The global sustainable fashion movement aims to reduce the environmental footprint of clothing production and consumption. Ethical fashion promotes a fairer and socially responsible approach to fashion. That's the slight difference between the ethical and sustainable fashion.
The textile and apparel industry is one of the biggest industries in the world. It's also one of the greatest contributors to global warming and the second-largest polluter globally. Climate change is slowly becoming one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Ethical fashion and sustainable fashion are needed to slow down and repair the gigantic social and environmental damage caused by the overproduction and overconsumption of clothing around the world.
Luckily, conscious consumers care more and more for the environment and how their clothes are being made. Businesses and organizations are working toward making fashion more sustainable to appeal to more responsible consumers.
The modern environmental movement is even lead by the youngest generations today. They feel the need to protect their future and take massive action to reduce pollution, waste, resource consumption, and carbon emissions. So many children and young adults demonstrate every Friday for the environment in the global movement #FridaysForFuture lead by Greta Thunberg.
"Today’s business as usual is turning into a crime against humanity. We demand that leaders play their part in putting an end to this madness."
- Greta Thunberg, Swedish environmental activist
Sustainable and ethical fashion help reduce the disastrous impact of clothing purchases on the planet, the people, and the animals living on it.
It's a more mindful way of producing and consuming fashion textiles and products. It respects human and animal rights and the environment.
The sustainable and ethical fashion movement is so much more than a trend. It's gaining massive popularity because of the damage it causes to biodiversity.
Consumers are asking for more transparency and eco-friendliness in the fashion industry. More people now think of the impact on the environment when making purchasing decisions.
I started to care more about #WhoMadeMyClothes in 2015. I was shocked as I learned more about the unethical and unsustainable practices happening every day in the fashion industry.
I wasn't aware of the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion. Now I understand more why spreading awareness of these issues is necessary to make a positive social and environmental impact.
The fashion industry is responsible for the huge consumption of water, energy, and natural resources. It also produces large quantities of pollution, hazardous chemicals, plastic microfibers, textile waste, and greenhouse gases released into the nearby environment.
As consumers, we can help by making more mindful choices when buying clothes. Conscious consumerism and the awareness of social and environmental issues in the apparel industry drive the growth of ethical and sustainable fashion.
The concept of sustainable fashion is similar to slow, green, and eco-friendly fashion. Ethical fashion is related to fair, conscious, and responsible fashion.
Here is the difference between ethical and sustainable fashion.
What is sustainable fashion
According to the Oxford English dictionary, sustainability is the "avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance."
Sustainable fashion is the movement within the fashion industry that changes supply chains and business models for more economic, social, and environmental sustainability.
Buying sustainable fashion is a great way to decrease the catastrophic environmental impact of the fashion industry.
Sustainable fashion is the responsibility of everybody, including the general public, governments, organizations, and businesses. We all have to encourage sustainability in the fashion industry as a whole.
Sustainable fashion involves everyone in the supply chain, from local farmers and factory workers to brands, retailers, and the end consumers.
"More sustainable fashion can be defined as clothing, shoes, and accessories that are manufactured, marketed and used in the most sustainable manner possible, taking into account both environmental and socio-economic aspects. In practice, this implies continuous work to improve all stages of the product’s life cycle, from design, raw material production, manufacturing, transport, storage, marketing, and final sale, to use, reuse, repair, remake and recycling of the product and its components."
- Dr. Anna Brismar, Green Strategy founder and owner
Sustainable clothing uses eco-friendly materials made from sustainable resources, such as renewable energy, sustainably grown plants, recycled fibers, and upcycled fabrics.
Read up my article on the top 10 eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics to learn more about environmentally friendly materials for fashion.
It's crucial to reduce the amount of clothing ending up in landfills to decompose or be incinerated. Big players in the fashion industry must also cut down their greenhouse gas emissions, their usage of hazardous chemicals, their water and energy consumption.
With sustainable fashion, companies have access to new opportunities to use innovation to create jobs, serve evolving markets, and grow.
The fashion industry is responsible for about 8% of all carbon emissions. Today's clothing production methods and consumption rate are unsustainable.
We must promote sustainable fashion as a part of the solution, as well as a positive change in consumers' behavior.
Unfortunately, the demand for sustainable fashion must rise before it can be accessible to most people.
88% of consumers still prefer shopping for fast fashion in the United-States. Buying new trendy fashion at an affordable price is fun, practical, and convenient.
But fast fashion uses poor working conditions, low wages, and toxic chemicals to produce stylish clothing easily, cheaply, and quickly. It's putting our future at risk, endangering human health and ecosystems.
"The primary feature defining sustainable fashion is high-quality, durable products, followed by a pollution-free production process that does not use hazardous chemicals."
- Felix Chung Kwok-pan, member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong for the Textiles and Garment constituency
Sustainable clothing generally offers limited choices. Most pieces of clothing are very basic with a classic style, clean shapes, and simple silhouettes.
Although they do have the benefit to be more durable and versatile. Buying fewer clothes and higher quality overall has a tremendous positive impact. It's helping the fashion industry become more sustainable.
But most consumers still prioritize accessibility, style, and price when buying new clothes. Even if sustainability is more present in the mind of today's consumers, it's not the most important criterion.
Reducing our impact on the environment with sustainable fashion is quickly becoming one of the main objectives of this new decade.
Together with choosing eco-friendly materials, buying second-hand clothing, renting, recycling and upcycling are important ways to make fashion more sustainable.
Read up my article on how second-hand clothing is helping sustainable fashion if you aren't convinced yet.
Sustainable fashion drives change in the whole fashion industry by prioritizing sustainability over maximizing profits.
It's now more important than ever before to follow a more socially acceptable and environmentally friendly way to sourcing materials, designing clothing, and manufacturing garments.
The Earth's natural resources are finite. We must move away from the traditional linear concept of take-make-waste to a more regenerative and circular economy.
Sustainable fashion is a new way of thinking about our clothes that considers the impact of our closet on the environment.
What is ethical fashion
According to the Oxford English dictionary, being ethical means "avoiding activities or organizations that harm people or the environment."
Many people consider that ethical fashion is a bit different from sustainable fashion. Ethical fashion focuses more on social responsibility in the fashion industry. Sustainable fashion aims to solve environmental issues.
But I am convinced that the inhumane practices happening daily in the fashion industry, such as unsafe work conditions, low wages, abuse, modern slavery, child labor, and animal cruelty, aren't sustainable.
I believe that it's not ethical to mass-produce clothes while disregarding the disastrous impact on the environment.
Ethical fashion is more similar to the sustainable fashion movement than we think at first glance.
Ethical fashion is fashion made ethically, with fair production methods and socially responsible practices. It fights against the exploitation of farmers, workers, and local communities.
Unfortunately, many fashion brands still prioritize profits over the welfare of people working in their supply chain. They keep using unethical practices, such as sweatshop labor or child labor.
Read up my article on the fashion brands that still use sweatshops here.
The abuse of underserved populations, men, women, and children happens not only in the world's poorest countries but also in developed nations such as the United States.
Labor rights violations are very common in the apparel industry. More fashion should care about their employees and offer:
- protection from hazardous chemicals,
- safe work environments,
- normal working hours,
- living wages and long-term contracts,
- healthcare and food services,
- vacation and paid leaves,
- skill training,
- the right to unionize and defend their interests.
The overproduction and overconsumption of cheap and disposable clothing has a huge human and environmental cost.
Textile and garment production utilizes poisonous chemicals in farming and manufacturing such as toxic dyes, fertilizers, and pesticides. They pollute the air, soil, drinking water, and aquatic environments.
The fashion industry is also responsible for the farming, trapping, killing, and skinning of billions of animals each year. Animal products such as wool, leather, silk, fur, and down are not only cruel but also harmful to the environment.
To learn more about cruelty in the fashion industry, follow my guide on how to tell if a fashion brand is cruelty-free.
Ethical fashion focuses on the social aspects of clothing production. How factories operate, how employees are treated and paid.
Fair Trade fashion is also part of the ethical fashion movement. It helps low-income countries with better trading conditions that protect workers' rights, culture, traditions, and nearby environment.
Along with Fair Trade, many other standards exist to verify the social compliance of clothing manufacturing. Check out my list of the best certification standards for textiles.
Sustainable fashion is important to protect the planet, the people, and the animals living on it. Ethical fashion ensures that we can still consume beautiful fashion without harming the people or the environment.
We, consumers, love to buy and wear pieces of clothing that make us feel confident, comfortable, and that we enjoy wearing. We also like to buy from companies we believe in that do their best to protect the planet.
We have the power to make change happen faster by being more mindful of the clothes we buy and who we support with our money.
What are your ethical and sustainable fashion recommendations?
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.