I’ve received a few questions lately asking what ethical fashion actually means, so I decided to write a post about the definition of ethical fashion, why it matters to me, and how you can incorporate it into your own life. I hope this is a helpful resource for you guys, and answers some questions!
Ethical fashion is topic of conversation that is gaining traction right now based on more awareness thanks to amazing projects such as The True Cost, and recent events that have caused us to pause and question what is actually going on in the fashion industry. Depending on your background and issues that you care about, ethical fashion may have different connotations to you, so here I’ll present the definition that I work with, and that effects my thinking, shopping habits, and the content of this blog.
For me, ethical fashion is realizing that how we source our clothing dramatically effects the lives of the people producing it, and that those people should be treated not only fairly, but with dignity and respect for their craft.
Under this thought process, I want to support companies that provide their workers with a living wage (not just a wage,) and safe working conditions.
The sad reality is that cheap production of clothes is not free, and expenses are reduced by resorting to minimal wages, buildings that are severely polluted and unsafely constructed, and even slave labor.
These realities were brought to light in 2013 in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is known for it’s garment factories, and I’d venture to guess that we all own clothing that’s been manufactured there. On April 24, 2013, an eight story building containing a garment factory collapsed killing 1,129 people. Companies that manufactured at Rana Plaza included Walmart and J.C. Penny. In 2011, Walmart rejected reforms that would have required retailers to pay more for clothing in order to help Bangladesh factories improve safety standards.* I won’t get into more detail about the Rana Plaza disaster here, but highly recommend you read up on it if you’re interested in this topic.
And sadly, Rana Plaza wasn’t an isolated event.
There is story after story of bad treatment and conditions, and issue after issue to be discussed, but for me, being confronted with the facts of the industry as it stands today led me to three things I wanted to practice in my own life.
Most of us shop more than we need to, and end up with an excess amount of clothing that we just. don’t. need. I love fashion, and I love clothes, but I’d rather put my time into creating new looks with what I already have rather than constantly bringing more items into my life, and supporting the fast fashion industry while I’m at it.
After I watched The True Cost, I realized I had no excuse, and that I could no longer be an uninformed consumer. As tempting as it is to just ignore these issues and buy the cheap and cute clothing, I believe we need to look into the ethics of where we shop, and make informed choices based on what we learn. Many brands make it obvious that they do not provide factory workers with a living wage or safe working conditions, while others make it clear that they practice the opposite.
3. Choose well where possible.
Based on my research findings about various brands, I’m able to make informed choices about where I shop, and while I may not be able to shop 100% ethically 100% of the time, I can make changes so that my overall contribution to the system decreases. If you’re like me and on a budget, thrifting is a great place to start, and it’s good for the planet too! Now that I’m shopping less, it’s easy to justify saving for a more expensive piece for my wardrobe that was made in a better way. We shouldn’t feel guilty about paying a fair price for something.
My ethical fashion journey so far has led me to think that fair trade shouldn’t be the exception, it should be the rule. These basic requirements for manufacturing processes are ridiculously hard to come by, but I’m hopeful that with time, awareness, and personal change, we can make the world of fashion a better place for all involved.
For more information, again, I highly recommend The True Cost.
* Info on the Rana Plaza accident taken from the corresponding Wikipedia article.