Responsible Fashion: Who, what, where and why
If you haven't yet seen it, may I recommend you put aside some time to watch The True Cost movie? It's a documentary that tracks the rise of fast fashion with mass consumerism, and the accompanying decline in prices, fair working conditions and environmental responsibility. Because something we oft forget is that everything we purchase and use in our daily lives comes from somewhere. Who stitched this? Whose hands did this cloth pass through? What is this made of?
The fashion industry is the world's second-largest polluter of our waterways because of the toxicity of the printing and dyeing process. It's also a clean water guzzling industry that takes the amount of three days drinking water to produce just one t-shirt. What makes it so unsustainable is the sheer volume of clothing we produce annually. While there are only 7 billion people on Earth, we consume 80 billion new pieces of clothing annually. The majority of this consumptions falls to the minority in wealthier developed countries.
The fashion industry also employs over 15% of people on Earth. Over three-quarters of them are women living in developing countries only earning just above the extreme poverty marker of $2AUD/day. Bringing business into these countries would be just fine if the fashion industry bothered to increase their wages with their profit margins. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. Instead of bringing an improved quality of life, most companies exploit their workers who are trapped without the education needed to gain alternative means of employment. They specifically choose women because they both expect and accept half the wage men would in Asian cultures. It's exploitation of a culture that cannot afford to say no.
The following are some steps you can take when shopping to avoid supporting the above destructive processes. In the current consumer climate, it's near impossible to have 100% ethically produced clothes. But we owe it to our planet to try our best.
- Buy secondhand
This should always be your first choice. Why should each of us pay full price for multiple products and hoard them away in your cupboards? Let's share! When you've gotten good use out of your clothes, why not pop them on a clothes sale page and get some of your money back. Plus pick up some new clothes while saving some serious dosh for yourself. Although donating clothes is a fantastic thing to do, we actually only hand out a tiny fraction of the clothes that are donated due to the overwhelming supply, so your best bet is to try and sell first.
- Boycott exploiters
Know the worst companies. Companies that flunked the Australian Fashion Report (earning a D or F grade) include Lowes, Best & Less, Just Jeans, Peter Alexander, Portmans, Industrie and Dotti. Good On You is continuously updating their app that allows you to search the ethical rating of different brands. It's free and you can check from inside the store before you make that purchase! Read more about Australia's least ethical brands here: Unethical Fast Fashion Brands to Avoid.
- Support ethical brands
Make it a point to support and endorse ethical brands whenever you come across them. Companies that scored well in the Australian Fashion Report include Cotton On, Etiko, H&M, Country Road and Adidas. Again, you can use the Good On You app. But go beyond this. Many of the small social enterprises and Fair Trade brands won't be listed in an app such as this. Look for the Fair Trade logo! Support the small businesses and the eco-businesses. Once you start digging online beyond the same old mass produced department stores you'll discover a world of unique, ethical fashion stores run by entrepreneurs who need our support. Favourites include Synergy Organic Clothing, tonlé and Matter Prints.
- Avoid fashion trends
Buy what you need, not just whatever is on offer. Choose high quality, long-lasting items that will transcend this season. Avoid falling into the trap of throwing money at items that you'll be over as soon as the magazines move onto the next trend. Find more of my advice on buying less in my Minimalism category.
Did anybody die for me to wear this? It's not just mink fur that's a risk. There's cow leather, dog leather, lamb leather, kangaroo leather, sheep wool, rabbit wool, goat wool and silkworm silk. All of these animals have to be exploited and murdered to use their body parts in fashion, and usually, the origin of the animal product is completely untraceable to countries that have absolutely no animal welfare regulations. The majority of leather used globally comes from India and China where it's source is undocumented. Over and over and over again it's discovered that Australian consumers believed they were buying cow leather when it turned out to be horse or dog! Think about what violence occurred. Chances are you couldn't bear to witness it, so you shouldn't fund it either.
These are five things to keep in mind when shopping for your wardrobe, and they're all pretty simple. Consider the material, consider the supplier, consider your need for the product.
What other advice do you have for someone just starting to transition their fashion habits?