Have you ever wandered the aisles at a clothing store, delighted by the merchandise you see? Colorful fabrics catch your eye and low prices mean you can buy many items without feeling guilty about overspending on your clothing budget.
But what is really going on there? Why are those clothes so cheap and is it worth the cost to save a few dollars?
If you’ve ever stopped to consider this issue, no doubt you’ve heard the phrase ethical fashion. You may also have heard terms like sustainable fashion and slow fashion.
But what is ethical fashion and why do we need to talk about it? Let’s find out.
It can be difficult to definitively define ethical fashion. The term is used in a few different ways and sometimes interchangeably with sustainable fashion. However, these are two different things. Sustainable fashion has more to do with using sustainably sourced materials and following business practices that leave a lighter footprint on the planet whereas ethical fashion includes other concerns. There are three main ethical concerns you might want to consider. Human rights, animal rights, and environmental concerns. Let’s look at each one.
You might not have thought about this before, but there is a lot of work that goes into creating a garment. Cotton has to be picked, processed, dyed, and made into fabric. From there it is fashioned into clothing by workers in a factory. Whether the people involved in each step of that process are fairly treated and paid varies depending on the policies of the companies involved.
Fast fashion is big business, but it’s taking a huge toll on people and the environment. The clothes can be made so cheaply largely because the workers are underpaid and treated poorly. They may also live in harsh conditions and even children are often forced to work long hours and expected to reach unreasonable quotas. Their wages are so low they basically have no hope of ever bettering themselves. Most people would not wish this type of life on anyone, but many of us unknowingly perpetuate it by buying fast fashion items from companies with these practices.
Many people are concerned about the ethics of using animal products in fashion. The idea of making bags, jackets, and shoes out of animal hides is distasteful to them.
Beyond that, depending on the company policies, the animals may live in squalid conditions while awaiting their fate.
Finally, fast fashion factories take a heavy toll on the environment. From dumping toxic dyes and contaminating water supplies to throwing out 26 million metric tons of excess clothing each year, the impact is catastrophic.
They say in China you can tell the favored colors in fashion that year by the color of the rivers. Stop for a second and let the tragedy of that sink in.
Now that you have an idea of the complexities of ethical fashion, let’s explore what sustainable fashion means. Sustainable fashion focuses almost entirely on environmental concerns.
Sustainable brands are actively looking for ways to sustainably source materials, including creating fashions from reclaimed fabrics such as our linen table napkins. Fundamentally, sustainable fashion seeks to turn fashion into a forward-thinking, environmentally and socially conscious business.
Slow fashion is the idea of slowing down and appreciating each piece of clothing. Instead of buying four blouses that will wear out after a few uses, buy one high-quality (hopefully fair trade and ethically-made) blouse that you can enjoy for years.
This encourages consumers to develop a relationship with their clothing. This allows them to enjoy timeless favorites instead of flashy trends that will fall out of style with the change of the seasons. Not only does this idea of slow living and fashion cut down on the unethical and wasteful business practices of fast fashion, but also it reduces waste since consumers throw away less clothing over the years.
Choosing to Buy Ethically-Made Goods
So who decides that a particular good has been ethically-made? How do you make better buying choices? It’s quite a conundrum, really.
For example, it’s possible that an item has been made by people earning a fair wage, but the materials were not sustainably-sourced and vice versa. Furthermore, a vegan-leather purse might appeal to you, but what effect did its production have on the environment? Many of the fake leathers involve toxic chemicals to produce.
As you can see, there is no clear-cut way to avoid all the cons. For most people, it will come down to which issues matter the most to them.
It’s important to look for companies to which ethically-made and fair-trade products are at the center of their brand! If a company never mentions anything about ethical fashion and says ''imported'' under product's details, the chances are, their products are not ethically-made.
The main thing is to make your research, look for high quality materials and craftsmanship, buy less and talk about it. Together, we can make a difference!