The term "Ethical Clothing" and "Ethical Fashion" is an umbrella for many factors that lay behind the scenes of how your clothing is produced. This article shows what ethical clothing brands can do and the considerations when proclaiming their clothing is ethical.
Okay, to start answering this let's start with, how do you define ethical clothing or ethical fashion?...and Why is ethical clothing important to us?
I think it's most appropriate to use the ethical fashion forum's definition here.
"ethical fashion represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximises benefits to people and communities while minimising the impact on the environment" ... "the meaning of ethical goes beyond doing no harm, representing an approach which strives to take an active role in poverty reduction, sustainable livelihood creation, minimising and counteracting environmental concerns".
As we can see from the definition the terms ethical clothing and ethical fashion cover a whole host of things that go into making the final product.
For my brand Innerstand, we adopt this definition in our thinking in how we go about our sourcing, manufacturing and distributing of our clothing. If we were to put ethical fashion in the simplest terms we can; ultimately we want to be good and do good for people and the planet. You can learn more about what I think makes us ethical on our about us page here.
Take a look around us, some would say how lucky we are to live in a developed economy. I know it's by no means perfect and that there's still a long way to go in order to solve some of the many issues that surround us. However, when you look at other places with much less than us and the conditions some people have to live in due to the way their society currently operates, then you see how we are considered lucky in the UK.
When my friend and I started our journey in creating a clothing brand, it started off as just wanting to make some cool t-shirts. Only after finding out about the underlying issues did we realise the impact our decisions would have on the people who make them and the environment. Yes, no matter how small you start or how little impact you think you make, all of us making decisions creates some sort of effect.
At Innerstand, we use the philosophy that if everyone made the decision we're making right now, what would the world look like. This way of thinking helps guide our ethics and helps make us realise the level of impact just one decision can have. For our brand, we consider the lives and the impact of what we do with people we work with, those who supply us and the environment.
The cost of fast fashion is not shown in the price tag. Everything we do as humans on the planet has an effect on something, some are more obvious than others. Our hope is that ethical fashion becomes more mainstream, and in turn, more light is shed on the issues behind the scene. If more individual people who currently do not shop for ethical clothing brands, start talking about the issues behind the clothing industry, then the conversation will get bigger and will hopefully lead to a real positive change in the industry.
Ethical clothing brands and have a chance, I would go so far to say a duty, to create the designs consumers will desire, delivered in a way that does not cause such harm to people and the planet as fast fashion does.
Conscious consumers have greater choice as more ethical clothing brands enter the ethical fashion market bringing new and innovative designs and materials reinventing what clothing can do and be.
People in the garment industry
If you take the standards as described by the Fair Wear Foundation our suppliers follow the following codes of practice;
- Safe and healthy working conditions, this means a hygienic working environment with procedures in place to minimise health risks. Strictly prohibit any physical abuse, threats of physical abuse, unusual punishments or discipline, sexual and other harassment, and intimidation by the employer.
- No exploiting Child labour.
- Workers choose to work freely and it's not forced by the employer.
- No discrimination, equal opportunities, regardless of race, colour, sex, religion, political affiliation, union membership, nationality, social origin, deficiencies or handicaps.
- Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, the right of all workers to form and join trade unions and bargain collectively shall be recognised.
- Paying a LIVING wage, so there is sufficient amount to meet basic needs of workers and their families and to provide some discretionary income.
- Reasonable hours of work, so workers shall not on a regular basis be required to work in excess of 48 hours per week.
- Legal employment relationship, so obligations to employees are not avoided by labour-only contracts.
Other considerations ethical clothing brands can do for ethical fashion
- Ethical practices underpinning the ethos of the company.
- Use of materials in production from types of fibre to the types of inks.
- What happens to the waste from unused cloth to unused inks.
- Consideration for packaging used in distribution.
- The energy source used in all aspects of the cycle.
- Supporting others.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and for Innerstand, this means sourcing materials such as organic cotton, tencel and recycled polyester. The inks we use have been certified by the soil association for use with organic textile processing. The processing plant in the UK that prints onto our clothing uses closed-loop systems to ensure less wastage and so inks don't flow into our streams and rivers.
We also, use biodegradable plastic mailing bags and recycled tissue paper when dispatching our goods. To find out more about the debate we had, read it here on our blog.
What all these factors show is the consideration for the people behind ethical fashion and ethical clothing, that they are given proper thought when creating a piece of clothing. Along with our company's effect on the environment and considering the consequences of the processes involved at every stage.
Innerstand calls itself ethical on the basis that we aim to follow the definition as stated above. Hoping to improve the working conditions of garment workers in India, Bangladesh, China and Portugal from where our suppliers are based by only buying from factories that are affiliated with the Fair Wear Foundation.
Before Innerstand London produces a top, we consider the people and the raw materials and what happens behind the scene before the item of clothing arrives in the UK and then what happens when it's here. We are by no means perfect but show a willingness to do the right thing and take steps in the right direction. In doing so we are hopefully encouraging more consumers to choose ethical fashion over fast fashion.
References to ethical fashion forum found at https://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/ and the Fair Wear Foundation at https://www.fairwear.org/.