Consumers have become more aware of ethically sourced food and beauty products, but most forget about the effects of ‘fast fashion’. Commissioning Editor Rebekah Crook spoke to Emma Curtis, who is writing her dissertation on how advertisers use greenwashing in their adverts.
What do you consider to be ‘ethical’ fashion, what makes it ethical?
Ethical fashion for me is fashion which is made in a sustainable, thoughtful and meaningful way. It considers what effect the whole production process has on the environment, from harvesting the raw materials – such as cotton – all the way through to how we dispose of the clothes. Each step of the process takes into account the effect on the local environment, communities and livelihoods of the farmers, factory workers and employees – as well as ensuring responsible labour practices.
Ethical fashion is made from organic materials that haven’t been conditioned using chemicals, acids or sandblasters. It’s the complete opposite to fast fashion, which churns out piece after piece, having a huge impact on the environment. It is slower, using more traditional methods to create clothing.
What draws you to this kind of fashion?
My interest in ethical fashion first stemmed from research I did for my dissertation, whereby I was looking into how advertisers used greenwashing in their adverts to make their business seem more ‘green’ than they actually are. It then led me to ask what is actually going on behind the scenes of fashion conglomerates, right from the get-go, not just what we are seeing in the media.
What I found was quite shocking and eye-opening, seeing how much waste comes from the fashion industry; how much pressure it puts on the environment; and how bad working conditions are. For this reason, looking into the themes and movement of ethical fashion truly inspired me to start promoting it, researching more into it and actively try to make it the norm – not just a movement.
How can you identify an ethical brand?
Spotting a truly ethical brand can be tricky. Most brands will make it obvious when they have used sustainably sourced or recycled materials – it will either say on the label, or if you’re shopping online it will say in the product description.
However, in this sense it is tricky not to be affected by greenwashing, whereby some brands can use certain words to manipulate shoppers into thinking the clothing is sustainable when it isn’t. For example, saying they promote fair labour practices – but this could simply mean they pay workers minimum wage and then still produce fast-fashion.
Ethical brands will have certifications that state that they are fair trade, or part of a wider sustainable alliance. Having a good old stalk of the brand can make you aware of what the brand is actually doing.
Being ethical and sustainable is about the brand being transparent about their business practices and footprint, so this transparency should be clear from the get-go on their site. Looking at the material make-up of the products is also a good one.
What brands are good for ethical clothing?
There are a few brands that I love and are completely ethical and sustainable. Lucy and Yak create bright, bold clothing which is bang on trend with their dungarees, pinafore dresses and boxy tees. Prices are similar to Urban Outfitters, with similar styles too, but more ethical and good for the planet.
For menswear, Brothers We Stand is great – it is a collective of many ethical brands that have come together to form one alliance. On the website, it shows the footprint of every single piece it sells, right down to the name of the farmers that harvested the organic materials.
Saying that, more and more mainstream brands are trying to get on board with the growing trend of ethical fashion due to the increasing interest in it. For example, Miss Selfridge has their label ‘Miss Eco’ now, for denim and t-shirts.
What small steps people can take to make their clothing more environmentally friendly?
My main advice, would be to buy smart, use more, and waste less. Buying smarter means buying clothes that will last for longer, such as staple pieces and basics that can be used again and again. Invest in good quality pieces and get your use out of them.
Having these great quality pieces will mean you don’t contribute to landfill and waste as much. Donate clothes to charity when you can or pass them on to someone else. It is the whole life-cycle of fashion industry that needs changing to become more ethical and sustainable. Look for organic materials such as organic cotton t-shirts, which can decompose more easily than synthetic, treated materials.
In order for there to be wide scale changes in the production of fashion we need to have a strong collective voice. We have to put pressure on fast fashion chains to persuade them to improve their practices in order to help the environment and change consumer culture.
If you have a piece of ethical fashion that you love, share it to spread the movement and get more people involved. It is down to us to make a positive change and make ethical fashion ‘fashionable’.