The clothing and textile industry has a significant share in the global market- employing over a billion people worldwide and catering to the wants of millions more. With the increasing incomes and the purchasing power of people, clothing sales have gone up to 60% in the last ten years. According to a study, we now consume one-third more clothing than even four years ago, and discard it after wearing for just a few times or indeed, even once. There also has been a shift in the way clothing and fashions are being sold, with the rise of ‘Value Fashion’ available in the supermarkets with the weekly groceries, like in stores like Hypercity, Big Bazaar and D-mart, and High Street stores who sell specifically on low prices, rather than durability.
Cheap fashion equals disposable fashion- encourages more consumption, creating a vicious cycle. This increases the pressure on clothing manufacturers and their suppliers to squeeze out more output in less time, affecting those at the bottom end of the production chain, adversely, who actually make these clothes. Today, fast fashion brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever 21 depend on vastly underpaid workers (as little as $2-4/hour) to make clothing at alarming rates to meet consumer demand.
Hence, Ethical fashion and ethically made represents an approach to the design, sourcing, manufacture of clothing and accessories that maximises benefits to people and communities, while minimising impact on the environment. Ethical fashion brands are often known for the following features: employing artisans with traditional skill sets, providing cruelty free products, using certified and/or safe factories, avoiding all sweatshop labour, etc.
So now that we have a bit of an idea about what ethical fashion is, the next question becomes: for what reason is it essential? Ethical fashion is important for a number of different reasons — In this present reality where harming natural and social ramifications are considered ‘typical’ by our design framework, we are seriously in need of a shift; not least among them being the fact that fashion is the second most polluting industry after oil and gas.
Different ethical fashion brands approach responsible production in different ways. Some brands are committed to vegan production; because veganism is a movement that is committed to minimising the harm that is caused to animals to fulfil our needs, vegans don’t buy clothing made from materials that exploit animals (like silk, leather, wool, etc.)
Examples: Matt and Nat, Alas, Disguise (cosmetic brand), Kanabis.
There are many other brands which focus on sustainability through the use of organic fibres that use less chemicals and pesticides in their production and, therefore, cause less environmental harm.
Examples: Celeste Tesoriero and Nico.
Similarly, there are brands focusing on equality for all people and various gender equality labels have come up in recent years to match those beliefs with actions.
It is also important to remember, though, that ethical fashion is not just about the labels people buy or prefer. It is also about how often are some particular garments bought and for what reason. The fast fashion system has conditioned us to believe that buying fashion every single week is the ‘norm’. And this mind-set can seriously exacerbate the fact that Australians already send $500 million worth of clothing and textiles to landfill each year.
Until very recently, ethically sound fashion and sustainability, had to a great extent, been avoided by the fashion and textile industries. However, the groundswell of consumer awareness and media coverage of global environmental issues and concerns about ethical practices in the supply chain has created pressure, which has now precipitated action by the large clothing companies such as Marks and Spencer, GAP, and H&M. There has been a fundamental paradigm shift as we enter a new era of ethical consumption. Consumers, today, are demanding to know more about how, where and in what conditions their garments are being made. In a dramatic turnaround in corporate social responsibility in textile, dyeing and manufacturing businesses, companies that were previously seen as a major part of the environmental problem are now becoming a part of the solution. Pretty much every magazine and exchange diary from Vanity Fair to Business Week and Time has a ‘Green Issue’ since 2005.
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