What is Ethical Fashion?
We recently wrote about the importance of sustainable fabrics, because they are just that - important.
It’s time to look at the people behind the fashion, not just the materials used.
Ethical fashion is the industry itself - garments that have been produced by organisations that engage in ethical business practices.
But what are ‘ethical business practices’? They include things like worker conditions, pay, environmental protections (things like using non-toxic dyes) and, of course, using sustainable fabrics.
In the past 6 years, internet searches for ‘ethical fashion’ have increased 25%. For ‘sustainable fabrics’, it’s a 46% increase.
So there’s a clear interest in this topic.
But the difference in search volume between the two searches is simple... Consumers don’t fully understand what they’re searching for.
What’s the difference?
There is a big difference between those two things - ‘ethical fashion’ and ‘sustainable fabrics’.
Sustainable fabrics are exactly that. Fabrics that are made by sustainable means, such as organic cotton and wool.
They qualify as sustainable because the raw materials have been grown in a way which ensures future supplies indefinitely. Or as close to indefinitely as we can conceive right now.
Providing sheep are farmed successfully, there will always be wool. That material is both abundant and sustainable.
Good news for wool lovers everywhere.
Sustainable fabrics are not the same as ‘ethical fashion’. Materials can be bought and used by anyone, and although we’d all like to think that ethical businesses use sustainable materials, the reality is quite different.
An ethical business is an organisation that conducts itself in such a way that is, well, ethical.
Ethical fashion is when garments are made using sustainable fabrics, in good working environments by well paid, well looked after employees.
Those garments also need to meet environmental standards and use non-toxic sustainable dyes and inks.
In short, the business and the products it produces have been created with utter moral integrity. That’s ethical fashion.
It does sound great, right? Except that the fashion industry is in a state of self destruction.
It’s the second biggest polluter in the world, behind the oil industry. The demand for rock bottom production costs means that very few fashion houses or retailers are prepared to take the leap.
Ethical fashion is far more expensive for the business than unethical fashion.
More or less every major fashion label in the world has its garments made in sweatshops and the workers are paid a pittance.
Bangladesh shipped more than 30 billion USD worth of apparel in 2018. The average monthly salary for a textile worker is 95 USD a month. They recently went on strike to get their salaries raised by an equally lousy 30 USD.
When the costs are so low and the labels can rely on the governments of these countries to keep the people who work for them both impoverished and compliant, there is no need for businesses to become ethical.
And that sucks.
But it doesn’t really suck for the businesses, as low production costs and a high markup makes for very healthy profits.
A system has been created where everyone is on the take and there is absolutely no incentive to do anything differently.
It’s actually cheaper for the big fashion companies to pay fines for environmental violations and other transgressions than it is to switch to an ethical and sustainable business model.
You can imagine the mention of ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ making the business shareholders nervous. Ethics and shareholders don’t always mix!
What can be done?
Well the obvious thing to do is - where possible - vote with your wallet and only buy from ethical businesses that sell ethically made products, ideally using sustainable fabrics.
The good news is that these companies are on the sharp rise and there’s more and more based on New Zealand turf too.
It’s going to take a long time to topple the big players, but as attitudes change and people become more aware of the damage being done by cheap fashion, it really is only a matter of time.
Us consumers need to make a conscious decision to pick sustainable materials over synthetics and to only buy garments that you know were made ethically.
Country of origin is always a good place to start. If you bought a pair of merino wool socks that were NZ made, you would know that you’re getting an outstanding pair of socks. You also know they’ve been made in good, safe conditions by someone who has been paid a living wage.
It feels good.
Not only are you buying something well made, that will last and last a long time but you’re also contributing to the propagation of a more moral way of doing things in the world.
The only way the mainstream fashion industry will change its ways is if we as consumers vote with our wallets. And the time is now.
Here at New Zealand Natural Clothing, we’re taking ethics one step further and work to show you the Farm (it’s called Palliser Ridge) which we use for our wool. We wrote a blog about it here. It’s the story behind the farm and its ethical practices. They are raising flocks of happy, well cared for lambs.
New Zealand Natural Clothing is proud to sell both natural, sustainable fibre products but products made by ethical businesses based in NZ.
To view our product range click here. To learn more about us and the way we do our bit for sustainability and the environment, get in touch today.