Happy birthday Johnny Ruth

Come October 1, Johnny Ruth will be celebrating its first birthday. Bryhanna Greenough had a chat with owner Kim Winsor about what it means to run a socially responsible clothing shop.

What does “ethical clothing” mean exactly?

Ethical clothing is clothing with a conscience. A lot of people think its all about child labor, but it’s a lot more than that. Good working conditions, getting a living wage, mandatory days off, good lighting, monitored factories…That’s ethical clothing to me.

And when did you first realize that you wanted to get into the ethical clothing trade?

From day one. I’ve been in retail clothing for a lot of years and you hear about the child labor and everything else and I just personally found an interest in knowing where everything came from. When I got into business, it just snowballed because I have the right to know now where all my clothes are made and where they come from.

What are some ways that ordinary people can put pressure on companies that use unfair labor practices?

Write letters. Ask questions. More businesses should be transparent, meaning consumers can go to the owner and ask “Where is this made?’ and “What is the name of the designer or factory or distributor?” Ask more questions.

Right now I’m working on an application form for my suppliers and the consumers will have access to that. This way [suppliers] will be accountable, and I’ll have it in writing. It’s still second-hand information, but at least they know my standards.

Once I get this application form done I’ll be excited to see where it goes from there. I’m sure I’ll lose some suppliers because they won’t want to fill it out, but it will be prerequisite for me. Whenever I get a new company, they give me sheets to fill out and they want to know everything about me, but I’m going to send them an application form to see if they’re worthy of displaying in my store.

Everybody has heard of sweatshops in other countries, but do you think many unfair labor practices happen in the garment industry in Canada?

I think it does happen but, and I’d say we’re way ahead of the game compared to the rest of the world. Last year Toronto passed a zero-tolerance, ‘No Sweat’ policy. And B.C. didn’t pass it. But there are always going to be people in the basement working their hours. But in most cases, sewers in Toronto are getting paid more than designers.

And what’s next?

I see Johnny Ruth being one of the most responsible, ethical stores. And that gives me goose bumps. It’s not perfect yet. I don’t think it will ever be perfect. But we’re certainly striving.