Stylish + Ethical Fashion: where to buy in NZ?

This a follow up to my previous post about ethical fashion; it’s about supporting brands who care about fair trade, who use garment factories that offer safe places to work in, and are happy to pay workers a living wage.  Brands who ensure that children are not among those working in their factories.

The thing is, unless you’re buying from a company who manufactures locally, it’s difficult to know what’s going on further down the supply chain.  Big brands can hide behind their slick advertising, pretty packaging, and well-designed fit outs.  But these chain stores selling “on-trend” clothing at unbelievable prices have been exposed over recent years, and a backlash is gathering momentum.  I think it’s hard to ignore issues around slave labour and child labour, and dodgy environmental issues once you know about it.


So I’ve been doing a little research.  Below you’ll find a list of brands you can support with a clear conscience.   All but one are New Zealand companies – although it’s easy enough to buy from those overseas now, it feels good to support our own right?  Obviously none of these will compare in price to cheap clothing – if this is what you are used to – but my personal way of justifying the higher prices is to buy less often, buy fewer pieces, and buy pieces that will last (in terms of quality and style).

And some great news regarding the Good On You NZ app – this successful app is currently available in Australia and takes the hard work out of finding ethical fashion retailers to support – the recent crowdfunding campaign was successful and it is currently being adapted for the NZ market.  YES!  The app will launch late August or early September, but in the meantime here’s my starting list of 12 brands that are doing great things.


KOWTOW have been getting enormous media attention over recent times and it’s well deserved.  You can read a lot about their philosophy on the website, but it’s fair to say this brand walks their talk.  I’ve read that when ethically made zips couldn’t be found, they decided not to use them.  Italian-made recycled hemp buttons are used instead.  There is a short doco on their website documenting their entire cotton chain from seed to garment.  See it here.  Kowtow has recently celebrated its ten year anniversary and what’s incredible is that founder, Gosia Piatek, didn’t have a background in fashion.  She ‘simply’ wanted to create something ethical and sustainable – to do her bit to save the world. In a recent interview in Well Made Clothes, the 5 Piece French Wardrobe concept was raised, and I personally think it could be pulled off with the Kowtow Building Block pieces.

STANDARD ISSUE creates knitwear in New Zealand and uses environmentally friendly dyes.  Their garments are made using either NZ merino or Italian cashmere.  There is a lot more to read about this experienced brand’s philosophy on their website.

WE’AR  yoga range is designed in NZ and made in Bali, in carefully monitored small home-workshops and factories.  You can have all your exercise gear sorted by shopping here and they also have a great range of “off the mat” gear too.  I absolutely love the way they describe their philosophy about conscious living and why operating in this way is important to them.  “We are starting to understand that this planet is a closed system and whatever we do affects this whole…When did we cease to be citizens and become consumers?”  Read more about their philosophy here.

FLIP YOUR DOG focuses on activewear sourced from around the world – lots of colourful, patterned leggings and tops.  If you like vibrant exercise gear, you’re going to love this!  All are fair trade and enviornmentally conscious.  The owner is very experienced in yoga and dance so you can expect all ranges to support movement well, no matter how you exercise.

KILT is NZ made with a good range of prices and a personal favourite of mine.  I contacted Kilt to ask about the sourcing of their fabrics, because while we can be assured that garment workers are being treated well, what do they know about the workers making their fabrics?  This was the response I was given: “At KILT we source our materials from a variety of reputable companies throughout NZ and globally. Some of the material that we purchase is not able to be entirely NZ made due to availability with the quantities that we produce. We do have fabrics that we can trace back the supply chain to the source of Merino sheep in Southland, with the complete process of knit, dye and finishing remaining in NZ.  We are reluctant to trust the trace of fabrics from other countries. We are very proud that our garments are entirely made in New Zealand! Last year we opened our very own factory to ensure that all KILT garments would always be made in New Zealand.  This means that we can assure high working standards.”


HOLI is relatively new to the market and currently has a small collection of black and cream pieces in organic cotton and bamboo; the range has a functional but feminine feel.  Worth keeping an eye on this brand as their range develops.  NZ made.

RECREATE is a special brand to know about because they are 100% non-profit; they put their profits back into communities that need assistance.  They design and produce their own organic clothing range, with production based in Cambodia.  Their production centre provides sustainable employment for women, allowing them to protect their children and work towards a better future.  Alongside their clothing range is a selection of scarves, BELOVED jewellery, bags, and children’s toys, sourced from producers who align with their principles around fair trade.

CHALKY DIGITS has an outdoorsy feel with a large range and like the brands above, really walk the talk.  They are NZ made using ethical, traceable and organic fibres, and source material close to home as much as possible.  You’ll also find candle holders and jewellery on their website.

UNTOUCHED WORLD you’ll likely know about.  What you might not know is that they are the first fashion company in the world to be recognised by the UN for sustainability.  Every aspect of their business is conducted with sustainability in mind.  Remember the garment worn by Bill Clinton at the APEC summit in 1999?  This was Untouched World.  Clinton claimed it was the “smartest garment he’d ever been given in seven years of being President”.  This is not cheap clothing, but if you can afford it, go for it…these guys appear to do great things in the community as well as create fantastic clothing, made to last, in a sustainable and ethical way.

NOBODY DENIM was started in Melbourne in 1999 and is still made in Australia.  These guys do denim so well!  They claim to use the best materials and support ethical labour practices.  Their range of jeans is extensive and I’m looking forward to trying these guys out when my current jeans wear out.  Click here for NZ stockists (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Wanaka and Queenstown).

LIMINAL APPAREL: if you want your own T, hoodie, apron or tote bag printed with your own design, or one of theirs, this is the company to use.  Their range supports fair trade, and uses only sustainable or organic materials.  95% of their products are manufactured using FREESET, a business that gives women who were trapped in bonded labour and human trafficking the chance to work and regain control of their lives in a caring community.


So that’s it….my list.  I’ll cover footwear in another post, and I’m still unclear on how to dress my tweens ethically (on a budget), so I’d love to hear if you can help…

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Would love to know if you find it useful.

Kim x





Author: The Coastal Creative

Living close to the beach encourages a relaxed way of living and this influences my work as an interior designer. I am drawn to the eclectic, faded colours, rustic timber, the imperfection of things hand made, and objects that tell a story.

7 thoughts on “Stylish + Ethical Fashion: where to buy in NZ?”

  1. Thanks for this. It is super helpful and great to know of more ethically minded folks for fashion. I think two more that possibly could make the list are Earth Sea Sky and Cactus for outdoor gear? Is Ice Breaker actually ethical? This discussion piece raises some interesting points about it all (see the second part)


    1. Hi Billy
      Thanks for your reply and for recommending Earth Sea Sky (I have heard of this company but overlooked them, so thank you!), and Cactus, who I hadn’t come across but it appears they are another excellent outdoor brand.
      Regarding Icebreaker, you are the second person to raise the point about how ethical they really are, and it was great to read the Scoop article you attached. There are many other high profile NZ brands that manufacture in China and claim to be using “newer style” factories that are carefully monitored for environmental damage, worker rights etc, but this article highlights how misleading these claims can be. So again, thanks for this, and I will continue to read more on this important topic.


  2. Love this article- so helpful! Mandatory Menswear is also a really amazing menswear label that has been designing and producing menswear in Wellington for 19 years and makes everything from tees to suits. They also offer to custom fit for the same price so guys get what they like in the shape and cut that fits- worth a mention for the males!
    Keep up the great work spreading the nz made ethical info!


    1. Thanks for highlighting Mandatory Menswear – I hadn’t heard of them. I’ve taken a look at their website and I see their workroom is walking distance from their retail store. It sounds as if they really value personal service. Thanks for mentinoing them!


    1. Hi Rachel and thank you for the link to Freedom Kids! I hadn’t come across your company so it’s great to know. One of the challenges with tweens (and I would categorise these as 10-13 years) is that they become so aware of what they are wearing and are very choosy (read picky!) A challenging age when it comes to shopping ethically. Thanks again for making contact Rachel.


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