When I first started this online journey, I wrote a snippet on my About Me page that said “I adore wearing something that is ethically produced and precision made”, yet since the launch of my blog, I have not articulated what that means and why it is important to me. There are so many reasons why shopping ethically is important: aesthetic beauty; environmental sustainability; humane labour. Before I explore these reasons in depth, an understanding of the definition of ethical fashion is necessary.
Ethical fashion can encompass many facets. The definition provided on the Victoria and Albert Museum website is most inclusive:
“Ethical fashion is an umbrella term to describe ethical fashion design, production, retail, and purchasing. It covers a range of issues such as working conditions, exploitation, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment, and animal welfare.”
The definition provided on the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) is also excellent and prescribes 10 criteria for fashion to meet in order to be considered ethical:
1. Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption;
2. Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights;
3. Supporting sustainable livelihoods;
4. Addressing toxic pesticide and chemical use;
5. Using and/or developing eco-friendly fabrics and components;
6. Minimising water use;
7. Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste;
8. Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion;
9. Resources, training and/or awareness raising initiatives; and
10. Animal rights.
By no means am I perfect in terms of my ethical fashion consumption – I am not always conscious of purchasing garments manufactured with minimal impact to the environment and I do buy and wear leather goods. However, I could never buy fashion I thought was going to end up in a land-fill, because of the environmental implications, and I could certainly not buy fashion that did not afford those producing it the appropriate wages and workers’ rights.
There are so many brilliant and thought-provoking articles on the web about the abuse of human rights in the garment industry. Some that I think are incredibly compelling reading are The Australian Fashion Report 2015, “Five things you should know about your clothes” by Amnesty International and “Wages and workers’ rights” by the EFF. Education and knowledge absolutely equals power – when you become educated about where and how your clothes are being produced, you can make informed decisions about what to buy. When you make informed decisions about what you buy, you, the consumer, are charged with the power to change the garment industry, however incrementally.
With fashion, you absolutely get what you pay for. If you liken fashion to food, a diet that consists of nothing but those cheap and cheerful purchases are like wonderful sugary hits – at the time of consumption, they look and feel good and are seemingly delish but the rush doesn’t last for long as invariably, over time and with wear, those purchases fade, discolour, fall apart, pill, stretch out of shape. The considered purchases, the staples that are prepared with love, quality ingredients and attention to detail are the ones that will sustain you for so much longer. They will continue to give back to you because not only are they are so beautiful and often unique, but they are designed to last because the quality of the product is superb.
I buy high-end or niche designers for varied reasons: I love owning something that is unique, that is the product of one person’s creative design process; I love owning something that is made impeccably from beautiful fabrics; I love owning something that is luxurious and well-made and will last. Buying these pieces supersedes mere aesthetics, because when an item is made in a country that has laws (not to mention a social aversion) against child or slave labour, you can generally be assured that the person producing that garment is paid a living wage and working in decent conditions. Countries like Australia, Italy, France, Ireland, England, Scotland, the USA, Canada and New Zealand employ workers under reasonable working conditions because they have labour laws that stipulate occupational safety and health, minimum wages and other conditions of employment (like leave entitlements and working hours). How can it be okay on any level to wear a garment that has been produced in horrific conditions, like that at the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, when consumers (especially those in developed countries) have the ability to make better choices?
“But I cannot afford to pay the prices these items demand!!” I hear you cry. And it is true – to buy something made ethically is to pay more, because not only are you paying for the brand name and advertising, but you are paying for a better quality product and most importantly, a wage on which the individual who produced that garment can survive. But, as is befitting of my shopping motto, if you aren’t afforded the required income to fund expensive habits, you don’t have to pay full price!!
Shopping second-hand and recycled, which 80% of my eBay wardrobe is, is just another manner in which to shop ethically. I spoke earlier of abhorring buying clothing that would end up in landfills – in 2014 in the US alone, it was estimated that 10.5 million tonnes of clothing ended up in landfill yet over 90% of textile waste is recyclable. (On this topic, make sure to check out this article also). By shopping second-hand, whether it be in charity shops or on eBay or in upmarket consignment boutiques, you are contributing to an ethical fashion shopping cycle in a small way.
I know for some the lure of buying shiny and new is too hard to resist. But I promise you, the act of buying something that is new to you, regardless of whether it is brand-spanking-new or not, is always thrilling. I’ll admit, my appetite for clothing is rather insatiable (which is why I have completely run out of wardrobe space, yet that does little to deter me!!) but when there are SO MANY amazing pre-loved, barely worn items for sale elsewhere (I’m looking at you, my precious eBay), I can satisfy my need for new AND prevent something glorious going into landfill. Everyone wins!
The discussion I’ve had here is by no means the beginning or the end of this incredibly complex and important topic, simply my take on why I shop like I do. You’ll see within my “About Me” page I have also spoken about how people consider fashion to be so frivolous and vacuous (and why this is absolutely not the case), yet the issues I have canvassed here today are in no way frivolous or frothy or unimportant. They are vital and necessary and have long-reaching ramifications for our environment and humanity. These discussions require consumer knowledge and power, from which no one should shirk under the guise of it being a ‘woman’s thing’ or a ‘silly thing’ or an ‘it doesn’t affect me’ thing.
I have my own ethical shopping ethos, which as I mentioned, is not perfect. But as I learn more and shop more (no boos or hisses to that!!), I can only become a better, more ethical, more informed consumer. And that is never a bad thing.