Why bother with ethical fashion?
Ethical fashion. If you say these two words to someone when you first meet, you’re likely to be given back a blank stare and raised eyebrows. Huh?
The average person will think of slaves, child labour, and sweat shop factories they’ve seen glimpses of on the news. These are valid points in the discussion of ethical fashion, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg.
The fast fashion industry has gripped the world with its shiny talons and cheap accessibility. We’re getting used to cheaper and cheaper clothes, new styles every single week, and popping to the shops is a common occurrence no matter what you need. We’re building houses with wardrobes the sizes of bedrooms, and consuming things at a rate which our ancestors would have gasped at. Fast fashion is the issue, and ethical fashion is the solution.
Sure, ethical fashion has been rising in popularity and awareness, but the question is still asked: why should I bother and wtf is it?
Ethical fashion is defined by different people in different ways. Ultimately, your ethics are your own, and vary from your neighbour’s; that’s the beauty of our unique humanity.
The general definition of ethical fashion, is fashion that aims to reduce the negative impact on people, animals, and the planet. Producing an item of clothing involves design, labour, and materials. Ethical fashion is kind to the planet and people every step of the way: from seed to garment.
Let’s discuss what seed to garment means…
It’s easy to look at an item of clothing, and think that it’s always been that way. But unfortunately, t-shirt trees don’t exist, and shoe bushes aren’t a thing. Our clothing starts out as a material that looks nothing like the clothes we put on our bodies.
Ethical fashion considers the impact of using materials, to make clothing. Linen, cotton, polyester, denim; each fabric has a different impact on the environment, and choosing the lesser impact is what ethical fashion is all about.
The wages of the people who produce the material, such as harvesting the cotton crops, are also considered. This is why you hear of conventional versus fair trade cotton. When facts like 250,000 cotton farmers have killed themselves in the last 15 years, spring to our awareness, bothering about ethical fashion is swept to the forefront of our priorities. We start to consider the depth of the issue and the impact of our consumer decisions.
In China, they say you can tell the popular colour that season by the colour of the rivers. That makes us sick.
Our clothes are dyed with chemicals and pollutants, to get them that perfect shade of pink, orange, or whatever the celebs tell us is ‘in fashion’. When factories do not responsibly contain and manage their waste, these dyes flow into water ways, contaminating the drinking and bathing water of surrounding villages. Still births, mutations, and other life changing conditions, along with the destruction of plant life and ecosystems, are the repercussions of irresponsible dye use.
Alternatively, ethical fashion describes clothes dyed with natural dyes, closed loop systems, recycling dyes, or no colour change at all. The price to humanity and the environment of conventional dyes and processes, just isn’t worth it.
1 in 6 people work in the global fashion industry, and most are earning less than $3 a day. Growers, producers, movers, makers, packers, and sellers are exploited, underpaid, and put in terrible working conditions. Garment factory workers work in factories without access to clean drinking water, regular breaks, comfortable environments, or basic human rights. It was the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013 that forced the world to wake up to the twistedness of the fashion industry, but five years later, the issues go on.
Ethical fashion. Two words which should be recognised, respected, and admired when said to someone you first meet. It’s not a term that can be summarised in one blog post, but it’s a term we must learn to seek, maintain, and aspire to in our fashion decisions.
We should bother with ethical fashion, because we’re human. The emotional and mental stress of a cotton farmer, and the conditions of garment factory workers wouldn’t be wished upon our worst enemies; so why do we continue to support it?
We should bother with ethical fashion, because we want to continue existing on this beautiful planet. The rate at which we’re using resources isn’t sustainable for mother earth.
We should bother with ethical fashion, because “there is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.”- Mahatma Ghandi.
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Written by Kate Hall.