“Fashion means from source to store, the product maximizes benefits for people and minimizes impacts on animals and the environment. In my mind, it is most concerned with the people involved in the process.” – Elizabeth Stilwell,
Source your Wardrobe Carefully
Ethical Fashion is umbrella term for fashion designed, produced, bought and disposed with ethics. It covers and addresses a range of issues such as sustainable production, environment, fair trade, working conditions, exploitation and animal welfare.
Globalization made it possible for industry to purchase material and labor from any part of the world. Industrialization helped to grow cotton and man-made fibers on a large scale and cheaply, dropping the cost of making clothes. That’s the reason fashion is available at much cheaper cost and regarded as disposable.
Large scale and cheap production availabilities in many countries around the world come at a cost and that’s addressed by Ethical Fashionistas.
Some of the issues around Ethical Fashion
Ethical Fashion aims to address the problems it sees with the way the fashion industry currently operates, such as exploitative labor, environmental damage, the use of hazardous chemicals, waste, and animal cruelty.
- Serious concerns are often raised about exploitative working conditions in the factories that make cheap clothes for the high street.
- Child workers, alongside exploited adults, can be subjected to violence and abuse such as forced overtime, as well as cramped and unhygienic surroundings, bad food, and very poor pay. The low cost of clothes on the high street means that less and less money goes to the people who make them.
- Cotton provides much of the world’s fabric, but growing it uses about 22% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides, chemicals which can be dangerous for the environment and harmful to the farmers who grow it. (Ethical Fashion Forum)
- Current textile growing practices are considered unsustainable because of the damage they do to the immediate environment. For example, the Aral Sea in Central Asia has shrunk to just 15% of its former volume, largely due to the vast quantity of water required for cotton production and dying. (Ethical Fashion Forum)
- Most textiles are treated with chemicals to soften and dye them, however these chemicals can be toxic to the environment and can be transferred to the skin of the people wearing them. Hazardous chemicals used commonly in the textile industry are: lead, nickel, chromium IV, aryl amines, phthalates and formaldehyde. (Greenpeace)
- The low costs and disposable nature of high street fashion means that much of it is destined for incinerators or landfill sites. The UK alone throws away 1 million tons of clothing every year. (Waste Online)
- Many animals are farmed to supply fur for the fashion industry, and many people feel that their welfare is an important part of the Ethical Fashion debate. The designer Stella McCartney does not use either fur or leather in her designs. In an advert for the animal rights organization PETA, she said: ‘we address ethical or ecological questions in every other part of our lives except fashion. Mind-sets are changing, though, which is encouraging.
Fashion is often cast as an irrelevance when it comes to global matters, written off as a preening, primping side show. It should be center stage. This is an industry involving millions of people, from those growing and processing raw fiber to workers in the vast sewing factories and the employees and shoppers in millions of retail outlets worldwide. Whole ecosystems have been trashed by our appetite for certain clothing. An example of this is the Aral Sea, the world’s fourth largest lake, which has been reduced to a puddle by cotton irrigation.
As a consumer, we must start sourcing our wardrobes carefully. If you want your fashion pound to buy ethics alongside aesthetics, look outside the mainstream to the minnow-sized ethical fashion brands that have popped up over the past decade. These brands act as an alternative to the excesses of fast fashion, but even they would not claim that they have the whole thing sorted. The supply chain is convoluted, and few pieces are made by a single person in an atelier system. Even ethical brands are reliant on factory systems to keep prices down. As one designer put it: “As soon as you go into production it will break your heart.” Whole runs can be produced with faults, orders can go missing, colors appear different. But these brands do not prioritize shoveling product out and maximizing profit. They use certifications that mean something, play on fashion’s potential to transform lives through real and rewarding jobs, and form long-lasting partnerships throughout the supply chain.
Although not enough but there has been some positive progress on industry front.
- Many companies in Europe have signed the Bangladesh Accord to help prevent poor working conditions in Bangladesh factories.
- 160 companies have signed the Cotton Pledge against child and forced labor in Uzbekistan.
- There has been an increase in awareness among brands on the issue of living wages for garment workers as a core issue.
- 10% of the global retail fashion industry has committed to get rid of toxic chemicals by 2020.
- Outdoor companies are paving the way in cleaning up their goose and duck down supply chains to banish animal cruelty in clothes production. Read more…
Many organizations are working around the world to educate people on this issue and raise awareness. Ethical Fashion Initiative is one of them. The Ethical Fashion Initiative connects artisans from the developing world to the international value chain of fashion. In doing so, the Ethical Fashion Initiative harnesses fashion as a vehicle for development. Artisans can change their lives for the better by manufacturing luxury value-added ethical fashion products for top fashion designers.
The ultimate power and final buying choice lies with the consumer. Industry must manufacture what consumer demands and wants. With awareness on buying choices and by buying our clothes with ethics, we can make a whole lot of difference. You might think that how does my buying a dress would make a difference. It is just a drop in the ocean. Well it does make a difference. Ocean fills drop by drop.
Think of some questions while making your next wardrobe purchase: does the dress I am about to buy contains harmful chemicals? Is it recyclable and biodegradable? Who made it? Is it made from petrochemical made fiber or natural fiber? Can I buy organic instead of synthetic? Did it’s manufacture harm the environment? Will I really use this dress enough or its going to sit in my wardrobe? Is it too cheap? Will it fit well?
Thinking about these questions will lead you to get some answers and that’s where fashion meets ethics. But you might think; wait a minute, is it worth my time?
Think about a thing that is close to your skin all the time? You are right. Clothes. What goes on the skin goes in the skin. Industry uses a lot of chemicals. During manufacturing, it takes from 10% to 100% of the weight of the fabric in chemicals to produce that fabric. The final fabric, if made of 100% cotton or linen, contains about 27%, by weight, chemicals and many of these chemicals are simply not benign. The clothes we bring in our homes with a thought of “looking good”, makes our skin feel and absorb toxic chemicals.
Companies are producing cheap, fast fashion because of shoppers’ habits. Retailers can implement all sorts of corporate social responsibility programs, and ensure that they are producing ethically, but consumption still rests with the consumer. Change will not happen overnight, but through awareness and education, particularly amongst young people, we might be able to grow a new fashion system which is ethical and keep everyone safe and does a fair trade.
Sustainability columnist Lucy Siegle advocates a ‘curated wardrobe’. This simply means that you plan and think about your wardrobe to get the most life out of it. You can take simple steps such as buying less, buying more carefully, buying organic where you can, recycling, selling on, swapping, mending etc. The key is to resist the temptation to impulse-buy, just because something is cheap. Cheap clothing often fits poorly. The materials aren’t good-quality and fall apart easily. In a curated wardrobe, every piece should have a purpose and value.
Last year I donated all the clothes that I was not using, did not fit well and most of synthetic made clothes. I was left with 60% less clothes. Now I buy less, try to buy ethical, buy clothes made with natural fibers and least chemicals.
Fashion is to charm and not to harm.
How much do you know your wardrobe?
The 2 Euro T-shirt. A social experiment….watch
Video courtesy Fashion revolution
Did you know image: http://moralfibres.co.uk/ethical-clothing-infographic/