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What Should Fashion Brands Do To Become More Ethical?

By swamping the market with new, cheap, disposable collections every week, the fast fashion industry is destroying our planet while exploiting people – men, women, kids alike – and animals. Fast fashion clothes are made from the poorest quality materials out there, mainly by people in low-income countries who earn less than $3 a day. Ethical fashion can be the solution to this craziness.

What should fashion brands do to become more ethical? They should only use fabrics made from eco-friendly, sustainably sourced fibers and pay workers a fair and living wage, ensuring they work reasonable hours under safe and dignified conditions. In no case are abuses, child or forced labor allowed. Last but not least, brands should refrain from harming animals.

Without further ado, let’s find out what ethical fashion means, why it is so crucial, and what actually makes a fashion brand ethical. And yes, as consumers, we have a crucial role – we’ll come back to this shortly.

What is ethical fashion and why is it important?

The more the truth about the fashion industry comes to the surface – it’s one of the most polluting, unethical, and least sustainable industries on the planet – the more the concept of ethical fashion makes its way. Indeed, ethical fashion – aka a more mindful, conscious way to produce clothes – can help curb many of these problems.

But why should we care about ethical fashion, and what does it actually mean?

The “why” is obvious: our planet and fashion workers need our help – don’t miss the most shocking facts about the garment industry later in the article. What about the meaning? Well, first off, since anyone can define ethical fashion in their own way based on their own values, an “official” definition is hard to find.

Usually, ethical fashion is described as a production model that benefits fashion workers. However, according to us, the definition should be broader. Ethical fashion is a fashion that cares about the rights of workers and animals alike. If fashion employees must be empowered and gratified by what they do for a living, at the same time, harming animals for clothes and vanity is anything but remarkable.

The most pressing ethical issues in the fashion industry today

There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness

– Mahatma Gandhi

Low pay, long working hours, unsanitary spaces (poor air circulation and lighting, no protective equipment), and frequent abuses. These are just the most pressing issues in the industry, but the list could go on and on. Also, since the ethical fashion industry can’t overlook the environmental damages clothes cause, we can’t help but mention water pollution, overfilling landfills, overproduction, and insane carbon footprint too.

Below are listed a few shocking ethical fashion facts we’ve collected to prove how urgently a change is needed:

  • In Bangladesh, garment workers, primarily women, make about $96 per month. The government’s wage board suggested that a garment worker needs 3,5 times that amount to live a “decent life with basic facilities”.
  • Usually, the buildings have no ventilation and employees breath in toxic substances and inhale fiber dust.
  • Factory managers pressure employees to work 10 to 18 hours per day, 7 days a week – an average of 96 hours a week.
  • During peak season, workers are forced to work until 2 or 3 am.
  • Children as young as five years old can be recruited and sometimes forced to work in cotton fields or ginning factories. They receive little if any pay.
  • About 1,4 million injuries happen in fashion workplaces every year. Among others, some accidents have made history and are to date considered turning points in the industry:
  • Karachi, Pakistan – September 2012. In a commercial hub, a fire ravaged a textile factory complex killing nearly 300 workers trapped behind locked doors.
  • Dhaka, Bangladesh – November 2012. A fire broke out in the Tazreen Fashions garment factory and at least 112 workers died.
  • Dhaka, Bangladesh – April 2013. The Rana Plaza building, housing 5 garment factories employing around 5,000 people, collapses killing almost 1,132 people and injuring more than 2,500. The Rana Plaza accident is the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. The victims were mostly young women.

What makes a fashion brand ethical?

The only way fashion brands can be more ethical is to set up their production model to don’t harm anyone or anything. And that includes – but it’s not limited to – creating healthy working spaces where fairly paid workers can operate in safe conditions. No child should ever walk through a garment factory door. And the more animal derivatives are banned, the more ethical the brand is. Eventually, they should only use sustainable, eco-friendly fabrics.

Easier said than done. Why is this industry still so far behind? That’s because the biggest brands struggle to take their responsibilities. Their supply chains are so fragmented and touch so many lives that they don’t even know (or at least pretend they don’t know…) the terrible traces their garments leave behind.

Unfortunately, the most common fast fashion fabrics are NOT environmentally-friendly…

But consumers are demanding more transparency and forcing even the major fast fashion brands to take a stand. And that’s how the “ethical and sustainable” collections are born. But a quick look at the label is enough to realize that the percentage of sustainable fibers is ridiculous and that nothing is said about who made that item! This is pure greenwashing, that’s all.

Luckily, so many small brands are leading the way and making a difference. Use our brand directory to search for the ones that best match your style and budget.

To be 100% sure your purchase supports an ethical way of producing, search if the brand has certifications. Those tell a lot about the materials’ nature and the environmental and social outcomes of production processes. The most common standards are GOTS, B Corp, and Fairtrade. For more, click here.

What can consumers do?

At least once a day, we wonder where the food on our table comes from, don’t we? It’s a legit question – we care about our health, and we worry whether fertilizers or other harmful substances have been used or not. But…

How often do we ask the questions: who made my clothes? Where did they make them, how and from what? How is it possible that we can buy a brand new garment (…) for less than the cost of a cooked breakfast?

– Clare Press

There’s a lot we can do to ask fashion brands to take a stand and become more ethical. Fashion Revolution, a global movement founded in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster, organizes the Fashion Revolution week every year, in the week coinciding with 24th April – the anniversary of the collapse.

During this week, anyone can join the movement to collectively demand that no one should die for fashion. There are many ways you can be a Fashion Revolutionary and get involved! Take a look at their website to find out more.

What if you can only afford fast fashion? Can you still participate in the ethical fashion movement? Of course. We have another post about becoming more ethical and sustainable on a budget! Also, we have some cool brand recommendations that are trendy and cheap alternatives to fast fashion.

Photo credit: Darina Belonogova from Pexels

Alberta Bernardi
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Alberta Bernardi is a Ph.D. in Management, Innovation, and Sustainable Development. She likes to call herself a “sustainability warrior” because she aims to spread knowledge on the environment, ethics, and plastic pollution day after day. Her love of nature and battle against plastic around the world are on Instagram @together_no_plastic