From a research paper of mine: In previous literature, “sustainable fashion lexicon includes a myriad of terms – including ‘environmental’, ‘ecological’, green’, ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’, ‘recycled,’ and ‘organic’ – that are often used interchangeably, thereby confusing researchers and consumers alike” (Thomas 2008). The debate over what deems to be sustainable fashion consumption involves many interpretations. Sustainable apparel can refer to clothes that have a long life cycle, contain natural and recycled fiber content, are repaired or refashioned, or are disposed by giving, lending, reselling, or donating (Bly, Wencke, & Reisch 126). Regardless of how individuals define fashion as “sustainable,” the end product of the truly sustainable goods should be the same and that is that “sustainability is as much about reducing measurable environmental or social impacts as it is about incorporating broader concepts through which to achieve goals beyond the pro-environmental or ethical” (Bly, Wencke, & Reisch 125).
The term “sustainable fashion” have been so overused in the fashion industry that to every individual, its meaning is different.
Sustainable fashion has become an umbrella term because of its semantic ambiguity, so nowadays, I find myself using “ethical fashion” because the word “ethical” better connotes the general objective behind this movement – and yes, ethical fashion has become just as big of a movement as it is as a sector within the powerhouse fashion industry.
As someone who’s gung ho about making the world a better place, I have listed the reasons why you should go ethical/why the fast fashion industry is a destructive force that must be torn down:
1. It’s people-minded: If you haven’t watched the True Cost documentary yet, then you should. With much of cut-and-sew labor being outsourced to factories in developing countries, the fast fashion industry is nowhere close to slowing down. Factory workers are constantly being exploited for their cheap labor. Not only are they underpaid, they also receive very little support from the institutions that represent them (i.e. factories and governments). There’s a huge gap in proper regulations for worker’s health and safety (refer to the Rana Plaza incident). Workers rarely, if not ever, become members of a labor union (in many countries, there are no unions to even be a part of!). Outsourcing labor might mean more income earning opportunities for families but young women and children still have no choice but to work under very poor conditions. It’s not just laborers in factories who are being abused either. On the fields, cotton farmers are constantly exposed to toxic chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides. As a a result, they develop serious illnesses or disabilities and can even die from constant exposure to these toxins.
After reading this, take a moment and think about the clothes that you’ve purchased and how much of them could’ve been made by these abused workers. By consuming ethical fashion, we are slowing down the demand for fast fashion.
(photo from Reformation)
2. It’s eco-conscious: The list of issues caused by the massive production side of the fashion industry is endless: climate change, pollution, water crises, landfills, endangered species, and etc (however, these issues are caused by not only the fashion industry, obviously). Unethical fashion not only hurts the environment but endangers animals well. Ecosystems have become corrupted by our own hands that we need to take a moment to reflect on how we can combat the detrimental effects of our purchasing decisions. Instead of focusing on producing more clothing goods, we should start investing our time and resources into finding solutions for these negative environmental externalities.
Many innovations have been put forth in the field of fiber solution technology, where the aim is to either find or develop sustainably grown and responsibly sourced materials for clothing production (ever heard of Tencel or PLA fibers?). The dyeing process of clothing is also a huge area of focus in sustainable innovations, where natural dyes are coming back into trend. There are plenty of other solutions on the way but what’s important to note is that it is possible to compromise between appealing design and effective sustainability in the fashion product making process (i.e. biomimicry).
3. Quality over quantity: Growing up in a capitalist society has allowed me to see how destructive our consumerist culture can be towards our health and lifestyle. If you’re looking to clean up the clutter in your closet, identify the pieces that you end up wearing less than 20 times a year and dispose them – by donating them to your local thrift store, of course! Also, you can buy so much until you realize that a purchase of, let’s say, a dress with the same style of one that you own but in a different color does not make that great of a statement in your closet. The more clothes you have, the fewer times you will get to wear each individual garment. And in the end, your purchases end up taking up unnecessary space.
Due to the cheap accessibility to clothing caused by the fast fashion industry, clothing has lost a lot of meaning, value, and consumer appreciation over time. Not much thought is being put into the manufacturing process of clothing goods, so oftentimes, you see a lack in quality as more units are being produced. Shorter lifetime of fast fashion products force you to shop more often and spend either as much or more than the amount that you would spend on more durable, ethically made clothing. So, why not just invest in several versatile pieces from slow fashion? Imagine how much lighter and happier you will feel living a minimalist and sustainable lifestyle.
Why ethical fashion is particularly important to me: The people. Those who have no voice but should have the right to have one. The women and children who are working under unjust labor conditions (imagine how much better their quality of life would be if they were justly paid and not forced to work overtime). In fact, there is a disproportionately large number of women working in outsourced factories. The thought of a young woman or child having to grow up working in a factory all her life just to be able to earn barely enough to eat day by day is a torturing thought. I can’t help but grieve over how many people are being deprived from living a happy and healthy life, from having opportunities being taken away from them because of our global capitalist system. Labor trafficking and worker’s abuse must be eliminated.
This is why I’m passionate about ethical fashion because it’s always been the people for me. Go ethical.