My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Tuesday 6 December 2016

The Ethics Of Goth Clothes

I have been stalling writing this blog post... It's one of those topics that is very easy to sound preachy and self-righteous about, and I'm not wanting to dictate other people's shopping habits - rather, I would like to start a conversation (feel free to comment!), one that occurs about mainstream fashion, but which seems overlooked within Goth. 

Manufacture & Sweatshops
Quite a few mainstream 'fast-fashion' high-street brands have come under criticism for having garments made in sweatshops where working conditions are poor, workers have long shifts, health and safety is overlooked, wages are a pittance, and sometimes even children work. Investigative reporters and groups interested in sustainable and ethical have tracked back their supply chains, produced rankings and reports to check major companies, and some retailers have since moved production to different manufacturers after public scandals, but the issue of sweatshops remain. Imported clothes at impossibly low prices, for example, make me question where the customer saving comes from, and to where that cost has been shifted.

When it comes to Goth brands, especially the larger ones, the supply chain is pretty opaque to the average customer- we rarely even buy them from the brands themselves, but from resellers. These are often niche companies, ranging from very small businesses run by either one person or two or three, to small companies, to much larger companies making thousands of garments, maybe tens of thousands, but very few are anywhere near the scale of the big high-street retailers selling millions of garments each. They are not large enough companies to attract the attention of the groups monitoring sustainable and ethical production, and it's often very hard to find out if the companies just design and distribute the garments, or if they also produce them in their own factories rather than contract that out.  This makes it very difficult to know anything about the production and supply chain.

Some, like ::Holy Clothing:: (fantasy, Medieval-inspired and bohemian styles, usually available in black, dark purple and other colours that make them very Gothic - great place to get gowns!), make a point to say their clothes are 'Ethically Made' and even have a section on their website about their workers, and Dracula Clothing also seem to be treating their staff in their tailoring workshop in India well, and others like ::Alchemy Gothic:: are very proud of their production methods and tell you all about it if you look on their blog (part 1 of the process is ::here:: and you can find the rest of it on their site. Their jewellery is made in Leicester, England). There are also companies like ::MoonMaiden:: and ::Hysteria Machine:: that are very small operations, making their own garments and accessories.

I thoroughly endorse Alchemy Gothic's products, and I'm not being sponsored to say that or anything! I've been collecting their jewellery and homewares for several years now,  and am a very happy customer, and I think their jewellery designs are gorgeous! 

A lot of what Goths actually wear isn't sourced from Goth-specific brands - it's from mainstream retailers. These often ARE assessed in terms of sustainability and ethical production, and there's been quite a lot done to research exactly where our high-street fast-fashion comes from. With those, I strongly recommend looking up exactly what is made where. Personally, I now buy nearly nothing directly from fast-fashion mainstream retailers, although I will buy stuff manufactured by them from charity shops etc.; I don't want my money to support an unsustainable fashion industry, but also understand that clothes waste is a serious issue (which I will address later in this post), and so would rather buy second-hand clothes and put my money towards a good cause. 

Production & Pollution
There is also an issue that is part of all fashion - the manufacture of fabric, especially synthetic fabrics made from what are essentially plastics derived from the oil industry, and the dyeing process. The dyeing industry is notorious for water pollution issues, With fabrics derived from natural materials there is also the concern for the farming methods used - for example pesticide use on cotton grown on irrigated land and the leaching of pesticides back into the water system, especially as cotton is often a crop grown with high use of pesticides. Check out ::this article:: for an overview of the issues relating to specific fabrics. One piece of bad news for Goths is that one of our favourite materials - PVC - is a plastic with a particular issue when it comes to production.

It is important to look at what materials a garment is made from. Personally, I think this is a good reason to look towards either secondhand or recycled clothes as much as possible rather than towards brand new clothes made of brand new materials, thus not encouraging further excess production. Of course, that's not always practical, plus there'd be a pretty big negative economic impact if everyone suddenly stopped buying new clothes!

When making our own clothes, it also important to think about where we are sourcing our materials. Some fabrics and trims are made in factories that are just as much sweatshops as garment factories can be, sometimes even worse as the dyeing and synthetic fabric production processes use a lot of harsh and dangerous chemicals. There is also the issue of health and safety, especially in factories that use antiquated machinery and child labour. Conditions in some places aren't much better than the lethal cotton mills of Victorian England. It is unfortunately very, very difficult to find out the conditions in which our trims, buttons, lace and fabric were made, as we are usually at the end of a very indirect supply chain. It is certainly possible to reclaim materials from used garments and furnishings, but this isn't always practical, and good quality materials secondhand can be hard to come by - especially as another aspect of fast-fashion flooding the market is that cheap, substandard materials have become the norm, and therefore the secondhand market is full of things that are simply already too worn-out and damaged to be easily up-cycled. 

Carbon Footprint & Air Miles

There are two issues with clothes being manufactured a long way from where they are consumed - relying on imported goods and outsourcing cheap manufacturing overseas damages the domestic manufacturing industries, and shipping things half way across the globe is bad for the environment - those ships and planes pollute. Some companies, such as ::Cykxtees:: and Moon Maiden manufacture their clothes in the same country as their primary market (in the case of Cykxtees, that's the U.S.A, Moon Maiden the U.K.) but many have their primary sales markets in Europe or America, but have their clothes made in India, China, etc. While this is obviously economical in terms of cost of production, it does have an impact on the environment, and while it might beyond the scope of small companies to make much change in the economic forces that drive manufacturing to far away places, there is an issue with that, too - but the economic growth in many of those countries has in many cases spurred a huge increase in the local standards of living (and in other cases, contributed to local pollution to toxic levels!). It is a case where there is not always a clear and definitive ethical demarcation of whether it is "good" or "bad" - but I think it is something that needs to at least be thought about. 

Cheaper & Greener

I really recommend shopping secondhand for Goth clothes. It's how I get about ⅔ of my clothes, initially only out of budgetary concerns as I just can't afford most new clothes in the Romantic Goth, Gothic Aristocrat and Gothic Lolita styles that I like, but now also because I don't want to contribute financially to the encouragement of overproduction.

It takes a bit more time to look through charity shops and online to find what you want, but I think it is definitely a worthwhile endeavour; I've bought fancy buckled pointy boots for £1 and a heavy winter woollen coat that was probably £100 or more new for under £4. One thing I will note is to always check the cost of postage, and from how far away someone is selling. It requires patience, and knowing the nuances of how to shop secondhand; something that is outside the scope of this particular article, but there are plenty of guides out there, including ::this one:: I wrote.

Reuse, Recycle and Resell
There is also the issue of what to do with our clothes once we no longer have use for them, as well as how we get them in the first place.
If something no longer fits, alteration is also an option, especially if a garment is now too big. Things can also be made larger with the insertion of fabric panels, or where the seam allowance allows. If something is damaged, see if it can be mended before you throw it away.

Reselling clothes in good condition is certainly an option. There are many second-hand sales communities on the internet, as well as second-hand marketplace websites. You can often recoup a reasonable amount of money, especially for the more elaborate and unusual items, especially if you're in the right targeted group for a niche community. People will still buy fancy garments with minor damage if they're informed of it up front, as buttons can be changed, tears mended, etc. Permanent stains are often more of an issue, especially if they're obvious. There are also Goth swap-meets and bring-and-buy sales in person in some areas.

Donating old clothes to charity is also an option. Charities prefer clothes without tears, damage or stains, because they are selling them to a broader market, and most people outside of looking for a niche garment where there's less of an availability issue, will reject damaged clothes. Some charity shops can sell on damaged clothes by weight for material recycling, but this isn't possible with all fabrics and with all shops - some shops are actually charged for the disposal of clothes they can't sell.

There is also the option of reusing garments as something else. The staples of this in our subculture are long socks with the feet cut off and a thumb-hole made used as arm-warmers, and ripped tights being ripped up even more on purpose for a textured, layered look, especially in post-apocalyptic and ruination inspired fashions, Deathrock, and Trad-Goth. With more sewing skills things can be dismantled and the fabric, trims, etc. all reused. Plenty of my clothes are repurposed from the fabric of something else; a torn lace skirt turned into a 'butt-cape', a over-sized neck-tie turned into a headdress, an old jacket turned into a hood and cowl, etc. The internet is full of crafting ideas for reusing unwanted and damaged clothes. I have a stash of reclaimed fabric, trims and buttons.

Fast Fashion vs. Goth Fashion
For the most part, Goth is what I would call a style rather than a fashion - what is fashionable is often fleeting and transiently cool, whereas what is stylish remains stylish through time. There are plenty of Goths now that dress pretty much like Goths did 40 years ago, or 25 years ago, etc. and we often buy clothes, especially statement pieces, with the idea of them being an investment we're going to keep for a good few years. This, I think, is a lot more sustainable than what mainstream fashion seems to be like - ::this:: recent video by Huffington Post asserts that mainstream garments are now worn only an average of 5 times before they're thrown away, and retained for an average length of just over a month. (Which, with how long many of us hold on to clothes, must mean some people wear things once and throw them away straight off, for that to be an average!).

We hold on to our clothes longer, have less of a demand for new clothes, and are more likely to buy secondhand, or to make our own clothes, including up-cycled clothes, all positives, and it is good to acknowledge this is already an aspect of the fashion of our subculture and the attitudes within it. 


  1. I'm very glad that you posted on this topic as I often think about the very points that you make so well here. Sweatshops, pollution, and the carbon footprint are definitely matters that we should all seriously consider. Here's how I handle these matters:

    I do a lot of shopping for clothing at a nearby vintage clothing shop. Everything there is used, but in quite good shape when it is brought in. Generally, I'm a t-shirt kind of goth and in cooler weather, wear these under an open jacket. I have found some wonderful t-shirts at this particular shop as well as leather jackets, belts, and hats. So, my first go-to place.

    I do go to the occasional metal concert and admittedly, I have a hard time resisting some of the band shirts I find at these shows. So, I must admit to a certain amount of violating my own ethics when I purchase these items. I also occasionally buy the same from Black Rose out of London. They have an excellent selection that again, I find hard to resist.

    These purchases are relatively rare however, and when I do add these items into my clothing lineup they are placed into my highest tier of shirts. In other words, I rarely wear them, using them primarily for special occasions. The main reason or this is because I value them so much that I don't want to wear them out. Still, there are some environmental pluses to not using or buying often. Purchases from the vintage store are generally place in my middle or lower tier and do wear out faster, but since I didn't buy them new, I don't feel as responsible for any pollution their manufacturing may have caused. Of course, I have dressier items, but these don't get worn very often either.

    As for accessories, I do sometimes buy items at Hot Topic, Spencer's, or some other venue. There are local crafts people here set up and sell their wares at various events. I would love to support them instead of the larger venues but lately, they've been specializing mainly in steam punk, which is simply not my style.

    It's possible to find environmentally friendly clothing here, but it's too expensive for my budget and quite frankly, strikes me as hippie clothing. If the creators of these items would run a goth line or something I could use in that way, I would be happy to support their efforts, but in general, I find goth clothing much more attractive--and it's the way I prefer to dress, with a bit of metal thrown in or good measure.

    I do appreciate your informing us as to which vendors of goth items sell worker and environment friendly clothing. I know that Black Rose sells some of their material, so I will definitely look for those names in the future.

    Thank you or such a good and informative post!

    1. A lot of the environmentally aware clothes are made to a certain demographic, certainly - either hippie or hipster a lot of the time! I'd certainly be interested in Goth-styled versions. Some of the hippie stuff comes in black in aesthetics that head towards the 'spooky forest person' aesthetic; something of the woodland elf, the dark faerie, the herbal witch, but sadly not enough, and I almost never see anything Victorian or historically inspired.

      I tend to look on Etsy and Facebook for independent craftspeople; there's a lot of them out there, but often you have to look internationally, and that comes with it the issue or carbon foot-print when it comes to how many miles your stuff has travelled.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post it well-executed post. It highlights so many factors and some I wasn't aware of.

    Recently, after learning about H&M using the labour of Syrian children and now anything owned by the Green Company. I will admit I purchase some things in Primark but after the clasp of Savar in Bangladesh, Primark offered aid and compensation to the workers and families.

    But , I try to make my clothes last long as possible, and I reuse old shirts as nightwear. I mainly source clothing from second clothing. If I purchase new items I try to purchase good quality items.

    Most my alter clothing Sinister they produce beautiful quality clothing that produces to an ethical standard. I have few things by Omen and Phaze whose clothing were produced in the UK

    A few years ago, when I went to Bosnia I saw a lot of British Brands of clothing were being resold for prices it was to see the clothing being resold rather than going to waste.

    I also enjoyed your part, particularly about sewing .since I'm a sewer I often go to the market to purchase fabric it's very to know the line of it and comes from.

    I do believe it's time we take more responsibility for what we purchase and large corporations do as well. There should be a clearer outline of where and how things are produced, where currently it's hard to know.

    1. I like Sinister, Omen and Phaze's clothes; I didn't know where any of those brands made their stuff - everything I have from them I have bought secondhand on eBay (I buy so much on eBay!).

      I think there's a lot of UK to Eastern Europe exporters of secondhand clothes; I see a lot of places that buy secondhand clothes by weight, and I think they then sort them and then sell them on the Balkans, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. I don't see anything wrong with it; I'm perfectly happy to buy secondhand clothes and think it's good that these places are paying people for their clothes because it encourages them to sell them rather than throw them away - reducing waste.

      There should certainly be more transparency as to the whole production chain for fashion (and other things)...

      I really try to protract how long my clothes last... Partly because I'm just clingy about my things and can't bear to part with them; I get too attached to inanimate objects!

  3. Very thoughtful and well-written article, as always ! (I've been reading this blog since a little while now, but it's the first time I'm leaving a comment)

    I agree that second-hand shopping and actually caring for our clothing (not seeing it as merely disposable like some people) are very good elements that show the goth community may be more conscious to the ethic issues around clothing, or, just out of habit and other reasons, less prone to be part of the fast-fashion problem.

    Personally, I like buying from local designers (I'm lucky to have a few in my area) knowing the items don't have to travel over an ocean to get to me, and that I encourage a local seamstress and help them earn a decent wage.

    I also believe building myself a goth wardrobe (mostly romantic/medieval) with in it delicate or complex pieces (with grommets, lace or other fragile bits) made me more conscious to how I’m washing my clothes, therefore they last longer then the things people just wash in the machine and throw in the dryer. And, as they are in good condition even after a few years of wear, if I grow tired of them I can resell them on a local Facebook sales group or give them to a charity shop and they’ll be useful to another person.

    The only one point I don't agree with you on is that I think the goth community has its trends, not only the foundation style (or, more accurately, its many recognizable styles). We like taking care and interest in how we dress ourselves, and we’re humans who simply like new things; at least in the Tumblr community, I think there's a discernible enthusiasm when certain elements become more popular in Etsy stores and in bigger popular retailers like Restyle and Killstar (like spirit board patterns, alchemy imagery and skulls/bones jewellery, in the last few years) and when we can see other people making outfits with them on social media, and it makes me feel like there is a sort of temporary popularity for certain patterns or elements, that fades to let another trend take its place a few months after. But, I don’t believe, as it’s so in the mainstream, that someone wearing something that was very popular a year or so back would be seen as unfashionable in the goth community. We simply don’t have this weird imperative pressure to move on from trends like mainstream fashion imposes, falsely making perfectly good items not wearable anymore, which is the main issue of fashion. The trends may result in impulsive buying, but it’s nowhere near the mass-production, consumerism and at last waste caused by mainstream fashion. (Or maybe I just spend too much time looking for inspiration online and get influenced by bloggers and such, and that it’s not a real issue with most people, but I felt like I should share these observations).

    Anyway, thanks for this article, it’s always a pleasure to read your work !

  4. As a plus sized person (size UK 26) I am limited to where I can shop. One unexpected advantage to this is that I'm sized out of the 'obviously' bad companies like H&M, Primark etc.

    I have bought a few things from charity shops before but in my local area things tend towards 'granny style' frumpy blouses and pleated skirts in horrible materials. It's not as if I can even buy shoes on any regular basis thanks to large size 9 feet. I did buy some cool Victorian style boots which I ended up re-donating since I had them for over a year and never re-soled them (they were very slippery without). I also bought some New Rock shoes once but I realised after a year or so that the style didn't go with my style and they were a bit too heavy. I think some of the thinner soled boots would suit me better.

    I do try and buy things on sale so I know I'm contributing less to bad trade and my clothes seem to last years - probably because I'm usually at work in uniform so my leisure clothes don't get worn as often. Because of my size my wardrobe isn't overly gothy at the moment (a few black basics, a couple of velvet things, things that are coloured but on the darker end of the spectrum) but I want to try and refine my style in the new year, support more small businesses etc. One Etsy shop I love the look of and definitely want to support is ExoUmbra based in Cornwall. She hand makes everything up to a size 5X (26-28 I believe).

    1. If you're into Romantic Goth fashion, I really, REALLY recommend Holy Clothing - they're based in the US, but have their clothes made fair-trade in India. They do a lot of medieval/fantasy designs, and I think everything comes in black and dark purple and red options. They do everything in plus sizes, too. Lots of gorgeous dresses.

  5. A very good article. I must admit that I was never much of an 'environmentalist' but I absolutely hate to see waste. My general feeling is that as a first positive step to sustainability that we can all do is.... Not by cheap badly made stuff, clothing or ANYTHING for that matter, buy something well made then make it last a LONG time. It influences the way I shop, that I will take great care to find things that I like, and know I will not grow tired of. And that I know, particularly, like furniture and household items, will literally last a life time. I just can not abide the disposal of little used items, it is just a waste of time, money and resources. Similar with clothes. I have a pair of DM's now well over 20, that's years not days, well loved but still going !

    1. I tend to buy stuff with the intention of it lasting me - it's cheaper in the long run to save up for something that is good quality than to buy cheap stuff and keep replacing it (but the hard part is saving up for it to begin with).

      DMs and New Rocks seem to last forever if looked after. My partner's New Rock boots have served him well for over a decade.

  6. Thank you for this important post. We all need to start being more conscious of where our clothing comes from so we can make better choices.

    1. This is a topic that's quite important to me :)

  7. I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand. Unlike other blogs I have read which are really not that good.Thanks alot!
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  8. Thank you so much for this post! I am trying my best to avoid buying things that might have been made in sweatshops. I originally found Ironfist clothing through a cruelty free page, but have noticed their website has removed all mentions of being ‘sweatshop and cruelty free’ I’ve been struggling to find goth clothed that are somewhat transparent.

    Though I do shop second hand whenever possible.

    1. It is hard to find transparency in the manufacturing process for a lot of companies, alternative or otherwise. I think that's something a lot of companies need to improve on.

  9. I am not thinking of starting a garment business myself, so you might be making a sales pitch to the wrong person

  10. Just started doing research on this, now and reading up on scholarly articles.

    I cant boycott absolutely everything unethical, given I cant afford it, plus, there are some basic needs that I have.

    When it comes to ethical fashion choice, however, I have been considering doing it. I feel like I should know more about it, though.

    So far, Ive bought my clothes through Wish, Ebay and Dreslilly. I started thinking about this after I bought my first stuff online.


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