Consider this article a guide on how to be ethically conscious of what you are consuming whilst still being able to enjoy fashion and shop for the clothes that you liked pre-consciousness. Through discussions of accountability, sustainability, and wearability, it will become clear why ethical consumerism is beneficial and feels good for everyone.
As a fashion consumer, hold yourself accountable for knowing how the fashion you buy into is manufactured. Know how your clothing is made, by whom, and to what standards the manufacturers abide.
‘Compliance in the Garment Industry’ is a set of workplace criteria which strives to ensure that all garment workers are treated fairly and are financially compensated for their work. Of course, these standards are not always met by industry management, especially in the fast fashion industry. The ‘social compliance requirements’ are separated into 9 different subheadings: child labour, forced labour, health and safety, freedom of association, discrimination, disciplinary practices, working hours, remuneration, and management systems.
‘Child labour’, for instance, underlines that no child under 15 years old is to be employed within a factory. ‘Remuneration’ means that, like with any job, there is a basic living wage that is agreed to by management. The well-being of garment workers relies on such standards being upheld, and although you cannot guarantee this, you can decide where you shop and, therefore, what garment factories you are funding.
Fast fashion relies on cheap labour to sustain production and ensure profit - but not for the workers. It is crucial to ask yourself why an item of clothing is so cheap, or ‘such a good price?’ Are garment workers, realistically, being paid a living wage? If so, would the price of an item not reflect everyone having to be paid in the process of production? Are factory conditions satisfactory? Are the working hours regulated, or are the exhaustively long shifts because of the high turnover rate of trends?
Fast fashion is a human rights issue, and the only way to protect said rights is to stop supporting companies whose prices cannot possibly match their supposed ‘ethics.’
Everyone knows that fast fashion contributes to global waste. According to the BBC, it is estimated that over 85% of all textiles in the US either end up in landfills or are burned. This statistic implies that a marginal 15% of all textiles in the US are recycled. Many garments use materials that are non-recyclable and are of poor quality so as not to last.
Some companies use a technique called ‘green-washing’ when falsely marketing how environmentally friendly they are. It is crucial that such companies not only advertise how green they are - but that they are. Fast fashion brands might incorporate environmental imagery and the colour green into advertisement campaigns to associate themselves with the idea of being eco-friendly.
Here is what brands could do instead:
- Abide by social compliance requirements, as stated above
- Transparency - where are factories located, and what is their supply chain?
- Use low environmental impact fabrics and fibres that can be recycled
- Say no to disposable, plastic packaging
- Stop the high turnover rate of inventory, opt for seasonal trends
A sustainable option is to shop second-hand and to opt for pre-loved items. Sustainability is affordable. Try scoping out the local charity shops in your area; you might surprise yourself and find a few pieces. Or, donate to said charities and be assured that your clothes will find a new home. Of course, vintage shopping is a popular alternative for discovering unusual and off-chance finds, but this can be expensive.
Not a fan of second-hand? Renting clothes is now a viable and attractive option, especially for affordability and those special occasions where you know something won't be worn twice. Inform yourself and know where it is ethical to shop. In recent years brands dedicated to zero waste and combating climate change have increased enormously. Such places are often more expensive to buy from, but this is because their prices, unlike fast fashion retailers, reflect how much it costs to produce an item of clothing and compensate those who deserve to be paid. You are buying high-quality garments.
Globally, we must let go of the need to mass consume and own ‘things’ for the sake of ownership. According to Wrap, a climate action NGO established in the UK, approximately ‘£30 billion worth of clothes that have never been worn’ are currently taking up space in UK citizens’ wardrobes.
Value quality of an item of clothing over the sheer quantity available. Perhaps, have a listed criteria of how wearable an item of clothing is, before purchasing: is the fabric durable or will it fade and become faulty after a few wears? Does this item have longevity, and will it be likeable for a good few years, or, like most fast-fashion, are you buying into what is considered trendy?
Be an outfit repeater; every occasion does not necessitate a new outfit. Clothes should be made to be repeatedly worn and loved for years. If you buy a piece of clothing, like with any material, do not buy into the allure of single-use or single-wear. According to Barley Communications and Barnardos, who undertook a national survey of around 2000 UK citizens, over 25% of individuals aged 16 and over ‘were embarrassed to wear an outfit to a special occasion more than once.’ This figure rose to 37% for 16 to 24-year-olds.
Some people even opt for what is known as a ‘capsule wardrobe.’ The purpose of a ‘capsule wardrobe’ is to maximise the number of interchangeable outfits that you can create within your wardrobe. For instance, rather than purchasing an item in fashion for a short time, choose the more classic piece that will stay likeable for much longer. Yes, it is fun to experiment with new styles and trends, but try not to go overboard and buy into what is popular.
Hopefully, through the simplification of ‘accountability, sustainability, and wearability’, you now have a better idea of how to be an ethical consumer of fashion. It is important to remember that consumption can never be entirely ‘ethical’, and it is okay to be someone who, perhaps, owns a lot of clothes or loves to shop. If you commit to making small changes in how you shop and continue to educate yourself, that is enough.
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