• Belinda

What is ethical fashion?

What is ethical fashion?

Ethical fashion is an umbrella term which encompasses a range of ethics, philosophies and lifestyle responses within it. These ethics largely relate to three main issues: people, planet and animals. It is complicated by the fact that brands may take ethical stances towards certain ethical issues by promoting animal welfare and vegan lifestyles and banning animal products such as fur and leather from their fashion collections. However, the same companies can adopt less ethical stances towards the environment in their production processes with many products being made either from plastics or requiring huge volumes of water to be produced.

The emergence of new lifestyle trends such as minimalism, veganism, zero waste lifestyle and slow lifestyle trends have further complicated our understanding of ethical fashion by offering up alternative ethics and responses to the ethical dilemmas embedded within our modern day fashion industry. These trends tend to focus on one aspect of the equation such as the environment or animal welfare, rather than considering all aspects of the ethics involved in fashion production. Minimalism doesn't necessarily mean ethical. You can be minimalist and do as Vivienne Westwood says, "buy less and choose wisely" and still buy from companies who treat their workers appallingly, have poor animal welfare standards and use toxic chemicals to dye their clothes which pollute rivers, leaving communities with no clean drinking water and endangering their health.

So what makes a fashion brand ethical?

To be considered truly 'ethical', a brand should demonstrate a commitment to the ethical treatment of people, planet and animals in their business. An ethical fashion brand will consider the environmental impact of a garment throughout production, manufacture and lifecycle. This includes production of raw materials, cutting processes, dyeing processes and the recyclability and bio-degradability of the garment post use. They should also pay their workers a living wage and ensure that they consider the impact of any decision making on the people making their clothes. This could include forming relationships with suppliers and visiting factories to ensure these factories meet safety regulations. Buyers should also consider whether the factories can meet demand for products without outsourcing to other factories. Working conditions and safety of workers has to be considered as part of an ethical approach to fashion production. This is often complicated by the fact that many of the large fashion companies cannot track their supply chains and do not know who is working in them. As a result, children are often found in the supply chains of major retailers . Notably, children were found working for Gap in 2007. Since then, fashion retailers have tried to crack down on child labour in their supply chains but it still goes on in the hidden underworld of the fast fashion industry. To counter this, ethical fashion brands must maintain control of their supply chains by regular communications and visits to factories.

The final aspect which has to be considered by fashion companies who want to tick all the ethical boxes is animal welfare. Many animals within the fashion industry are treated cruelly, often spending their lives cooped up in tiny cages and dealt with brutally, all in the name of fashion. In 2012, PETA released footage of the live plucking of geese feathers, exposing the shocking cruelty of the down industry. Another victim of the cruelty within the fashion industry are angora rabbits. 90% of the world's angora is sourced from Asia and an undercover investigation by PETA exposed workers ripping the fur out of the angora rabbits as they lay motionless in dirty cages and in shock. Whilst some companies may choose to ban all animal products from their fashion collections, others may source from companies which have high animal welfare standards.

Where can I find ethical fashion?

A great app which I use regularly when I'm researching ethical fashion companies is the Good On You app. The app offers a handy rating of fashion brands including high street stores, rating them based on labour, environment and animals. You can read about how fashion brands are changing policies to adopt more ethical stances and see at a glance any areas in which there are considerable failings.