Emma Melville is a member of the youth group at Glen Eden Baptist Church. She tells us why she has been championing the issue of ethical clothing. Youth Pastor Daniel Marshall explains how Emma’s advocacy is impacting those around her and beyond. 

When you choose ethical clothing, you consider where and how your clothes are made. Are the source of the materials and the manufacturing process having a positive impact on the people and communities who make what you wear? What about the environmental impact? 

Closing down all unethical clothing factories would result in the loss of millions of jobs for people who rely on them to survive. Therefore the aim of the ethical fashion movement is instead to create more sustainable business models where workers get paid fair wages and work in safe conditions. This benefits the community and frees people from the poverty cycle.

Changing perspectives on ethical clothing

“Ethical clothing first really came to be an issue for me when I was in Year 10 at high school,” says Emma. “We had to do a research assignment on a social issue, and I felt the garment industry was a topic that was, and is, so relevant to our lives. We know little about where the clothes we wear every day come from, viewing it in a light that is more ‘out of sight, out of mind’.”  

It was watching the film True Cost that changed Emma’s perspective and started her passion for ethical fashion. The documentary highlighted the shortcomings of the garment industry and its inability to support its workers.  

“It is a confronting film but it shows the reality of how unsustainable the whole system is, from those on the ground floor of the sweatshops to wider environmental issues,” says Emma. 

But there was something else that also convicted Emma. 

“As Christians, we are called to be like Jesus, and this makes me think, ‘How can we do that if we are supporting an industry that is so unjust?’” she says. 

“In Isaiah 58, God said the Israelites’ devotion to him should impact all areas of their lives, especially how they treated the poor and oppressed. This also challenges us as Christians in how we outwork our faith. When we buy clothes based on style and price, we overlook the workers behind them. We don’t see them as people, nor do we consider the way they are treated.”

Changing actions

Emma spoke to her youth group about ethical fashion and what they could do about it. This sparked a look into how Glen Eden Baptist produced their youth ministry shirts. 

In the past they had chosen the cheapest and fastest option, not necessarily considering the garment industry. This year, along with several of the ‘Western Front’ youth groups, they chose to create their youth shirts and ‘hoodies’ by screen-printing onto Freeset products.1 

Emma has changed her personal buying habits too, explaining she now often purchases garments from op shops and recycled clothing stores. 

“I am not saying I am perfect and buy everything ethically. But I am making a conscious effort to consider those on the other end of my buying purchases and how my choices inadvertently affect theirs.” 

A youth pastor’s perspective 

Daniel says that Emma is by nature quiet and reserved. So, when he heard her speak with passion and urgency about ethical clothing, he knew he needed to create a platform for her to share this and to inspire her peers and the wider youth community.  

“I believe that the next generation of great communicators, activists and change makers are the youth of today. Their voices are getting stronger and their desire is to bring change sooner rather than later. I do not want to be remembered as someone who stood in their way; rather, I am looking for those with the gift, and making as much space for them as I can. 

“The impact of change brought through Emma has affected our youth community. It has also benefited those in another part of the world whose lives will be better because of us purchasing ethical clothing,” says Daniel.

Daniel’s own buying practices have also altered. He says before he would see an item he liked and make his decision based on the price tag. Now, his first look is at the origin tag. 

“This isn’t an issue of clothes; it is about the people making the clothes. As Emma said, as Christians, we cannot be blind to this issue.” 

Story: Daniel Marshall and Emma Melville

Daniel is a Carey Baptist College graduate who is the Pastor of Youth at Glen Eden Baptist Church, where he has been pastoring full-time for five years. He is married with two children. In his spare time he is an Australasian Barbecue Alliance meat judge, which means he judges meat at barbeque competitions.

Emma Melville is currently a student at Auckland University of Technology where she is studying a Bachelor of Design.

Take Outs:

  1. How are we creating space for the activists, the change makers, the passionate ones who normally would not be heard or given a platform to share their ideas and inspire us to bring change? 
  2. Are we actively seeking out the voice of the next generation who could lead us into change that will positively impact our communities, our cities, our nation and this world? 
  3. Are we open to conversations that may make us a little uncomfortable but would release others to be who God has called them to be and to bring change how God has called them to bring change? 

References:

  1. Freeset is an ethical fashion business located in Sonagacchi, Kolkata, India. Its products are sold in New Zealand through Marketplacers marketplacers.co.nz/our-suppliers/freeset.

To find out more about ethical fashion, you can