I consider myself an ethical consumer. However, I’m also 19 years old and a fashion student so clothing and the way I present myself is important to me and has the capability to boost my confidence. Clothing is also a creative outlet and something I can have fun with yet, the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry cannot be ignored.
I studied Geography at GCSE and AS level and this was where I first learnt the devastating effect modern industries have on the planet and people, particularly in developing countries. These include sweatshops, exploitation of workers, pollution, high air miles, deforestation, low wages, unacceptable working environments, high waste of clothing on landfill and many other factors. Brands and multinationals choose to produce their clothing in less developed countries since workers are paid considerably less and the laws around worker’s rights are much more relaxed or often non-existent. This leads to many of the workers not receiving a living wage which would permit them to live above the poverty line. The lack of rights that garment workers receive is often justified by suggesting that without these jobs these people would be even worse off. This is partly true however, the Rana Plaza disaster where a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh killing over 1,000 people (2013), exhibits the grave dangers that the workers face.
As a consequence of the fast fashion industry, we live in a ‘throwaway’ culture whereby clothing is seen as a short-term commodity which can be worn once or twice and then thrown away and replaced with something new. This is largely due to the rise of social media and not wanting to be seen in photos wearing the same dress twice, for example. In the past, clothing was treasured and cared for therefore, clothing was made to last and often passed down generations. Despite the growth of vintage fashion and donation to charity shops, the majority of clothing which is disposed of ends up on landfill and doesn’t biodegrade for around 200 years. Whilst the fashion industry is based around beauty and glamour in the western world, elsewhere in the world the industry takes on a much uglier aesthetic.
I recently watched the film, ‘The True Cost’ which shows the extent of the damage that the clothing industry has on the environment and on workers. The fashion industry is the second most polluting second to the oil industry. As well as a mainly negative view on the fashion industry the film also explores the changes gradually arising in the industry with the aim of a sustainable future. Leaders of this movement include designers Stella McCartney, Orsola de Castro and Safia Minney, Tansy Hoskins, author of ‘Stitched Up’, activist Vandana Shiva, journalist Lucy Siegle and creative director of ‘Eco Age Ltd.’ Livia Firth; all of which are activists for ethical fashion and are determined to reduce the negative impacts of the fashion industry.
Despite the rise of ethical brands, revolutionising the industry and changing our attitude towards the way we dress ourselves, the problem for me still remains of how to be an ethical consumer on a budget. As a student I will only buy something if it’s a wardrobe essential or I am in love with it. Buying ethically is a challenge; I’d love to buy one of Stella McCartney’s faux fur coats or a pair of platform brogues but her prices are simply too out of reach. Another more affordable ethical brand (Dress- around £70) is People Tree and it has a great selection of garments which are trendy as well as it’s supply chain being very transparent. Also, I realise that I have become very accustomed to high-street high fashion prices where you can get a t-shirt for £5. It’s going to be difficult to re-align my perceptions on price and I’ve decided instead of buying multiple cheap, lower quality items I should start investing in slightly more expensive, high quality pieces. Some of the smaller ethical brands also have quite an eccentric style, using lots of brightly coloured ethnic prints which isn’t really my style. My mum is also an ethical consumer and we often talk about that ethical brands never really offer classic, simple styles. I think instead of trying to buy from ethical brands I should first just try and buy less and when I do buy clothing, make sure that I will get a lot of wear out of it and that it fits me well. Many individuals believe that taking an ethical approach to clothing won’t make any difference in the large scale. However, if everyone possesses this same belief nothing will ever change. It’s vital that we advocate the ‘Fashion Revolution’ cause now since we have already exploited many of the planets natural resources which will soon diminish unless we come up with sustainable solutions. Also, workers will still lack basic human rights and more disasters like the Rana Plaza will continue to take place.
- Consider buying from ethical brands
- Buy organic cotton
- Buy less
- Buy high quality instead of ‘throwaway’ fast fashion
- Ask brands questions- where were my clothes made and who by?
- Buy vintage and second hand
- Get creative and re-work clothes that you no longer wear
- Take good care of your clothes
- Check care labels and see where the clothes are made
- Wear your clothes multiple times- don’t feel judged by this
- Avoid brands such as Gap, Benetton etc.
- Passing clothing down generations- Ask you mum, friends, family etc. if they have anything in their wardrobe that they don’t wear that you might like
- Use wesbites such as Ebay and Depop