffle some feathers. At A.BCH we believe that unless something is designed for circularity, then it is not sustainable. The manufacturing industry operates on a linear model of "take, make, dispose". 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 an amazing woman, Dame Ellen MacArthur who founded the Ellen MacArthur Foundation with a mission to change how people make things.
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 life trajectory. Each item we produce must first have a lifecycle assessment to determine its overall impact, and every A.BCH piece must be able to be recycled (via a pure materials stream) or composted safely back into the earth.
We call this "whole garment design" because 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 lifecycle criteria.
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? It gets worse. 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. How do we find that kind of transparency? We are currently working on it with a local partner and a small-holder farm where we can source Aussie, non-mulesed wool for some of our future products. Stay tuned.
What is Peace Silk?
At A.BCH we commit 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. We’re not cool with that. Some justify that process by saying the worms are so domesticated that they would never live in the wild anyhow, but that’s because humans have created silkworm farms for the sole purpose of creating crap loads of silk. Silk is incredibly special, its fibres are literally made from the silkworm's own creation! For that to then be woven into potentially cheap and abused garments for humans 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 tossed around as garbage. We currently don’t offer any silk garments, but we are working away on some special ‘Peace Silk’ pieces for 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, these guys 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!
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 (of which profits are donated to Fashion Revolution), re-made into something new, or are kept and used for our recycling research program, where we’re aiming to find recycling solutions for cellulose garments. 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, allowing customers to see behind the scenes and learn about our research and ideas.
Can I really compost my t-shirt?
If you really don’t want that cutie anymore… then yes! 99% of every A.BCH garments is bio-degradable and compostable due to the organic nature of the fabrics, low impact dyes and prints, threads and component composition. Before composting, please remove the branded A.BCH recycled polyester tag and size pip as this tag is NOT biodegradable. And finally, this garment will not biodegrade easily in landfill which is toxic and oxygen-starved. Bio-degradability requires oxygen! So, bury that tee out in the garden, or cut it up and place in your compost, don't just chuck it in the bin.
What is A.BCH doing about Carbon Emissions?
Every single package sent from A.BCH (worldwide) is carbon neutral, thanks to our courier partners, one of those is a certified B-corp who offset all their business operations, not just the delivery part. More delivery companies like this, please.
When it comes to raw materials, we work 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 cheap 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 within Australia and where possible, commission fabric knitting in Aus too. This greatly reduces emissions, but of course we are always looking for new ways to improve.
Finally, all carbon emissions generated at our Fitzroy North studio are offset via UN Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certificates, making our studio operations completely carbon neutral!
Does organic fibre farming have a lower carbon footprint than conventional?
Actually, organic farming is thought to produce around 43% less greenhouse gasses than conventional farming. This is due to a variety of things, such as soil health and minimal to no use of chemicals and the synthesising of nitrogen fertilisers. Organic farming also "stores" around 100-400kg of carbon per hectare to the soil per year (also known as a carbon sink and in case you were wondering, that's a good thing).
Which fibre 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. Hemp is expensive and harder to find, linen (unless organic) uses a chemical retting process. There are a lot of new innovations which are promising, but they will take a long time to become accessible to the mainstream. We don't like to herald any fibre as being the "most eco" however, we have compiled a pretty nifty list of the ones we like, and dislike as well as their pros and cons. Check all that out on our Materials List.
Doesn't the textile industry use a lot of water?
Yup. In fact, the average conventionally grown cotton t-shirt uses around 2,700L of water from farm to finish. That's near enough to quench the thirst of an averagely thirsty human for 3 years.
We've heard a lot of chatter that organic cotton can use the same amount of water as the plain old, soil degrading, pesticide consuming kind can. That may be true, but only for the first 1-2 crop rotations. After that, the soil becomes much better at retaining water (using around 30% less water than conventional) and is generally in better condition due to its superior ability to store carbon. In fact, of all the organic cotton farms in the world, 70-80% of those farms rely on rainwater alone. So growing organic cotton really makes a difference. Not only that, organic fibres that continue on with GOTS certification will use less water in every stage of processing, as the application and disposal of chemicals along the way for conventional cotton requires much more water.
Do your suppliers recycle their water?
Here's a little 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 up with any more detailed questions here.
Where are you based?
A.BCH is based in a light and airy, carbon neutral design studio at 43 Ryrie St, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Can I come try on items at your studio?
Yes! For a limited time, the A.BCH studio is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday. Pop in on one of those days, or send us an email at email@example.com and we will hook a sister or brother up. We've also made a habit of taking over temporary concept stores and running community events and workshops all over the world. The absolute best way to stay on informed is via our community e-newsletter (scroll right to the bottom of this page to sign up). Our A.BCH community are the first to know about everything we do + find out when we are coming to your city.
I have questions about shipping…
Check out our shipping policy for timeframes, costs and more.
I have questions about returns…
Check out our returns policy for how that all works.
I have questions about privacy…
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Something we missed?
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