Ethical fashion 101

Fast fashion is everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

With fast fashion, the focus is that low price point. The clothes are cheap. So cheap, in fact, that if they don’t happen to last long – which tends to be the case – it’s not a big deal. The same applies when you move from one trend to the next. You simply buy what you like and chuck out the old stuff, without it hurting your wallet too much.

While that may sound appealing, there is a cost to fast fashion, even if that cost is low for you.

If you’re paying five dollars for a t-shirt, how much do you think the people who made the t-shirt get paid for their labour? How much do you think suppliers or growers get for their materials? How much do you think manufacturers care about using processes that are good for the environment?

The answer? Not much. So, what can you do about it as a consumer? Instead of opting for fast fashion, choose ethical fashion. Consider where your clothes come from, and make informed decisions when you buy.

What is ethical fashion?

Ethical fashion is the antithesis of fast fashion. It is slow fashion. In essence, it stands for everything fast fashion ignores.

While the details of what makes a brand ‘ethical’ can vary, the general ethos of ethical fashion is that it aims to reduce the negative impact on the planet, on people, and on animals. From the materials and processes used, to the workers involved and the quality of what’s created, every step in the process of creating ethical clothing should be ethical.

What goes into making fashion ‘ethical’?

1. How the garment is made

With fast fashion, the manufacturing process has to be fast. Each garment goes through the line as quickly as possible, so it can be packed up, sent off and put on the shelves for the masses to buy.

With ethical fashion, the focus is on craftsmanship and quality, ensuring each item is made correctly and to a high standard. Some items are made using traditional methods that can only be completed by highly-skilled workers.

2. The way workers are treated

Fast fashion is often associated with sweatshops, where workers suffer under appalling conditions for minimal wages. Ethical fashion is fair fashion. As such, workers receive fair wages with voluntary overtime, working within a safe environment, with freedom of association. Gender equality is also important.

3. The materials used

Sustainability within the materials used is another significant aspect of ethical fashion. Ethical clothing may be made from sustainable materials, such as hemp, organic textiles or recycled cotton, polyester or nylon. Vegan leather, or faux leather, may be used to limit animal suffering. The wages and treatment of the people who produce the material will also be considered.

4. The processes involved

Ethical clothing focuses on minimising waste, either using minimal-waste pattern-making, or by adopting made-to-order processes to reduce the number of unsold garments that end up in landfill. Ethical fashion also focuses on waste in another way, ensuring the processes used in making garments don’t hurt the environment, perhaps by using climate neutral treatments or low-impact dyes.

Why should you care?

When buying ethical clothing, you will obviously pay more than you would for fast fashion. So, let’s see what you get in return.

  • Your clothes will be well-made, using quality materials and craftsmanship. This not only makes each garment more durable, lasting more than just a season, it also allows you to enjoy the skills and artistry of someone who has trained for, and enjoys what they do.
  • The materials you place against your skin will be of the highest quality, treated in a way that is not harmful to environment – or you. In other words, you reduce contact with chemical nasties.
  • You help the planet, instead of hurt it. Ethical fashion cuts down on chemicals and pollutants that fast fashion pours into the world.
  • You can rest easier knowing the clothes you are wearing helped pay a fair wage to all the workers involved in their making. There is no abuse or exploitation in ethical fashion supply chains, no sweatshops or child labour. The same cannot be said for fast fashion.

Are you already supporting slow ethical fashion? Check our tips on how to inspire others to choose ethical fashion.