Trying to buy ethical clothing in China

Less than a month after moving to China I found an unexpected colossal rip in my trusty denim jacket.

This might not seem like a big problem: just buy a new one! However, since watching the documentary The True Cost and reading up on the negative side of the fashion industry – to both people and planet (did you know it takes about 2,700 liters of water to make just one t-shirt?) – I’ve tried to seriously cut the amount I consume.

I love my denim jacket and was keen to replace it. But would it even be possible to do that in China? In the UK, I’d go onto the website of one of many eco-friendly clothing websites and look for an ethical replacement. But they don’t ship to China.

But China’s got a great economy.

Yes it has, but this still doesn’t meant that workers are paid well. In 2012 China accounted for 38% of the world market for garments, making them a huge global supplier of clothing. According to War on Want, the average monthly salary is £150 – and this includes overtime.

Factory workers tend to live in dormitory style accommodation provided by the factory, giving employers more control over the working and living conditions of employees.Some employers have even been known to keep identity cards or force new employees to leave a deposit with the company to ensure they stay and work.

Most recently, in 2015, the Chinese authorities arrested labour rights activists in Guangdong who helped workers understand their legal rights and encouraged negotiations between employers and workers.

I’m not going to pretend there haven’t been positive sides to China’s growing garment industry: it has allowed migrants from rural areas a chance to earn more and enjoy material prosperity. But would I want to work in an industry that played down my rights as an employee and forced me to live in dorms? No. So why would I support this industry by paying money into it?

In the shops – H&M

I know I know, not exactly a great ethical option. But H&M does do a “conscious collection”. I couldn’t find anything on their website which suggested that the conscious clothing collection did anything more to try and source clothing from factories where garment workers were paid fair wages, but it does seem that the clothing in this collection is made with more eco-friendly materials.


I managed to find a denim jacket in the collection which is made from 100% lyocell. Lyocell is an eco friendly fabric that is made with wood pulp from sustainable tree farms. It’s also fully biodegradable!


Waiting for Hong-Kong

Unfortunately, it seems that fair-trade and eco friendly clothes are not on the radar in China, but, in nearby Hong-Kong where we may ( want to) visit, there are lots of ethical clothing stores.

A summary

I’m not sure what I expected when I came to China, but I think, naively, I expected fair trade goods to exist somewhere. Maybe it soon will. Visiting the Global Center shopping mall in Chengdu in my first year in China confirmed by suspicions that consumerism has not only been welcomed in China, but has become a national past-time for those that can afford it. Surely an inevitable development will be for a growing concern about where consumer goods come from?


So contrary to my blog post title, I am yet to find ethical clothing here.Sorry for getting anybody’s hopes up.




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