Fashion is a form of self-expression. Not only does it allow us to showcase our individuality, but it also reflects a sense of belonging to a community. However, the concept of fashion exceeds the limitations of what meets the eye. When embracing your identity defies human rights and works to destroy the ecosystem, we must talk about the bigger picture.
- Ethical Fashion: What is it, and why is it necessary?
Ethical fashion is a movement that fights against the lies fed to us as consumers. It is open defiance against the brutality inflicted upon others to meet our desperate pursuit for materialism. Ethical fashion invokes an understanding that we, as customers, have the authority and the power to compel brands to perform better. Labels should adopt new methods to meet the customers’ needs, which follow a stronger code of ethics and opts for a sustainable approach.
Ethical fashion dissects the processes and morals with which the fashion industry works. In addition to designing, marketing, modeling, and more, ethical manner concerns itself with the more obscure aspects of the business, such as raw materials and production. It advocates for transparency in business such that the industry preserves the rights of its workers, i.e., fair trade fashion, works to protect the environment, i.e., eco-friendly fashion, and believes in quality as opposed to quantity, i.e., slow fashion. Transparency is an overlooked facet in business. Brands should be held accountable for their actions the same way we as people should.
Ethical fashion is often misunderstood owing to the broad nature of the term. Many amongst us are unable to understand what it is about – does ethical fashion combat capitalism, consumerism, or does it fight for the rights of the workforce? In simple terms, ethical fashion protects both the environment and its people.
- Ethical Fashion versus Fast Fashion
Ethical fashion is a term used in contrast with fast fashion. In short, the two are opposites in terms of production.
Fast fashion keeps up with the latest fashion trends. Fast fashion lacks quality, is unsustainable, cheap, damaging to the environment, and ironically enough, very enjoyable. Unlike fashion trends back in the day, today’s fashion is disposable. Instead of four seasons, there are numerous micro-seasons. Designers are under immense pressure to stay fresh and relevant to cater to this demand. The same applies to us as consumers. We change our wardrobes constantly to feel like we are relevant. While this chase continues to push us beyond our limits, it is helping fast fashion brands thrive.
- Fast Fashion: Socio-Economic Impact
The socio-economic impact of fast fashion takes the benefit of the doubt. We, as consumers, choose to believe that a cheaper price tag comes with the bulk in quantity. This leads us to think that the brand is making a smaller profit margin with each sale since their product is affordable to the masses. However, the fact of the matter is that it is not the brand cutting back on profits, but it is, in fact, the worker.
Garment workers live on minimal wages, and they work long hours, often overtime without pay to meet production deadlines. In the past, various unions were formed to protect the rights of workers. Brands, in response, crushed those unions by threatening to fire the workers. Unions are an essential part of democracy. Ethical fashion fights modern slavery. Snatching away the rights of workers by employing the use of dirty tactics is no less than slavery.
Brands continue to exploit their workers because there is a lack of laws that protect workers, especially in developing countries. For this reason, brands approach these countries to hire their workforce. While the concept of globalized production intended to create a more equitable world, the reality is far from it. The fashion industry is a competitive market and to meet the needs of the customers, costs are cut, and the ones who suffer are those at the early stages of production.
- Fast Fashion: Environmental Impact
As damaging as fast fashion is towards labor rights, its impact on the environment is equally damaging if not more. According to the Guardian, the fashion industry only falls second to the oil industry in terms of global pollution. Fast fashion has a short lifespan. Trends fade and the next thing you know, you are discarding that item you strutted proudly in six months prior. The UK alone accounts for 1 million tons of discarded clothing per annum.
Fast fashion mostly uses synthetic materials that harm the ecosystem for centuries.
Pesticides are an essential part of cotton production as are the plethora of chemicals and dyes used to treat the material to make it suitable for use. The waste products from factories not only predisposes workers at direct risk of with contact, but it also affects natural resources including agriculture, marine life, etc. This environmental impact is leading to long-term side effects such as malformations and diseases in the people who inhabit those areas.
No one is a stranger to the outcome of plastic use on marine life. Fabrics such as polyester, when washed, release microfibers that add to the high levels of microplastics present in the ocean. Marine animals consume these plastics, which puts their lives at risk as does ours.
The Earth only has 1% of freshwater. We use approximately 7500 liters of water to manufacture a pair of jeans. If we continue to waste water at this rate, you can expect a vast majority of the planet to be deprived of drinking water by 2040.
- How is Ethical Fashion Different?
Ethical fashion demarks from fast fashion based on several characteristics.
- Advocating for Animal Rights
Cruelty-free fashion intends to promote animal welfare. Animal-derived raw materials form the backbone of the fashion industry. Staple items such as wool shoes for men and women, leather jackets, or cotton shirts, are all sourced from animal acquired raw materials.
Ethical fashion aims to eliminate animal cruelty by ensuring that its products do not harm animals. While some advocate for animal rights and question the effects of leather processing on the environment, they often tend to overlook the impact of its alternatives. Vegan leather is no exception to the rule for it to damages the environment in its way.
Now, brands are pushing boundaries to create materials from sources other than synthetic materials such as fruits peels.
- Environmentally Accountable
Ethical fashion controls wastage and pollution during the manufacture of fashion commodities.
Raw materials such as cotton require pesticides to grow properly. However, pesticides can be very damaging to the ozone and freshwater bodies. Organic pesticides are now used to ensure reduced toxicity in water bodies and reduced exposure to those who live in the area.
- Protecting Labor Rights
Fundamental labor rights entail a decent minimum wage, reasonable working hours, and a safe and respectable work environment. Brands should be accountable for its employees regardless of where they are based and what industry they belong to. Fashion should ideally encourage creativity and artistry.
- Transparency towards Consumers
As consumers, we are also a victim of exploitation at the hands of brands as we are oblivious to the workings of the manufacturers. If we are informed about the reality of what goes into fashion production, do you think we would support the industry? Brands hide skeletons in their closet under a mask of a generic code of ethics such as condoning child labor, flexible working hours, etc.