Fashion clothing and ethics may seem at a first glance, as not being connected at all. However, this is far from the truth. We all like to look good, and dressing up is something that most of us do as a daily routine. However, is there more to this need for self gratification, as there is always a cost to every action. Strange though it may seem there is good reason why we all need to be ethical about clothing, and in particular fashion clothing.
Fashion as its name suggests is ever changing. We even have Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections during each year. Those able to afford to follow these trends religiously, will buy garments from each season without conscience. The rest of us probably aspire to follow the trends, but economic reasons prevent us from joining the jet-set crew.
You are probably still wondering why this should be a problem, that if they want to spend money like crazy, then they should be permitted to do so. However, as mentioned before there is always a consequence to any action. This is the case with fashion, or to be fair all clothing.
Well, it does not simply mean that there is no animal testing; however it can be quite a wide definition. However, I will simplify and you must decide to what degree you will subscribe to this concept as you will see the scope is quite far reaching.
Ethical clothing in simple terms is a method of making clothing which maximises the benefits to people and communities, whilst minimising the effects on the planet. It will cover areas like:
Well, simply put being conscious is really about awareness and responsibility. Many people will read this, and perhaps wonder what need there could be in terms of clothes. However, part of becoming conscious is to understand that each one of us has an impact on the planet. However, ignorance is not bliss in this case as the damage can be quite shocking, and this is not only in terms of the planet, the cycle can return right back to us.
Here are some reasons why we need to conscious about clothes: -
Many will remember the outrage years ago when it was reported that Nike footballs were being produced in sweat shops by children. This scenario will always be the case when cheap clothing is demanded. There are many tiers of costs before the item reaches the retail shops, and each cost must be met within sales margins. Clothing is generally marked up at six times the actual cost. Now, take a moment to pause and think what wages will be paid to any workers producing the item, if cheap goods are demanded.
This may seem common sense, but perhaps we need to spell this one out as it is easy to ignore these thoughts when 'bargain hunting'. The corporate scenario provides a great analogy to express this point. Employees will receive all sorts of perks, health insurance, life insurance, expenses and the list goes on. This is because people in the corporate world sit at the top of the tree in terms of working conditions. Conversely, if an employer is only receiving a pittance for his goods, he will not be able to offer perks, neither will he be in a position to care about his staff. Buying cheap goods fuels unfair treatment of employees. Usually there is scarcity of jobs in areas where 'sweat shops' exist, and in order to produce the huge volumes demanded, poor working conditions will exist.
We are all aware of the need for Human Rights to protect the individual against the State, by affording rights to the individual. People working in the clothing industry should be treated fairly, which means rights to a family life and freedom from slavery. This may seem obtuse, but even in the United Kingdom we have 'zero hour' contracts. These contracts allow for excessive weekly hours, poor working conditions and even onerous master-servant situations.
We often do not consider whether we need clothing items, and tend to own several different items for one event like winter coats, scarves etc. Women are probably the worst offenders, as often they worry about being recognised, say wearing the same dress. However, recycling could resolve this, or even 'wardrobe shares' with a friend of the same size and living in your locality.
We can as 'conscious' beings make informed choices about where we purchase our clothes and fashion. It is clear that not all brands are equal, some ignore ethical fashion whereas others are taking steps to improve their carbon footprint on the planet.
About ten years I was reading Glamour Magazine when I read an article about a new business started by a female entrepreneur, it was called 'Beyond Skin'. The business was all about bespoke, vegetarian shoes. The shoes and boots were stunning, and the thought of doing something to protect the planet was immediately sold to me. I did not care that the price was more expensive than High Street boots, because i was getting boots made to my specification in non-animal materials.
The cost is always borne out to someone, be it the clothing industry workers, the environment or you. This may seem strange but cheap goods mean poor processes, and the use of harmful, toxic substances that harm the environment and human beings. Polyester is a synthetic material, which is inexpensive; however you probably did not realize that crude oil is required to make this material. We can identify with oil spills of crude oil in the sea. Often it will take many years to repair the damage. Yet, crude oil is processed to make polyester which without even knowledge of the chemical analysis, it would seem obvious that processed crude oil, is going to be more harmful.
It was a few weeks ago that I discovered that denim for jeans uses a toxic dye to produce the blue colour. This means that each time jeans are washed, this substance is released into the water supply. This may even be more noxious as washing will involve more chemicals. Yet, jeans are one of the most common forms of attire in the world.
Eczema sufferers are always advised to wear pure cotton to reduce the skin irritation. It would appear that synthetic materials have more scope to irritate the skin. Cheap clothing is synonymous with low quality materials and poor manufacture. It is unlikely that a manufacturer receiving low unit costs, is going to care whether the item causes you harm at the other end of the cycle.
A few years ago I visited Marrakech and spent time travelling across the Atlas mountains, where many Berbers live in remote locations. They make the most beautiful and colourful carpets and rugs in those mountains by hand. I was curious as to how they made the magnificent, red colours so decided to get into conversation with the main man. Initially, he was reluctant to give up his 'secrets' about dyes, but was impressed when I explained some of my knowledge of natural processes.
I was amazed to learn that they used pomegranates to dye the threads used to produce the carpets. This just made me wonder why in the West, we always seek the quick solutions and not necessarily the processes that cause least harm to our bodies and the environment.
We have more or less accepted that eating a healthy diet, ensures better health and wellbeing. However, we are holistic creatures, in that our outer coating is just as important as our inner body. This means that wellbeing encompasses mind, body and soul. Human beings must adopt morals for all aspects of their lives, otherwise we live rather showcase lives, where we do not follow through with our morals wholeheartedly.
Most people will not wear furs as they know it is no longer fashionable to sport animal hides as clothing. However, we need to appreciate that there are many other correlations that cause harm to animals from the clothing industry.
Companies can examine their transport systems within the fashion industry, to use methods which cause low impact on the environment. Examples may include transport by sea, rather than road or air, which may cause greater pollution. Consideration can be given to with whom companies trade, for example, not contracting with countries who have poor Human Rights policies or companies who conduct animal testing for products. The list can be as extensive as you wish, but these examples are designed to just give you pause for thought as to areas where practices could be improved.
People actually have much power to affect change with regards the clothing industry by the choices they make. How often have you shopped for bargain items, even though you know that quality clothing will last much longer. Purchasing at the true cost of fashion clothing means that standards in the industry can be raised, workers can be given a living wage, and you in turn will likely receive better quality goods.
We must understand who we are buying our clothes from, as it would be nice to think that brand was ethically conscious. There is much focus on profits in business, however someone has to pay the price ultimately. We can inform those brands we want better standards, that we will no longer tolerate ignorance of the environment. Recently, McDonalds were forced to upgrade their standards to produce more healthy products. We must believe and appreciate that people power is capable of making even big businesses and brands change their ways.
Recycling clothing is an area where we can do much better, especially in light of the current refugee crisis. Often clothing is discarded or hoarded, when it can be used for the homeless or those in need. Nowadays, there is no shortage of clothes recycling services, many even collect from the front door. Some companies will pay a fee on a weight basis for donated clothing.
I was shocked to learn that in the United States only 15% of used clothing is recycled or donated. This is an alarming statistic as 95% of clothing which is recycled can be used, as either secondhand clothing, industrial rags or reprocessed.
Well, I am starting to 'practise what I preach' in terms of my own fashion wardrobe. I no longer frequent the sales, and I try to buy from brands where I pay a realistic cost for clothing items. Equally, as stated above, I buy from brands who are 'green' or ecologically aware as even though they cost somewhat more, I feel much better knowing that I am doing my bit to protect the planet.
I have even created my own silk bolero scarf collection, which is made from 100% mulberry silk. Of course silk is a natural product, and the silkworm is purely undertaking a process that it would do anyway. In the case of mulberry silk, they are actually given more mulberry leaves to produce higher quality silk. Silk is very durable and actually has the strength of iron when weaved in an interlocking manner. The scarf is therefore likely to last for soem time. Silk contains a natural anti-bacterial agent called sericin, which repels bugs and bacteria. This means it should not cause allergies, and as a bonus will keep bugs away. Probably even more fantastic, is that this scarf can be interchanged for events, and is a jacket too.
There is one last story to share with you about my silk bolero scarf. I had a lady contact me on Facebook to comment that she felt the scarf was expensive. I asked her whether she had considered how many hours had gone into producing the scarf, and the true costs of producing such a beautiful item. I also explained the item was of luxury quality, and she retracted her statement on realising that her initial observations were based on the current trends of buying cheaply.
I hope to be able to make more ethical clothing as my business grows, as I truly believe that we should have a conscience about everything we do in life. Watch this space for future fashion inspired by Elle Smith.
Fashion clothing, and indeed all clothing is a huge business, which we all contribute to throughout our lives. It is clear that we can no longer ignore clothing as impacting on the environment. We must educate ourselves about the processes conducted by companies producing our clothes. This may mean some effort but at least trying will show care for the environment. Equally, where 'bad' companies are identified, we must vote with our feet, and say no to their goods. This will drive them to improve their practices and in turn increase standards for their employees, and not least give the planet more chance of healing from the damage already done.
By Elle Smith
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