ethical clothing

Fashion, Life & Style

Ethical Alternatives To Sports Direct

ethical alternatives to sports direct

Sports Direct has been exposed, but what is the ethical alternative?

Sports Direct has been hitting the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons. This includes a damning government investigation likening the range of shocking practices at their Derbyshire warehouse to that of a ‘Victorian workhouse’.

But it’s not an isolated case. Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer has this interesting post for Moral Fibres readers on their latest findings when investigating outdoor and sports retailers.  

Healthy living and appreciation of the great outdoors.  Do outdoor and sports retailers practice what they preach?

It’s the ultimate irony that whilst outdoor gear companies depend on a pristine environment for their profitability, the vast majority show a total disregard for the environmental impact of their businesses.

Workers are paid below the minimum wage. Staff are penalised for taking toilet breaks. And repeated ambulance calls from workers. These are just some of the findings of a Guardian investigation at Sports Direct, which prompted a government enquiry.  It paints a disturbing picture for a company basing their business on the pursuit of healthy living and exercise. However, they are not the only outdoor and sports retailer with questionable ethics.

At Ethical Consumer, we help consumers make smart and well-informed decisions based on sound ethical buying behaviour.  When we learned of the Sports Direct scandal, we decided it was time to investigate this sector.  We assessed the other major outdoor and sports retailers in the UK and our findings don’t make for happy reading.  As far as poor ethics go, sadly Sports Direct is not alone…

ethical outdoor retailers

The shocking results show that all sports and outdoor retailers score badly. There is particularly poor performance in supply chain management, toxic chemical use, animal rights, and environmental reporting.  We always choose a few highly scoring companies to feature as a ‘best buy’ in each category that we evaluate, but for obvious reasons, we are unable to do so for these retailers.

Supply chain shame

A clear supply chain policy sets out how workers in factories, farms, and warehouses must be treated. It also sets corporate responsibility for ensuring that workers are treated fairly.  Without a policy, retailers are unable to provide guidance on pay, hours, and health and safety.  In short, they are unable to hold the supply chain to account.  No policy, no control.

All of the retailers scored the lowest possible score in this area. Not a single outdoor retailer was able to offer a supply chain management policy that set out to protect the interests of their workers.

In fact, here in the UK, we discovered that Go Outdoors advertises zero-hour contracts. This is something that Sports Direct was harshly criticised for during their enquiry.  Only Decathlon states that it operates a no zero-hours contract policy.

Toxic fashion

The production of fabric often relies on the use of toxic, persistent substances such as PVC, dyes, and adhesives that can cause harm to workers and the environment.  

Most recently, Greenpeace has launched a campaign ‘Detox Outdoors’ to hold outdoor clothing manufacturers to account and to eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals in clothing production, including the use of Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs).  PFCs are persistent hormone and reproductive disruptors that can accumulate in the food chain. However, they are widely used to make outdoor gear waterproof.  Although there are alternative substances on the market that do the same job, PFC use is widespread.

In our assessment, all of the retailers were penalised for the use of toxic chemicals, all receiving the worst score.  They either had no policy at all or did not have a clear time-driven plan to remove these chemicals from their products.

Animal rights issues

You might not immediately think that animal rights would be something that outdoor retailers would need to concern themselves with. However, the use of animal products are widespread within the industry.  Think down jackets, merino wool sweaters and socks, and of course leather use in bags and shoes.

Despite clear animal rights issues associated with live plucking of birds for down collection and the use of ‘mulesing’ (anaesthetised removal of skin in sheep to prevent flystrike) in the production of merino wool, most retailers did not have a policy on how they ensure responsible sourcing of these materials.  Include the pollution risk of not controlling the production of leather in tanneries, and there are clear ethical concerns here.  All retailers, but Intersport, received the lowest possible marks in this category.

Lack of environmental control

In an era when climate change is making the headlines on a daily basis, you would think that retailers would have environmental impact firmly on their agenda.  You would expect large retailers to have a clear policy setting out how they plan to reduce their impact.

Not so.  With the exception of Decathlon, none of the other retailers were able to provide us with a policy and had no evidence of setting targets to become more sustainable.

A depressing outlook, but there are other ethical alternatives to Sports Direct…

The picture looks pretty bleak for the outdoor retailers.  However, there are ethical outdoor brands out there, if you’re willing to search off the high street.  We’ve run reports on sportswear brands and can recommend several ‘best buy’ brands:

  • Gossypium offers a range of natural and organic yoga and dance clothes made in Great Britain and they ranked at the top of our sportswear report.
  • Yew is a sports and outdoor clothing company that makes ethically sourced clothes from environmentally friendly and sustainable materials.
  • Páramo ranked in our top 4.  They stock a large range of outdoor clothing and have a clear plan for the removal of PFC from their clothing range.

Until these high street retailers can demonstrate that they care let’s vote with our feet and shop elsewhere.  There are plenty of alternatives to Sports Direct available.  You just have to know where to look. For example, check out the Moral Fibres guide to the best ethical outdoor gear.

At Ethical Consumer, we’ve produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands, and products, using calculations to assess and rank companies in all aspects of ethical behaviour.  See ethicalconsumer.org for these ethical reports.

Featured image by Philip Halling; table reproduced by permission from Ethical Consumer.

Fashion, Life & Style

Ethical Clothes For Work Ideas

Looking for some inspiration on ethical clothes for work?  Here are two of my favourite work outfits.

I’ve been enjoying the last of my lazy maternity leave weekends. Well, as lazy as life with two kids ever gets! This is because I’m off back to work very shortly indeed, which includes working every other Saturday.  It could be worse though. Once upon a time I worked in bars and retail and never got a weekend off. Therefore I can’t really grumble at working two Saturdays out of four.

Ethical Clothes for Work

As I’ve spent the last 10 months in casual breastfeeding-friendly clothes. And the last 7 months or so prior to that in maternity clothes, there’s a good portion of my wardrobe I haven’t even looked at in a long time.  This meant I spent a little bit of the weekend sorting out my work wardrobe. I wanted to see what fits, what doesn’t, and what just doesn’t work anymore.  I’ve also bought a couple of ethical bits and pieces this year that I thought I’d share in case you need some ethical clothes for work inspiration:

The Easy-to-Wear Ethical Dress

Wendy Moral Fibres

Dress – Thought Clothing* / Leggings – Thought Clothing* / Boots c/o Gudrun Sjöden

Thought Clothing is on to a winner lately, with all of their lovely prints and designs.  I picked this beautiful dress up just this week.  It’s really soft and easy to wear. And the crucial aspect when considering ethical clothes for work – it doesn’t need any ironing! As such, it will work well just being thrown on in the morning when I’m trying to get myself and my kids out the house and to everywhere we all need to be by 9am!  It’s quite roomy – I’d size down if I were you.

I’m wearing it with my favourite Thought Clothing leggings. They’re also really soft, stretchy, keep their shape, and aren’t see through, like some other leggings.

The boots are a new addition from Gudrun Sjöden.  My old faithful boots have recently died a death (RIP boots, you and I did everything together in the 5 years we had together). Therefore, I had been keeping an eye out for a pair of flat easy to wear boots.  Thiw pair are so comfortable, with a lovely springy sole. It feels like it gives a little bounce to my step!

The Perfect Ethical Cord Dress

ethical clothes for work

Cord Dress – Bibico / Bag – c/o Kakaw Designs

Now, I actually picked this cord dress up from Bibico way back in the January sales. I squirreled it away until now as I wasn’t able to wear it before now.  It was love at first sight, as I really liked the cut and shape of it. And truth be told, I have a bit of a thing for green cord.   I know cord gets a bit of bad rap, with the whole Geography teacher look thing, but I just really like it.  I do have a degree in Geography after all, so maybe it is a Geographer thing?  If you’re not convinced on cord, also know that it’s pretty cosy, which is a must for chilly autumn mornings.

My beautiful bag is from Kakaw Designs. It is handmade by traditional Guatemalan artisans using locally sourced materials. These are both custom made and repurposed.  It’s roomy, practical, and gorgeous (but not trend-driven). What’s more, it is pretty much the perfect size for carting around my work paraphernalia.  It’s sturdily made, and something that’s going to be part of my wardrobe for a long long time to come.

Kakaw Design’s philosophy and story make for really interesting reading. It’s pretty cool to know that your purchase directly helps support and sustain traditional Guatemalan skills, and helps support communities and families.

My acorn necklace was a birthday gift from my partner (probably from Etsy).  He has pretty good taste like that!

I’m off on my travels this week, however, I do have some posts lined up for you, so have a good week, and see you soon! In the meantime, do check out my guide to ethical clothing brands for some more ethical clothes for work inspiration.