Kiwi shoppers told: T-shirts shouldn't be $3
New Zealand shoppers are being told they can have clothes that are dirt cheap, or clothes that are ethically produced - but probably not both.
Shopping apps such as Wish, which acts as a conduit for Chinese merchants selling their products to New Zealanders, are making it easier than ever for shoppers to stock up for next to nothing.
Wish sells tops for $2 and running shoes for only a couple of dollars more. Many online businesses are also using Facebook to target New Zealand shoppers with bargain prices.
But Amabel Hunting, a senior lecturer in AUT's school of art and design, said too few New Zealanders realised what they were buying when they clicked on a link to an item of clothing for a couple of dollars.
She said labour costs were one of the first things cut when a producer wanted to deliver cheap, fast fashion.
"How do you truly account for the physical cost of the labour so the consumer is clear about that? It's hard to compete with t-shirts that are $3. People don't think, why is that $3? If you really think about the cost of the material, the transport here, it doesn't economically make sense."
She said some local producers struggled to keep up.
"We are seeing the quality of clothes diminish to a certain degree. Instead of cotton you now get a polyester blend. It's challenging."
Hunting said younger shoppers were more concerned than older people about the environmental and social implications of their choices.
"They've grown up in an age of terrorism. They have a stronger sense of ethical and environmental values."
Simon Pound, a director at fashion label Ingrid Starnes, which makes clothes in New Zealand, said some shoppers seemed confused.
"It is funny that as a country we put in laws, laws that we agree with and we follow as local producers, that say people must be paid well, their working conditions must be good and that the environmental impact of dying and fabric production must be carefully and safely managed, and these laws mean that garments cost more to produce.
"But as a country we then import things and happily sell them knowing that they were made in ways we have outlawed. We're funny creatures."
He said it would not be possible for a legitimate New Zealand supplier to compete on price.
"It is crazy that you can get fully finished clothing for a couple of dollars, that's less than the cost of cotton by the metre on the global market. It is definitely a mixture of secret subsidies and horrendous labour and environmental practices - and the garments won't be well made so they won't last and will create more waste."
Designer Kelly Coe, of Augustine, said she had found production off-shore was the only way to deliver clothes at a price point her followers would accept.
She uses a small Chinese operation, which meets ethical standards.
"I don't think people mind that it is made offshore," she said. "They are not prepared to pay the price of New Zealand-made."
A Baptist World Aid survey last year rated Glassons a C+ based on their policies, supply chain, monitoring practises, and worker empowerment. Kathmandu got a B- and Karen Walker and Ezibuy a C.
University of Auckland senior marketing lecturer Mike Lee said while New Zealand firms could not compete on price, they could highlight their social responsibility, transparency of the supply chain and ethics.
"In many cases, this won't be enough to sway the masses, however there is certainly a growing movement towards more conscious consumption and anti-consumption of high-volume, low-price unethical manufacturers. In many cases, these niche markets are willing to pay much higher premiums for what they perceive as a 'superior' product."
A spokesperson for Wish said: "Wish doesn't actually sell products directly. We're kind of like an online shopping mall where stores from all over the world can list and sell products. We have recently removed many products from Wish that violated our terms of service."