The green movement is booming. Consumers are asking for more transparency and Eco-friendliness. And that's a good thing. Sustainable ethical fashion is becoming a priority for a lot of people when making purchasing choices.
The fashion industry is the largest polluter globally after the oil industry. It is now necessary to change how this industry is working to revert the damage that has been done.
Sustainable ethical fashion is much more than a trend. It is a revolution. I started to care more about who made my clothes in 2015. As I learned more about what large corporations in the fashion industry are hiding, I was shocked.
But there is so much to learn when you are new to sustainable ethical fashion. Terminology, materials, ethical fashion brands, labels, and certifications. It definitely is overwhelming.
I am here to help you with the information I gathered. Here is what sustainable ethical fashion actually is.
What Is Sustainable Ethical Fashion
Yes, it is confusing at first. There is Eco-friendly fashion, slow, ethical, sustainable, organic, natural, green clothing. What does it mean?
Sustainable ethical fashion is a movement driving change and approach to fashion products and the whole fashion industry that prioritizes economic, social and environmental sustainability over maximizing profits.
Sustainable ethical fashion aims to sustain a more socially acceptable and environmentally friendly approach to sourcing materials, designing clothing and manufacturing garments.
It also has the goal to reduce the impact of the fashion system on the environment in the whole supply chain, from raw materials to end of life-cycle with waste management.
Our natural resources on the planet aren't infinite. Sustainable ethical fashion understands that the traditional linear concept take-make-waste has to be replaced by a more circular and regenerative one.
Extending the life of clothes, recycling and up-cycling are all important parts of sustainable ethical fashion.
One could argue that ethical fashion is a bit different from sustainable fashion. Ethical fashion focuses more on improving the social aspects of the fashion industry. Whereas sustainable fashion concentrates on solving the environmental issues.
The truth is that low wages, poor working conditions, lack of healthcare, forced labor, child labor, and animal cruelty aren't sustainable. And producing clothes in extreme conditions disregarding the negative impact on the environment is unethical.
Fast fashion is majorly responsible for the environmental impact of the fashion industry. New trendy clothes produced quickly, cheaply and at scale, pushed to high street stores every week have a terrible impact on the planet.
The alternative to fast fashion is slow fashion. It is a movement encouraging consumers to buy less and higher quality, taking better care of clothes making them not as disposable. Slow fashion is the more conscious and mindful approach to buying clothing.
Green and Eco-friendly fashion tries to minimize the environmental impact of clothing production as much as possible.
Natural and organic clothing refers to the raw materials used during fabrication. Organic apparel and textile are produced with bio-based products made from plants that are non-GMO, grown without man-made fertilizers and pesticides.
Overall, sustainable ethical fashion is a new way of thinking about the clothes we buy and wear, and how they impact the world. It is an entire movement including consumers, brands, retailers, manufacturers, governments and non-profit organizations.
Companies are trying to change and do better for the most part. They set new targets to reduce water and energy consumption or carbon emissions. But most targets are very low and change needs to happen faster.
Some brands and retailers even market themselves as Eco-friendly without transparency or authenticity. This marketing strategy exists to appeal to Eco-conscious consumers. It is called greenwashing and is unethical.
Read our definition of greenwashing here.
As consumers, we have to stay educated on the matter and ask for more information when it is missing. Adhering to sustainable ethical fashion means asking the following questions:
- Who made my clothes?
- Where are the clothes manufactured?
- What raw materials were used?
- Where do the fabrics come from?
- What are the applicable certifications?
- Is there any recycled content?
- Are there any animal products or by-products?
- Is there any support for local communities?
- How are farmers and workers treated?
- Are working conditions acceptable?
- Does everyone get living wages, healthcare, vacation time?
- What happens to clothes that don't sell?
- What does the waste management system look like?
- What action is being taken to minimize the environmental impact?
Why is sustainable ethical fashion important
Sustainable ethical fashion is important since the fashion industry is damaging humans, animals and the planet. Water and energy consumption and carbon emissions are still growing at an alarming rate. It is our responsibility and we have the power to drive change.
Consuming more and more at a faster rate has durable consequences. The apparel and textile industry is contributing massively to climate change and causes irreversible damage to human health and ecosystems.
The excessive use of natural resources and overproduction creates tons of textile waste and micro-plastics taking years to decompose.
Sustainable ethical fashion is there to drive economic growth and still make profits while keeping deep concerns for environmental and social sustainability.
Turning the traditional 2 to 4 seasons into 52 is not sustainable. We have to change the way we consume clothes and encourage new improvements in supply chains and business models.
Fast fashion has become very popular during the past 20 years. It allows consumers to purchase new trendy clothes inspired by the runway shows at an affordable price.
In this other article, we discuss in detail why fast fashion is so bad.
But cheap and disposable clothing has a human and environmental cost. The fashion industry employs farmers and workers from the poorest countries.
Lots of them work in terrible conditions, in unsafe factories, without a living wage. Textile and garment production uses toxic chemicals in dyes, fertilizers, and pesticides poisoning humans, the air, soil, drinking water, and aquatic environments.
Sustainable ethical fashion fights against the biggest polluters to reduce the impact on the environment, people and animals. It is important to stop:
- modern slavery and child labor
- unfair wages
- exploitation and abuse
- unsafe work environments
- hazardous chemicals
- ecosystems destruction
- air, land and water pollution
- greenhouse gas emissions
- huge textile wastes
How to shop sustainable ethical fashion
Fortunately, there is a rising interest from consumers toward sustainable ethical fashion.
But the biggest hurdles to adopting a more sustainable and ethical way of living are pricing, styles, and distribution.
It is unrealistic to expect the youngest generations to pay for the mistakes others have made before them.
Consumers are willing to pay more for Eco-friendly products. But those remain inaccessible for the majority of the population.
They have a limited budget for clothing and the prices of sustainable ethical fashion are still high.
There are also fewer choices of styles when shopping for new ethical clothing on a budget.
Luckily, there are some brands and retailers offering basics for lower budgets. And there is the option to buy second-hand or renting your clothes.
To tell if a brand or retailer is ethical, do a bit of research by yourself, study their website or social media, and contact them for more information on their products.
Here is our guide on how to check if a fashion brand is ethical.
The best way to tell if they are trustworthy and not doing any greenwashing is to look for certifications.
Check out this article for more information on the best Eco-friendly certification standards for textiles.
The future of fashion is vegan, fair, sustainable and ethical. It is very important.
You have the power to make that change happen faster by choosing who to support with your money.
With some technology improvement and innovation, progress can be made in the right direction.
All clothing should be made from 100% sustainable fabrics. All apparel and textile production should happen with 100% renewable energy.
Read our article to learn more about the best Eco-friendly fabrics to look for.
No human or animal should have to suffer to make stylish, functional and affordable clothing.
What are you changing in your day to day life beginning today?
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 three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.