What exactly is Ethical Fashion?
Last Friday I shared with you why I was choosing to pursue ethical fashion.
But I had the realization that, while I have spent a fair amount of time researching this subject and delving into it, this might be an entirely new idea for some of you.
So before we go any further, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a little history lesson and explain exactly where that term, “ethical fashion”, came from.
Prior to the mid 1980’s clothing that was purchased was meant to fit into one’s lifestyle, budget, and to coincide with the seasons. Clothing was treated with care and repaired when it started to show wear.
So why did that change? Because of the boom in globalization that occurred in the 80’s and 90’s, brands were able to produce higher quantities of clothing at a much lower cost. Instead of brands producing collections that coincided with the seasons, they were able to offer many, many more collections with new items being added every week.
This led to a consumer mindset that devalued the importance of having a functional wardrobe and instead put value on keeping current with the latest trends. Clothing became much more affordable and consumers started purchasing much more frequently.
To quote Stephanie Vatz of KQED news, “In 1960, an average American household spent over 10% of its income on clothing and shoes… bought fewer than 25 garments each year, and about 95% of those clothes were made in the United States… today, the average American household spends less than 3.5% of its budget on clothing and shoes… yet, we buy… close to 70 pieces of clothing per person, or more than one clothing purchase per week.” Today only about 2% of clothing is made in the United States.
Clothing became much more expendable as it became easier and easier to consume. In order to keep up with this new demand for cheap clothing, companies began to turn to a different method of manufacturing.
According to the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF), The Globalization shift “[paved] the way for value and mid price brands to shift the bulk of their production to the developing world where labor and overheads cost are a fraction of those in Europe [and the United States].”
Because of this shift, companies began outsourcing their clothing to whichever developing country would give them the most labor for the least amount of money.
On top of the increase in outsourcing, according to Vatz, “A successive wave of trade liberalization polices in the 1990s, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, effectively wiped out most import restrictions and duties on foreign-made clothing.”
The combination of these two things has led to a massive problem in the way that factory workers are treated in these developing countries.
The worst, and most infamous example of this mistreatment can be seen in the Rana Plaza tragedy. Despite the fact that the garment factory owners in this Bangladesh factory had been warned that the building was unstable and there were cracks in the foundation, they kept factory workers at their task until on April 24, 2013 the building collapsed killing 1,134 people and injuring thousands more.
This tragedy opened the eyes of the world to the fact that, while Rana Plaza has been the worst accident in the garment industry to date, it certainly is not an anomaly. These sorts of unnecessary accidents continue to happen endangering the lives of the vulnerable garment workers.
The documentary The True Cost shed light on the fact that these poor working conditions are invasive in the garment industry and that they are impacting, in a very negative way, the lives of our fellow human beings and causing much damage to the environment.
And that’s where Ethical Fashion comes in. According to the EFF, ethical fashion “represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing impact on the environment.”
Or as the Ethical Fashion Initiative puts it: “People first. Fair Supply Chain. Living Wages. Dignified working conditions.”
Ethical Fashion is, at its roots, a movement that seeks to honor human life above consumerism. It is a movement that seeks to hold businesses accountable for the welfare of their workers. And it is a movement that seeks to encourage consumers to slow down and think about how they are getting their cheap clothing.
The more I have researched, the more I realize how much I have taken for granted. But I have seen the truth and I am compelled to respond to it. I hope that this helps you to at least begin to think about where your clothing is coming from.
And in the coming months I plan to do a series called Slow Fashion Fridays, where I will share with you things that I am learning and resources that I hope will help you as you perhaps start to pursue this as well.
But in the meantime, let’s talk about it. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,
Information pulled from the following websites: