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Help Me Celeste: “Are my locally made clothes better for the environment?”

Photography By Michael William, Celeste Tesoriero
Published 04.01.22

Have a sustainability question you can’t find the answer to on Google? Welcome to Help Me Celeste – a new series from RIISE’s sustainability expert Celeste Tesoriero.

Q: Is locally made always better? I’ve been making the assumption that it is but then I see a lot of brands producing in factories overseas that they seem to have good relationships with.  

When we think about the phrase “locally made” there are a couple of things we need to consider before making a decision about whether it is better to buy.  

Firstly, we need to question our assumptions about what we think “locally made” (as opposed to made overseas) really equates to. For example, a lot of products are made in China and we may have a negative connotation with items produced there. While we of course can’t ignore the ongoing trauma to both people and the planet in factories worldwide, many in China actually treat their workers well and turn out top-notch products. What people often don’t realise is every region in a country has different policies on production, so what happens in one factory can be very different to another.  

Rather than assigning a blanket assumption like “made in China means mass-produced and bad” we need to assess each product, and company, to look deeper into the individual factory that it was made in and how it is operating. What is it doing to mitigate its environmental impact? Of course, this is a lot easier when a brand is transparent about where exactly it is producing. 

When I worked as a fashion designer, one factory I visited in China had a beautiful rooftop garden where the staff were growing their own vegetables and they got a free vegan meal every lunchtime using the fresh produce. The whole factory was also run on renewable energy. But I know it’s not the stereotypical picture the average shopper would conjure about factories in that region.  

My personal experience there offered a totally different perspective on overseas production. Their environmental initiatives and operations were probably much better than those in one of the local factories I could have chosen to work with.  

There’s another layer to this too and it goes beyond what your tag says about where a product was made. What you really want to know is where all the elements that make up that item come from. When a tag says made in Italy or Australia for example, that just means that it was sewn there. What you also need to consider is this: Where are the fabric and trims from? Where has it been dyed? Where was the fabric spun? And if we’re looking at beauty and skincare, were the ingredients sourced locally?  

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to those different elements and how they contribute to the impact of your item. If everything from the supply chain is sourced locally, then generally that is a really positive sign. But even if something says it was “Made in Australia” it could still involve a really long supply chain that required a lot of elements being flown in from different parts around the world: emitting large amounts of polluting CO₂. Which might not actually be any better than a product that is manufactured overseas.  

So, back to the question: is locally made always better? The answer is no, not always. But in some cases yes, absolutely. It all comes down to the elements of a product and the policies of specific factories and suppliers.   

Reduced supply chains fall under our “Impact Reduction” Climate Credential. Make it easy for yourself and browse brands that tick this box on the RIISE Shop. 

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