Ethics are such an emotive issue and we all have very different ideas of what they should be. The ethical issues in fashion that are most written about are living wages for workers and cotton growers, forced or child labour and safe working conditions. However, for me ethical fashion is not just about people, it’s about the planet too, and so in my opinion, environmental and sustainable practices should be equally in debate.
Fashion on a budget
These days we all want to pay less for everything as our incomes stagnate or shrink so spending more than we have to is often not seen as an option. “Giving up “fast fashion” is something privileged people can do because privileged people don’t have to agonize about where they shop.” [i] How many people feel ethical fashion is reserved for the wealthy? Being on a very limited budget myself I can completely relate to this, but for me ethical fashion isn’t always about spending more, it is always about thinking more.
Some would ask “Are ethically produced clothes a privilege for the wealthy?”[ii] Yes, maybe some of them are. Most people associate ethical fashion with Fair Trade or organic clothing produced by the more well-known brands such as Zady, Reformation & People Tree. Most of their clothes are substantially more expensive than a Primark alternative, but for good reasons: they guarantee an ethical and sustainable peace of mind for the buyer.
The high cost of ethical fashion is also arguably a misconception. Back in the good old days we had fewer clothes, looked after them and wore them longer. The cheap clothing most of us buy now doesn’t last long, so we buy more of it and sometimes in different colours to suit every mood! Investing in new ethical or even designer pieces from sustainable fashion champions such as Stella McCartney & Vivienne Westwood will set you back a few bob but they will last a lifetime – and you will cherish them all the more. If you consider cost per wear then that pretty top from Zara you can’t live without doesn’t seem quite so cheap.
The Ethical Brand Directory is a recent find of mine – and it’s brimming with alternative fashion brands at a variety of price points. There simply are no excuses – you can use the search options to look for almost everything you need, there’s an ‘ethical alternative’ for almost everything.
The need for the new
In the west we are constantly bombarded with sleek advertising for the next new thing, upgrade your phone, get the latest look, keep up with the Kardashians! These fast changing trends are cleverly replicated in the massive turnover of low quality clothing in fast fashion stores encouraging disposability. This craving for the new begs the question “Are new clothes a right or a privilege?”[iii] A 2015 survey found “the average woman typically spends £64 per month – or £768 per year on clothes – most of which are left languishing in wardrobes unworn.”[iv] Surely we have reached peak stuff! In order to live more sustainably every one of us needs to consume less – and so this desire for the next new shiny thing has to be challenged.
Affordable ethical style
Happily, there are so many ethical alternatives that don’t cost the earth (financially and literally!) Second hand shops, vintage fashion fairs and online auction sites, clothes swaps and of course revamping, repairing & renovating what you already have are worthy options. We could replace that joy of finding a bargain in the sales at Zara, with joy at finding a beautiful Dolce & Gabbana coat in a second hand shop for next to nothing (I spotted one recently in a charity shop on my local high street!)
Buying from local makers or products that are made in your own country is also another good option. I am not suggesting this from any patriotic or protectionist standpoint but because the carbon footprint of the garment will be lower and be easier to check on whether it’s produced ethically. It helps support the local economy whilst maintaining skills and crafts that may have been around for generations. Most towns and cities will have a Fair Trade shop which often sell ethical clothing alongside their hand crafted ethnic goods. Would it not feel better to line the pocket of a small business or talented craftsperson than a greedy global fashion corporation?
Many ethical fashionistas would be horrified at this suggestion but if you really can’t tear yourself away from your beloved fast fashion brands some now have greener lines and initiatives that (although they have a long way to go) are a step in the right direction. H&M’s Conscious collection is made from organic cotton and Zara’s JoinLife range even uses recycled wool. I say this with the caveat of really thinking about the purchase first. Asking yourself if you will get lots of wear out of it, whether it’s versatile and is classic enough to still be worn in 5 years’ time should ensure that it won’t disappear into your wardrobe never to be seen again. I will also add that there are other high street stores who probably deserve your hard earned cash much more: so be brave and step outside of your comfort zone! New Look for example have an organic range and have one of the best records for looking after their workers according to the ethicalconsumer.org.
The real fashion victims
If we are debating fast fashion in relation to the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ we also have to put it into a global context as the impact of our trend-driven, throwaway culture disproportionately affects the poorest in the world – whether it’s the garment workers who barely earn enough to eat, the 6 year old who stitches sequins on the floor of the factory or the wider communities that are blighted by the effects of climate change. “Those of us who are privileged have more power than we think and are the ones negatively impacting those in the Developed World without even knowing it.”[v] Therefore it is imperative that all of us, irrespective of whether of wealth or lack thereof need to embrace and champion ethical clothing in order to fight fast fashion to help save our planet and all it’s inhabitants. We can all make a difference.
Ethical Brand Directory Guest Blogger
Founder & Creative Director of Boy Wonder – Premium Sustainable Boy’s Fashion.
Ismay is a fashion designer and blogger with a passion for the environment. She is currently setting up a sustainable ethical boyswear brand all made in Britain. Being a mum of a seven year old boy she became aware the lack of fashion choice for boys, let alone anything eco or ethical. Making the launch collection in Britain is an important part of creating a quality product with a lower carbon footprint.
Find out more: http://boywondering.weebly.com
The Struggle With Fast Fashion (And Other Problems Of Privilege) – Joni Edelman 30/03/17
[ii] Is Fast Fashion A Class Issue? Tabi Jackson Gee 27/04/17 http://www.refinery29.uk/2017/04/149877/fast-fashion-social-issue
[iii] Is Fast Fashion a Class Issue? Tabi Jackson Gee 27/04/17 http://www.refinery29.uk/2017/04/149877/fast-fashion-social-issue
[iv] Throwaway fashion: Women have adopted a ‘wear it once culture’, binning clothes after only a few wears (so they aren’t pictured in same outfit twice on social media)- Maybelle Morgan DailyMail on Facebookhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3116962/Throwaway-fashion-Women-adopted-wear-culture-binning-clothes-wears-aren-t-pictured-outfit-twice-social-media.html
[v] First World Privilege Drives Fast Fashion – Saba Ritzvi & Dee All 17/08/16 https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/first-world-privilege-drives-fast-fashion_us_57b072d1e4b03d06fe85146e