The term ethical fashion means something different to almost everybody, and then different again depending where in the world you are. Often when I say the words ethical fashion, or mention that I work for an ethical clothing company, people look at me blankly and say “what does that even mean?”
So what does it mean?
To me, it essentially means fashion done right. It means business done right. It means that a clothing company is operating as it should actually operate; with no harm to any human being or the environment. In today’s world, clothing production and distribution on a global scale is most commonly to the detriment of people and the environment in some form or another. From the cultivation of cotton to the mass production of cheap garments for cheap labour, the global desire for endless amounts of ‘on trend’ clothing is essentially destroying lives and the planet we live in. Sweatshops, fast fashion, over consumption. We all know these words and hidden truths, but we all love clothes and shopping too much to take a step back and have a really good look at what’s going on, why, and how we can stop it. Perhaps we are in denial. Perhaps we love the convenience of our current fashion industry too much. Perhaps it’s all of these things, or not quite any of these things. But the truth is it’s happening, and we cannot deny it. We cannot look the other way anymore.
I am currently working in Assam, India with The Fabric Social. The Fabric Social is all about slow fashion and social impact. From organic fibre production, to spinning, to hand loom weaving, to natural dyes to garment construction through a Fair Trade manufacturer. Every step of the process is known, fair, just, and is making an incredible social impact for the people and the communities involved along the entire supply chain. Women in conflict affected areas have chosen to take part in the production of fabric for The Fabric Social, to create unique export quality garments from organic fibres for the Australian fashion market. With each metre of fabric bought by The Fabric Social comes with it an abundance of layers and levels to the positive impact on the weavers, their families and their communities.
I am also working for a Fair Trade clothing and accessories company in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who provide alternative employment for tailors outside of the now pervasive and exploitative garment manufacture industry. Men and women who are disadvantaged and face every day social, physical and financial limitations and isolation are given the opportunity to learn a highly valued skill, and to earn a fair and proper living. This social impact spreads out into the Provinces, where fading industries have the opportunity and tools for revival, now producing culturally significant and organic fibres and fabrics once again with modern environmentally sustainable practices.
Just through the business decisions of these two companies alone, it is pretty clear how far this kind of social impact can spread. And why it is important to therefore make sure we are spreading this impact, and not reversing basic human rights through the manufacture of our clothing.
To me it is simple. Do I value cheap, poor quality clothing that is produced in inhumane conditions; or do I value authentically handcrafted items from highly skilled workers produced in humane conditions? I would rather spend a little more, know and understand the impact my purchase has had, and have a high quality unique piece, than head to a shopping mall and buy a cheap mass produced item that has no authenticity and has caused more damage than I could ever fully track or understand. I know how I want to spend my money, and the impact I would like make. What kind of impact would you like to make?
Ellen is a production intern with The Fabric Social, a social enterprise working exclusively with conflict-affected women. The Fabric Social work to transform one of the greatest causes of poverty: armed conflict. You can shop, donate, or get involved here.