Why Is Ethical Fashion Important?
Fashion has been causing harmful environmental and social impacts for a long time. What we know as sweatshops today first popped up in England during the Industrial Revolution, and these early factories were heavily reliant on coal.
There are many questions a lot of us ponder, though we know in our heart of hearts we'll never fully know the answer to. What's really used in hot dogs? What is the meaning of life? Why did the chicken actually cross the road? Sorry to disappoint, but no, we are no closer to finding out the answers to these questions than you are.
However, when it comes to ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, and slow fashion, and which brands participate in these concepts, we can definitely help.
The fast-fashion model is built on an endless cycle of overproduction and overconsumption.
Cheap prices from fast fashion brands are only made possible because these brands produce in huge quantities.
So while the companies don't make much profit from each garment, they are able to profit hundreds of millions or even billions because they produce so much.
The parent company of Zara alone (Inditex) produces about 840 million garments per year, and H&M produces 3 billion annually.
Even as some fast fashion brands start to incorporate a (small) percentage of recycled and organic materials in their collections, this production level can never be sustainable.
And, because fast fashion brands produce in such large quantities, they can negotiate prices down with factories.
But, unfortunately, these negotiations suppress wages and keep safety standards low.
The rise of fast fashion has also sparked a "race to the bottom" for the industry as a whole, as brands try to produce garments as cheaply and quickly as possible to offer trendy pieces at low prices.
Sustainable fashion. Ethical fashion. Fairtrade. Organic. Recycled. That's not even the tip of the iceberg.
Yet, it's easy to see why it's so confusing to everyday consumers to understand the fashion industry and why it's important to support sustainable and ethical fashion.
Put simply, the clothes you wear matter. All clothing is handmade, yet most people have never thought about what the fabric in their favourite jumper is made out of or who made their clothes.
They're important questions, and they really do make a difference.
Unfortunately, the fashion industry has traditionally had, and still has, an enormous negative impact upon the planet and not a great history looking after the people in the supply chain.
Annually the fashion industry creates more CO2 emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping worldwide, which really shows how negative an impact it has.
With this, we've put together a definitive guide to ethical fashion, so you never have to look anywhere else for this info again.
Think of it as your ethical fashion bible or cheat sheet. It’s the only resource you'll ever need when you have a question about the often muddy waters of ethical fashion.
Bookmark this page, print it out and stick it on your wall, or copy the URL to your sticky notes for future reference.
Whatever you do, make sure you have a copy so you can come back to it every time you have an ethical fashion question.
What exactly is sustainable fashion?
To sum it up, the sustainable fashion movement aims to create ethically made and environmentally friendly clothing.
Sounds simple, right?
The problem is, being "ethical" tends to go hand-in-hand with profit loss, so brands and companies are reluctant to do it.
Today, professional women are savvier than ever and pay attention to the quality of their garments and the entire supply chain, production processes, and product afterlife.
They are more aware that a hangtag using the word "sustainable" does not mean the retailer uses clean processes to develop that garment.
Simply put, ethical fashion is fashion made ethically.
This can encompass a whole host of business and production practices to treat your workers fairly and minimise your impact on the environment.
In short, ethical fashion means your clothing is eco-friendly and people-friendly.
The fast fashion industry has gripped the world with its promise of never-ending trends, criminally low prices, and the convenience and accessibility that has come as a result.
We've grown used to extremely cheap clothing pumped out in new styles every single week, all at the click of a button.
We're building houses with wardrobes the sizes of bedrooms and consuming "disposable" clothing at a rate never seen before.
Fast fashion has become a detrimental environmental and social issue, and ethical fashion is a solution.
The concept of ethical fashion is on the rise, but the question is still asked: why should we bother with ethical fashion, and what does it actually mean?
Ultimately, ethical fashion is defined by different people in different ways. We all have different ethics, and we all emphasise varying morals and values that we, as individuals, resonate with.
The only way they will make the switch is if consumers start only buying ethically, forcing them to change their practices or lose business.
Why is sustainable fashion so important?
It may surprise you to learn that the fashion industry is one of the world's biggest polluters.
In fact, the industry is second only to oil when it comes to pollution, responsible for 20% of global industrial water pollution.
On top of that, textile mills use 20,000 chemicals, many carcinogenic, to make clothes.
Most of those clothes are made from plastic, which is creating a catastrophe in the making with microfibres in our oceans.
For the people who make these garments, sustainable fashion also means better working conditions, fairer pay, and fewer illegal sweatshops.
The only way to break this cycle of death, destruction, and pollution is to aim for sustainability.
Ethical fashion is important because the mode of consumption we have become used to is completely unsustainable.
The long term effects are absolutely detrimental to the health of the planet and the people on it, and we already see just how bad they can be.
While the Earth is suffering, so are many of its people. Health inequity and wealth inequality abound, both in the United States and throughout the globe.
For example, the World Health Organization reports that the average life expectancy is just 62 years in low-income countries, while it's 81 years in high-income countries.
Meanwhile, the richest 1% of the global population owns 45% of all the wealth in the world. In contrast, many others remain impoverished and struggle to improve conditions for themselves, their families, or their communities.
No matter what you think the world's biggest issues are, you are unlikely to think of fashion as either a problem or a solution.
Yet ethical, sustainable clothing can actually help address many of these issues in ways you may not expect.
Even better, clothing is something everyone needs and uses, making it an extremely accessible avenue for the average person to affect change.
According to The True Cost, the world's population is consuming 400% more clothing than it was at the start of the millennium, cotton production is responsible for 18% of the world's pesticide use and 25% of its insecticide use, and the amount of resources used to raise cattle for leather production is dramatically impacting the health of our planet.
In addition, the production of fast fashion contaminates all forms of water bodies, and "is responsible for producing 20% of global wastewater"; and 97% of fast fashion garments are produced overseas, with emphasis on developing countries (thank you for this info, 7Billion for 7Seas). These are just a few of the reasons why ethical fashion is important.
On the 24th of April 2013, the Dhaka garment factory collapse, otherwise known as the Rana Plaza tragedy, occurred in Bangladesh.
The structure that contained clothing factories and other businesses collapsed, killing 1,134 people.
More than half of these people were women, and this number also includes children who were being cared for whilst their mothers were working in the factory.
Cracks were discovered in the building the day before the collapse. Still, the building owner ignored warnings to discontinue using it, forcing garment workers to resume business as normal.
This tragic event should never have taken place and serves as a cruel reminder as to just how important ethical production is.
Fast fashion is responsible for the abuse and exploitation of the planet's natural resources and the people who make our clothing.
Garment workers, 80% of whom are women, are subjected to every form of abuse, as well as unsafe and unfair working conditions, and the Rana Plaza tragedy is just one of the many examples of why ethics in fashion matters.
We all know that the skin is our largest organ.
We're so careful with and spend hundreds on the products we put onto our skin, though something does not make sense.
What we seem to be forgetting is that the clothes we've purchased from our favourite fast-fashion boutiques were soaked with chemicals at every stage of their production and have ended up on our bodies.
That's just some food for thought.
From both a social and environmental viewpoint, ethical fashion is the only fashion model that should exist on this planet:
- We should bother with ethical fashion because we're human.
- 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."
Ethical Fashion Is Fair Trade
So what does ethical fashion mean in terms of fair trade? Fairtrade is a global movement to promote equal trade, justness, and empowerment.
When you buy fair trade clothing, you know that your clothes were not made using unethical practices, such as sweatshop labour or child labour.
Fairtrade focuses on creating dignified and empowering employment for workers in underserved areas.
Typically this means working with people in developing countries, but it can also mean providing jobs for underserved communities right here in the United States.
These are just a few of the characteristics of jobs supported by the Fair Trade Movement:
- Workers receive long-term employment opportunities.
- Working relationships are built on transparency, trust, and respect.
- Workers receive fair wages, and men and women are paid equally.
- Workers are provided with safe and healthy working conditions.
- Workers have free speech and can voice their opinions.
- Workers are protected from prejudice, discrimination, and abuse, including sexism, racism, sexual harassment, and more.
- Workers have access to healthcare and time off.
- Workers can improve their skills through further education, job training, and other opportunities.
- Workers have access to financial assistance to help them gain independence and escape poverty.
- Workers' opinions are valued, and workers can participate in workplace decisions.
- Workers are genuinely happy and comfortable at their jobs.
By buying fair trade, ethical clothing online or in stores, you can support positive, uplifting, and ethical working conditions worldwide.
Take a look at our top 7 reasons you should buy fair trade clothing for even more great benefits!
Important Reasons To Care About Sustainable Fashion
So that's sustainable fashion – but why should you care?
The fast-fashion phenomenon can give you new clothes every 6 months and at a fraction of the cost!
Well, yes, that's true, but that's the problem.
Better for workers
If you buy a dress for $100, how much of that do you think goes to the poor woman who made it in Bangladesh?
It's less than you think.
The fashion industry makes billions in profits every year, yet the 60-million strong workforce that powers it (over 90% of whom are women) are living in poverty.
Sustainable fashion gives these workers rights, including a decent living wage, safer working conditions, and less risk of being sexually assaulted.
Better for people
Fast fashion has kept the cost of clothing down at the cost of low pay and conditions in developing countries.
However, by switching to ethically made brands, you are ensuring that the clothing you choose to spend your money on hasn't taken advantage of workers or used child labour.
Better for the environment
We've already mentioned the textile industry's damage to the environment, contributing to around 10% of global carbon emissions.
To put that 10% into context, that's more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
The middle-class around the world has grown considerably in the previous 20 years, resulting in clothing production more than doubling to over 100 billion items of clothing per year.
The fast fashion industry leaves behind a huge environmental footprint. From the landfill impact and power and water consumption to the pesticides and insecticide used in growing cotton and the chemicals that are making their way into the water supply and affecting the health of those in the supply chain, it's safe to say fast fashion is a real problem for the environment.
However, in choosing sustainable fashion, you can say no to supporting the negative environmental impact that the fashion industry is causing, and in turn, reduce your own environmental footprint.
An astonishing 85% of these end up in a landfill – for the simple reason, they are cheaply made and easily disposable.
Sustainable fashion creates longer-lasting clothes of higher quality, meaning that while they are more expensive initially, they will stay in your wardrobe for years.
Even when they come to the end of their life, because they are made from recyclable material, they can be used again to create another product for future generations.
Better for the future
One or two people investing sustainably isn't going to change the world, which is why everyone needs to get on board.
A change in the zeitgeist is needed, which, at the moment, looks to be happening as the younger generation grows into active consumers.
But we can't wait that long – we need people to start buying ethically now.
Many big-name brands are leading the way in sustainability. Still, until most consumers begin to put their money where their mouth is, profits will always rule the decision-makers.
Sustainable fashion is a conscious choice to be made by individuals, not by companies.
Small Steps Make A Big Difference
As professional women, we need to take responsibility for our daily choices. Commit to buying less, limit your outfits per day, and invest in pieces that last longer.
Sports outfits that carry you throughout your busiest of days, from the board room to barre class. Those who have project-based work know how long the days can be, and investing in staple workwear is becoming a priceless asset.
Next time you're shopping, do your research. Pay close attention to how brands use the term "transparency."
Do they really mean it and prove it? Does the brand take the initiative with the fabrics used? Are they committed to ethical/sustainable practices?
It's easy to forget the impact of purchase or the power you have as a consumer.
However, there are small steps we can take each day to pave the path toward a more sustainable fashion future.