The terms “Ethical Fashion” and “Sustainable Fashion” are almost unknown somewhat new in our vocabulary, especially in Greece. And those of us who know the meaning of those terms, how confident are we that we can draw the line between them as well as among other similar terms that have emerged the past years, such as “slow fashion”, «eco-friendly», «vegan» and others? And do we actually know every aspect of them and can we, as consumers, search, find and choose from the thousands of choices we have, which is this garment that really represents Ethical or Sustainable Fashion?
How can we talk about ethical fashion or eco-friendly fashion of garments that come from organic raw materials but produced with forced labor or the processing stage requires environmentally harmful materials?
So, let’s move on to the key pillars that make up the concepts of Ethical and Sustainable Fashion in an effort to understand them, in simple words, and feel more confident when choosing products and brands.
First of all, the two concepts “Ethical Fashion” and “Sustainable Fashion” feature some common elements but they also bear a noticeable difference: Ethical Fashion focuses more on the human factor, in all stages of the raw material collection, processing and production, while Sustainable Fashion focuses mainly in the environment and, indirectly, in the impact of the fashion industry on human health.
Let us explore the basic principles that govern the two concepts in detail.
Focusing on the protection of the workers in fashion brands as well as suppliers of raw materials, including cultivation, collection and processing, Ethical Fashion advocates equality, justice and a fair reward system to the workforce that creates fashion. Concepts taken for granted but, in reality, represent a very small percentage of fashion brands. With an overwhelming share of global garment production (> 95%) taking place in the global South, mainly for cost-saving reasons, the worldwide legal framework has many loopholes and allows for discrimination and ill-treatment of workers in several aspects.
Ethical Fashion has come to shed some light on the dark aspects of the industry and to impose new rules educate the society about the real conditions of the garments that end up in their closet, aspiring to change this unnatural balance.
Fundamental principles of Ethical Fashion are:
- Fair production and fair trade
- Equal employment rights and non-discrimination regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality and political or religious orientation
- Eliminate abuse and harassment, at any level
- Reasonable working hours and payment of a living wage
- Elimination of child labour and forced labour
- Right to freedom of association and assertion of labour rights
- Minimizing and eliminating the negative impact on human health and the environment, where the two are inherently interwoven
Sustainable Fashion dictates principles related to environmental justice and the protection of the natural environment throughout the entire circle of garment creation, from the cultivation, harvesting and processing of raw materials to final production. Through these axes, human health, as part of the natural environment, is also impacted.
The main aspects of the problem solution that Ethical Fashion emphasizes on are:
- Sustainable cultivation of raw materials with no misuse of natural resources
- Elimination of pesticides and chemicals that burden workers’ health
- Elimination of toxins and harmful substances during cultivation and treatment that contaminate the soil and aquifer
- Elimination of harmful substances and toxins as well as harmful processing of raw materials during the creation of fabrics and materials that endanger human health
- Elimination of microplastics in production that end up in the seas and oceans, destroy the ecosystem and end up in our plate
- Minimization of greenhouse gases released into the air and make up 10% of all gas emissions that burden the planet
- Minimize the encroachment of natural resources for the creation of garments
- Elimination of animal exploitation and abuse throughout the production chain, starting with the raw material stage
- Eliminate the use of raw materials derived from animals
- Minimize energy consumption for garment production
- Reuse of raw materials and use of production residues to create new products. Utilize deadstock
- Repair and processing of garments so that they are not discarded but reused, albeit in a different form
Taking a closer look at the core values of the two concepts, we can easily understand how interdependent they are. For example, how can we talk about ethical fashion or eco-friendly fashion of garments that come from organic raw materials but produced with forced labor or the processing stage requires environmentally harmful materials? And what is the point if workers work fair hours with a living wage but the final product comes from animals that are killed or abused for the export of raw material?
Ethical and Sustainable Fashion are multifaceted terms that require an actual revolution in the way society perceives itself within the natural environment. Change comes in stages is here and should be adopted from each one of us. The first step we need to take as consumers is question and look deeper into the source of the garments and how it has ended up in our hands. And, as we live in the age of information, we can search and find whatever we need˙ now the search for truth is much easier and much more feasible.