Ethical Fashion: The Norm, Not the Niche.

Posted by Fiona McAlpine on

Meg Doyle

On Sunday afternoon in Fremantle, the Fair Trade Freo and Fairly Fashionable? collectives held a panel discussion to round off the third annual Fashion Revolution Week. The panel of experts included bridal designer and entrepreneur Jomay Cao, Gaelle Beech from ethical fashion project Anjel Ms, and Katie Rose of social enterprise The Fabric Social. It was an incredibly inspiring discussion to be a part of. All three panelists come from vastly different professional backgrounds and had strong opinions that challenged our understanding of what it means to work in fair trade fashion.

It can be a little overwhelming trying to get a clear picture of the fair trade fashion position. In its simplest form, the two major aspects look at the social and ecological impacts of the fashion industry. It’s a mix of complicated facts and contrasting opinions which can leave us unsure of who or what we’re fighting for. And if it’s hard to comprehend from an industry perspective, it’s infinitely more confusing for consumers. So I thought I’d break down some of the main ideas discussed on Sunday.

Rectifying the damage of fast fashion can only be done through a combined approach of corporate responsibility and conscious consumerism. It’s important to recognise that fast fashion exists because there is a demand for it. It’s all well and good to point the finger at brands like Zara, H&M, Topshop for contributing a retail industry that now effectively has 50 seasons a year, but it couldn’t exist without a customer base that wants a never ending supply of clothing.

We need to look at changing our attitudes towards fashion in order to inhibit change on a larger scale. Therefore it’s equally the responsibility of the consumer and the producer to fix a system that is reliant on cheap, unethical labour and environmentally damaging practices to fuel this demand. Transparency and accountability is crucial if these brands are to be held responsible for their actions. And we should be aware of their practices. Which leads to the main message:

Education is key. Being a conscious consumer means making informed purchases, and actively questioning where our clothing is coming from. If the label says ‘Made in Bangladesh’, what does this actually mean? Does it necessarily mean it was made unethically? It has become so normal to buy lots of cheap stuff constantly that changing our behaviour is part of an uncomfortable learning process. The reality of fast fashion is full of inconvenient truths, but continuing to ignore the flaws in the system would be neglectful.
“It’s not that expensive to make an ethical product…

If you’re buying $20 top from somewhere it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ethical or not. And just because it cost $9000 and it’s Gucci made, doesn’t mean it’s ethical. It has to be commercially viable, but what you make is up to you. It’s a decision that you have to make if you want to sleep at night- what margins you want to put on it, and what kind of margins the suppliers put on it.” – Katie Rose, The Fabric Social.
Being 100% sustainable is impossible, but there are still many facets we can support. The fashion industry by its very nature is wasteful, as Jomay discussed. “We can use organic cotton to make a garment but we’re still using a lot of water, so it goes back to the idea that we can’t produce without impacting and having some sort of footprint. It’s more a matter of minimising as much as we can.” Producers are able to control and contribute to cultural sustainability, which Gaelle explained to be a crucial element to her work in Bali with Anjel Ms. She believes the onus is on producers to embrace and support local practices such as traditional methods of weaving and dying in the countries they work in. It’s a matter of respect.
Fashion Revolution Week continues to grow in popularity each year. You only have to look at the tags on social media, articles from news outlets and the turn out at events such as the Fairly Fashionable panel discussion to see it gaining traction. It’s heartening to see a genuine desire to do the right thing by the environment and the people who make our clothing. In fact, coinciding with Fashion Revolution day Oxfam just released their own clothing line! Sustainable, informed and responsible fashion is the way forward, and Oxfam is taking steps to ensure that it quickly becomes the norm, not the niche.

Thank you to Katie, Jomay and Gaelle, Bec and Angie from Rana Clothing, Fair Trade Freo and Fairly Fashionable? for organising such an great discussion to end Fashion Revolution Week!

This post was originally published on Titian Thread, a Style Blog by Meg Doyle.


Formerly known as Darling, We’re the Young Ones- this blog is a space for me to share my thoughts on fashion, photography, art and creative industries in Australia and abroad. I live for good coffee and bad jokes, and I’m amazed by the fashion industry’s constant evolution.

Having worked as a freelance fashion journalist for different publications in Sydney, London and Perth, Titian Thread has been an ongoing creative project for the past four years where I’ve been able to develop my voice as a interviewer, critic and writer.

This isn’t a blog where you’ll find beauty tips or decoration advice. I aim to discuss issues and ideas within the fashion and garment industry that I think are relevant. Whether this be the ethics of fast fashion, the role of social media or advertising- I want to contribute to a conversation within a multifaceted industry that ironically is more than skin deep.

Follow my blog as I share personal outfit posts, reviews of books, shows and exhibitions, interviews with designers and creatives, and travel diaries from across the globe.


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