Ethical fashion: what is it? Some answers from London.
By: Anna Watkinson
When I was asked to write about ethical fashion by my dear friend Kimberly, who is also one inspirational freedom fighter, I said yes without hesitation. However, I am by no means an expert. Yet, I do feel very passionately about the topic and I am at the beginning of a journey myself to find out what this means for me and my family.
Fashion by definition is something that changes constantly: ‘a popular or the latest style of clothing […]’. (1) That does not sound that bad, does it really? Fashion is also synonymous to words, such as rage, mania, fad or passing fancy. That sounds a bit less appealing to me.
Indeed, it has been this side of fashion, the disposability of it, that has really got me thinking.
Whilst doing my research, the issues that came up time and time again were the consequences and perils of fast fashion to the environment and the people making the clothing. Fast fashion encapsulates the phenomenon of trends changing almost weekly and new items being delivered to the shops daily, before being bought and swiftly discarded. I am preaching to myself, as I have definitely contributed to the endless and rapid cycle of production and disposal of clothing. There are and have been items in my wardrobe that have only been worn once or twice; items that were purchased for one specific occasion; items that were bought really cheaply or bought from a sale just because the item was so inexpensive and it might not have even lasted the first wash.
We are able to buy a piece of clothing in many stores just for a few pounds, dollars or rands. But how is this actually possible? The garment has not been made in a vacuum, but someone has made it. The yarn has been spun, the garment has been dyed and sewn by someone, and if the cost of the end product is so little, it is impossible for the labourer to get a fair wage. An expensive high end item by no means guarantees or even implies a fair wage for workers, but the disconnect between the price of the items and the value of the worker is poignantly highlighted in the cheap fast fashion items. Our craving for cheap fashion garments may not have a great monetary cost to us, but it comes with a great human cost - to the men, women and children who are forced to work with very little or no pay at all. Furthermore, the environmental impact of the fashion industry is huge from water pollution to the usage of toxic chemicals and textile waste.(2)
This is why we, why I, need to rethink our buying habits and most importantly need a shift in thinking - in how we value other human beings and how we nurture the environment.
So, how can we look good without buying into the fast fashion industry? These are brilliant suggestions, which I found as I researched the topic.(3)
1. Buy only what you need
- Capsule wardrobes: A range of good quality essential items as per your own style that all go with each other. It will take time to build up a capsule wardrobe, but having one will ensure that your wardrobe will consist of quality pieces that are easy to mix and match. It might even induce creativity as your time is not taken up by trawling through the endless piles of clothes in your closet.
- Before going shopping make a list of what you need
- Research options
2. Ethical fashion
Ethical fashion will be more expensive than items in a high street shop. However, ethical brands are working towards better working conditions, fairer wages and/or reducing the environmental impact. Thus you are more likely to pay for what an item is actually worth. Many ethical brands are championing those who make the clothes we wear providing dignity to workers. Accordingly, items from ethical brands would be great additions to your capsule wardrobe.
3. Vintage/ charity/ thrift stores or secondhand online stores + clothes swaps
You can purchase clothing with minimum impact on the environment.
4. High street shops
Only buy items that you will wear 30-50 times and so reduce the environmental impact. Also, do your research into the most ethical stores on your high street.
I hope this has inspired you to start or continue your journey towards better and more ethical buying habits.