Ethical fashion. What does it mean and what called it to life?

Ethical fashion, conscious consumption and sustainable fashion are all branches from the same tree. Each work to improve the fashion industry for the betterment of both people and planet.

The Expression

Ethical relates to ‘moral principles’ (ethics). Therefore, ethical fashion is a term that usually dictates the overall ethics of a business. It describes a supply chain that focuses on reducing harm to the people and the planet. The supply chain of a business usually consists of garment design, production and distribution and in the most ideal case, benefits all involved and not just those at the top.

Whilst it has become a buzzword amongst the fashion industry, its definition is somewhat lucrative. The term ‘ethical’ means something different to each person and their personal set of values.

Ethical fashion concerns the social impact and the ethics behind a brands label and is said to be the opposite of the more commonly known term ‘fast fashion’. The phrase itself is quite recent, created in response to an industry that is renowned for the underpayment and ill-treatment of workers through unsafe working conditions.

What does it include?

Consumers spent more than seven billion hours searching for ‘ethical’, ‘fair trade’ and ‘eco-friendly’ items last year, according to WWD. With the pandemic shutting down most of world, a lot of people decided to support local businesses, many of which are deemed more ‘ethical’. With more time to think about where people are spending their money, many have begun to think of the kind of business they are supporting.

While sustainable doesn’t always mean ethical, it is important to note that a business promoting sustainability will be a lot more transparent than their fast fashion counterparts.

Transparency is key. It allows consumers to understand where their clothes are being made, by whom and in what conditions. Whilst this is what advocates of ethical fashion strive for, there is often a large number of companies exploiting peoples want for fairer fashion. This is known as green washing.

Green washing is when a brand promotes ‘eco friendly fashion’ through a new collection or items but continues to over produce and lacks true transparency. It is a façade that often confuses consumers through marketing strategies and lacks any real proof.

To avoid falling for green washing, it’s important to make sure that the company gives clear information on how, where and by whom their clothing is made.

How did ethical fashion come to life?

Ethical fashion came to the forefront of the fashion industry in 2013, after the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. This incident focused public attention to the ill-treatment of garment workers when Rana Plaza, a building housing five garment factories collapsed, killing at least 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500.

Rana Plaza Disaster, 2013
Rana Plaza disaster, 2013,

It is one of the worst industrial accidents on record and fuelled the want for safer working conditions and more transparency within the fashion industry. The want for ethical fashion has continued when the pandemic caused the closure of stores and global fashion brands have refused to pay for over £14 billion worth of goods. This financially devasted factories across India and Bangladesh who had already paid for the production of these clothes and left workers with no wage.

After public outcry and the Pay Up campaign, many brands have committed to pay their orders, but this would not have been possible without people advocating for fairness within the industry. 

There is still a lot of work to be done within the fashion industry. With ethical fashion subject to each person’s individual values, it is transparency within businesses that is most important. Here is what to look for when a business calls themselves “ethical fashion”.

What to look for in an ethical fashion brand

– Transparency. Who made my clothes? Where were they made? How were they made?

– Diversity. Do they have a diverse range of staff? Equality is also a part of ethical fashion.

– Advocate. Do they advocate for fair wages and support a range of causes?

– No hesitation. If you’re unsure, ask. Hesitation comes from brands who are not genuine.

– Trust yourself. Ethical fashion is based on your own moral compass and values.