Like veganism, ethical fashion is something that seems to be gaining more and more precedence recently. I embarked on my ethical fashion journey around 2 years ago now, and it’s been very slow progress, but nonetheless something I feel passionate about.
So I think if you ask most people who are interested in ethical fashion what sparked that interest, they’ll say it’s the documentary ‘The True Cost’. It basically unveils the way our clothes are made, and the impact it has on the environment and most importantly (in my opinion) the people who make them.
I think we’ve all heard those stories on the news about well known high street brands having sweatshop scandals. But like all the negative news, we kind of tend to block it out (at least I know I do). So when I saw The True Cost it really made it obvious that – this is actually happening. People are working in horrific conditions, for long hours, really far from their families, for money that is barely enough to survive.
I don’t want to live in a world where this happens, I really hate the idea that people spend all their lives working and the jobs they’re working in are uncomfortable, unsafe, monotonous and unfulfilling.
One of the most prominent events that lead many people to look for more ethical alternatives was the Rana Plaza Disaster in 2013.
Rana Plaza was a garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed in April 2013. 1134 people died. Many UK clothing brands had garments made in that factory, such as Primark and Matalan. The day before the collapse the workers notified management of cracks in the building, stating that they were concerned about safety. The workers were ignored by the management, who were desperate to keep production running in order to continue to make money.
The fashion industry is hugely profitable, and in order to maximise profits most major clothing brands outsource production to third world countries. The issue is, unlike in first world countries where workers are protected by all sorts of regulations and laws, in many of the third world countries these are simply non-existent, leading to disasters like Rana Plaza. But ultimately those who run large fashion brands care most about making money, and they will claim that their workers in third world countries are treated fairly, and if something does go wrong, they will say it is the responsibility of the factory owners, not them.
What worsens the problem is that, in order to increase profits, those who own fashion brands want their to constantly be new garments in store. The more new garments, the more people will come to the shops. This is where the term ‘Fast Fashion’ comes from, we buy the most on trend pieces, wear them a couple of times, and then throw them away, moving onto the next item. Not only does this fast model put high pressure on the garment workers, it also is environmentally destructive, as we are relentlessly using resources to create new garments, while mindlessly throwing away the old ones.
So, most clothing that we wear and find on the high street and in shopping centres is made unethically. Those who work in garment factories do often choose to, but out of desperation. Yes it gives these people a job, but don’t they deserve better? They deserve to have workers rights and regulations just like we do. They should be able to live comfortable, happy and safe lives, just as we expect to in first world countries.
The fashion industry is currently operating in a hugely unethical way, with the garment workers taking the worst of this destructive cycle, there needs to be urgent change.
This is the reason I decided to dramatically reduce my consumption of clothing, and when buying clothing looking into alternative ways of buying it, such as charity shops, second hand online shops, and ethical fashion brands.
It’s easy to list the problems with the fashion industry, however putting ethical shopping into practice is much harder, in future posts I will share how I go about this, and the challenges (there are a lot of them) that I face.