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 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 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. We prioritise working with suppliers in countries with a commitment to labour laws that protect workers and each of our supplier partners agree to an ILO aligned Code of Conduct before we commence working together.
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.
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 made locally in Melbourne, Australia in-house at our carbon neutral factory. Our production is all Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) accredited and we re-certify each year to ensure we are meeting Australian standards for safety, pay and working conditions. We also adhere to the Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award and Fair Work Australia and any other partners we may work with (like pattern makers or screen printers) are also third party audited yearly by ECA.
Australia has the highest garment worker wages in the world and we're proud of that, in fact we pay above the award wage in order to align closer to an estimated Australian Living Wage. 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 often need to source materials from overseas, and may choose to work with other manufacturing partners in the future, but we'll always be upfront about this with our customers if and when that happens.
Where are your fabrics made?
Our fabrics come from a diverse range of suppliers, although 100% of our knitted fabrics (sweaters, t-shirts etc) are knitted within 25km in a suburb just outside of Melbourne. Our knitters are ECA accredited, ensuring employees are paid fairly, have the right to unionise and have safe and fair work conditions. 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 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 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.
Does A.BCH pay living wages?
Over the years, we have worked with local businesses to help us manufacture our garments and these have always been ECA accredited. We care deeply about the people who make our clothing and in 2021 decided to take 100% of our manufacturing in-house in order to directly employ our garment workers and ensure their wages were meeting living wage standards.
We pay wages well above the Australian Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award and comply with Fair Work Australia in order to ensure our employees and garment workers are earning a living wage. According to the Retail and Fast Food Union of Australia, the base pay rate (before loading or penalty) for a living wage in Australia right now (2022) is $25. This is compared to a minimum wage of $21.38.
Our belief is that all people should be paid a living wage and we've outlined this in our International Labour Organisation aligned Code of Conduct that we require all our suppliers to agree on with us.
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. 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 design? What makes you 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 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 birth, life and afterlife 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.
Plus, 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 for actual circularity, then it cannot be sustainable. And sorry, but using recycled PET in a garment and calling it circular does not make it circular. Circularity is so much more than one lifecycle for a garment, and it's so much more than recycling. Our purpose is to act as custodians rather than business people, to tell it how it is and provide simple solutions for our fellow citizens.
Are A.BCH clothes Made in Australia?
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 and Japanese organic cotton denim. We only choose to work with companies that align with our values and with suppliers who meet our standards on international labour.
Are your clothes Vegan?
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. A vast majority of our garments are naturally vegan, however we may choose to work with recycled or surplus wool from time to time. If this is the case, we will always be transparent about it so you can know exactly what's in your clothes. We don't work with conventional silk, leather or virgin wool. You can read more about the fabrics we work with (or don't) here.
Can wool be 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 back in 2010. There are several solutions for farmers to avoid mulesing including breeding out the genetic traits in sheep that flies are attracted to (wrinkly bums). Even with all this, the general treatment of the sheep is still an ethical concern especially during shearing, male sheep are regularly slaughtered after breeding selection and the tails of sheep are almost always docked.
Ethical wool is extremely difficult to achieve when ethics are so personal and supply chains are so convoluted. Wool is an incredible fibre but when another living being is at stake, we err on the side of caution especially while the industry is unable to provide more certainty around the treatment of the animals who create it. That's why we we've decided not to work with virgin wool at all and if we do use any wool, it'll be exclusively traceable (RWS certified fleece) surplus wool from a true deadstock source or recycled wool.
What is Peace Silk?
At A.BCH we have 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. 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 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 tossed around as garbage. 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!
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 are kept and used for our recycling research program, where we’re developing open-source recycling solutions for cellulose garments. If that all sounds a little cryptic, we are literally shredding down materials (from very small off-cut waste and unusable A.BCH garments) and re-blending it with varying ratios of virgin cotton in order to re-spin and re-knit it into a brand new, recycled fabric that still retains its compostability due to the way our garments are made in the first place. 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 really don’t want that cutie anymore… then yes! 99% of A.BCH garments are 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 PET tag and size pip (found on garments labelled A.01-A.30) as this tag is NOT biodegradable. Garments labelled A.31 onwards have our new and improved organic cotton labels and are 100% biodegradable and compostable. Finally, 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, cut it up and place in your compost or send it back to us. Please don't ever chuck it in the bin, or the circle in circularity will be broken.
What is A.BCH doing about Carbon Emissions?
Every single package sent from A.BCH (worldwide) is carbon neutral, thanks to our local delivery partners Australia Post and Shippit. International orders, sent by DHL Express, are also carbon offset. We pay extra to make sure of it.
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 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 within Australia and wherever possible and commission our fabric knitting locally too. This greatly reduces emissions, but of course we are always looking for new ways to improve.
Finally, all carbon emissions generated at the A.BCH studio/HQ are offset via UN Certified Emission Reduction (CER) certificates. We also go out of our way to purchase 100% wind-power energy for our HQ, making our studio and in-house factory operations completely carbon neutral, while supporting the small renewable energy sector here in Victoria.
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). This makes for one great reason to source GOTS certified organic whenever linen or cotton is required or to seek out top performers in the local farming sector, like the St George Farm in Queensland that we source from for some products.
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 ( and neither of those 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 definitely not what it is marketed to be. It's also 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 meaningless certifications instead of scientific evidence. There are also a lot of innovations in fancy new fibres which are promising for things like leather replacements and feedstocks made from waste, but they will take a bit more 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 adhere to better water management practices in every stage of processing.
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 HQ is based in a wind-powered, carbon neutral design studio in West Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Can I come try on items at your studio?
Yes - we are now 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 by email at email@example.com and we’ll get back to you. 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 (scroll right to the bottom of this page to sign up). The A.BCH community is the first to know about everything we do, pop-ups, new products and innovations.
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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