Ethical fashion includes the following: an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing; maximizing the benefits to the laborers and communities; minimizing any impact on the environment. To be “ethical” is to be morally right or acceptable. As such, it goes beyond doing no harm. Ethical fashion represents an approach that:
Takes an active role in poverty reduction
Creates a sustainable standard of living
Counteracts negative environmental effects
The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF)
The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) has written a set of ten criteria for ethical fashion
1. Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
2. Supporting sustainable livelihoods
3. Addressing toxic pesticide and chemical use
4. Using and developing eco-friendly fabrics and components
5. Minimizing water use
6. Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste
7. Developing and promoting sustainability standards for fashion
8. Training and awareness raising initiatives
9. Protecting animal rights
10. Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption.
Ethical Fashion and Cotton
One of the ethical issues involves the growing and processing of cotton. The production of cotton usually entails the use of large amounts of pesticides on the plants. Non-organic cotton uses more pesticide per cotton plant than any other corp. One estimate cites that 2 billion dollars worth of pesticides are used annually. Almost 1 billion dollars of the pesticides are known toxins. The workers are exposed to the dangerous effects of spraying pesticides and so are the people living near the cotton fields. Pesticide poisoning can lead to:
Headaches, Tremors, Nausea, Depression, Seizures, Loss of consciousness
The air, the water and the soil also become polluted. In addition to killing the pests that damage the cotton, pesticides also kill small animals and birds.
Raising animals such as rabbits, mink, sables, foxes and chinchillas for the sole purpose of skinning them for their fur is considered unethical. A recent news item showed winter jackets with fur collars thought to be fake fur. Upon expert examination, the furs were shown to be real animal fur. Those jackets were removed from the store’s inventory.
Ethical Fashion and Synthetic Materials
Nylon and polyester are two very common materials used to manufacture clothing, bedding, curtains, outdoor gear, and indoor carpeting. They are made from petroleum- based products that are polluting to the environment. They are also non-biodegradable!
They do not break down easily and pile up in landfills. Re-use of polyester materials is an important green industry.
The manufacture of nylon releases nitrous oxide into the air. It is a greenhouse gas stronger than carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming. Nylon was a revolutionary product when it was introduced in the 1940s. Perhaps it is time to find a more natural substitute.
Viscose rayon is another synthetic fabric that is sometimes called “natural”. That’s because it is made from wood pulp. However sulfuric acid is one of the processing agents as is caustic soda. Rayon has many valuable properties, but adequate disposal of strong and dangerous chemicals is imperative. Pollution of streams and waterways is not eco-friendly.
Virtually all polycotton materials such as ‘easy care’, ‘crease resistant’, and ‘permanent press’ cotton are treated with formaldehyde, classified as a known human carcinogen.
There are certain dyes that are also carcinogens. These toxic chemicals are used in underdeveloped countries polluting the waterways and the soil.
The Use of Organic Garments
There is a distinction between organic cotton and organic garments. Organic cotton is certified but a garment may have accessories such as buttons, zippers, and trims. An organic garment must carry a certification stamp. Even then 5% of the garment may have non-organic materials. An example might be Lycra that extends the life of a garment. The 5% leeway is important for versatility. The use of nylon thread makes seams stronger.
Hemp is a natural product grown easily without pesticides. It can be blended with organic cotton for a soft, elastic fabric. Hemp blended with silk results in a smooth luxurious cloth that drapes nicely. Other natural materials are linen, organic wool, and wild silk.
Consumers over age 55 are the most likely to consider ethical issues before purchasing a garment. Young consumers, under age 25, are the least likely to buy ethical fashion. Ethical issues are more critical to women than to men. 63% of women say it is an important consideration compared to only 54% of men surveyed. Women are also more attracted to stores that promote ethical clothing. A recent survey asked questions about what is most important to the consumer regarding ethical fashion. The answers are as follows:
|No sweat shops/child labor|
Fair price to the producers
No damage to the environment
Production community benefits directly
Percentage of profits given to charity
Political situation in producing country
Uses organic fabric
The terms ‘fair trade’ and ‘organic’ have been linked to agriculture and the food we eat for many years. Those key words are only now breaking into the fashion arena. “Retailers must not underestimate the importance of ethical credentials . . . “ Ethical fashion is a new trend that has its place in a green society.