The race of getting trendy has been never-ending. The world is rotating not only by its momentum but also by the continuous alteration of fashion zests. From the mid-nineteenth century until now, the mass production of clothes kept ascending at the hands of fashion brands and leaders of the industry. The latest data inform us that we, as consumers, consume 400% more than we consumed 20 years ago.
To meet this enormous demand, the production side of fashion goods is creating environmental hazards. Additionally, by the name of outsourcing at a cheap rate, supply chains have been shackled to minimal wage and poor working conditions, which is drastically inhumane in some cases.
This is what fast fashion brought to our life; where questions keep coming from the point of ethics. So, ethical fashion emanated as a reaction or as a solution to ‘fast fashion’ devastation.
How to Define? Before digging deep down, we should look at the definitions of fast fashion and ethical fashion.
Fast Fashion: This word is conceptually derived from the word ‘fast food’. That means, the quick and cheap production of massive wear for our day-to-day life. Fast fashion established 52 seasons instead of 4, focusing the largest amount of cloth selling in the least amount of time.
Cheap or child labor, poor working environments, the least level of safety precautions, health and environmental hazards, female worker abuse everything is less considered under it when the goal is only ‘profit’ and ‘maximizing profit’.
Ethical Fashion: Ethics should be put into fashion, this is the motto of ethical fashion. From seed to selling, every stage of production should have clearance, whether it is harming the people, the planet and the animals as little as possible or not. Thus, building safe and sustainable living conditions for future generations.
Ethical fashion teams up with sustainable fashion, which has a slight difference from the previous one. Ethical fashion emphasizes ‘living’ not ‘minimum’ wage of the workers, no child labor, safe environment for both of the male and female labor, paid leave and health services, adequate safety precautions and least amount of damage to nature.
The word fast fashion goes alongside the word consumerism. Consumerism first appeared in the 1920s before World War 1. This is such a perilous thought that drives people only to consume without pondering over or neglecting the negative results or side effects it is creating.
It enslaved the consumers through marketing policy to spend more on clothes as it is cheap and empowered the industry giants through the practice of cost minimization and profit maximization.
A Brief History: Fashion ‘meaning’ setting trends went viral at the hands of the Europeans. Paris-based fashion brands dictated what to wear for a long time unilaterally. Fast fashion’s booming period was in the 1950s and the 1990s it was simply revitalized. Since then sustainability grew up as a major concern, which is now preeminent when it comes to setting trends.
But in 2013, when the Rana Plaza incident occurred in Savar with 1,134 workers’ deaths, and more than 2500 workers’ injuries, worldwide fashion bodies fathomed for the first time the cost of fast fashion. This event solely revolved around the picture upside-down and laid the foundation for ethical fashion.
The ruthless pathway of fast fashion: Here are some points highlighting the detrimental effect of cheap and quickly changing fashion.
- Liable for 10% or 1.2 billion tons of global carbon emissions.
- Responsible for 20% of water waste globally.
- Pollutes oceans, rivers and stream waters heavily by chemical wastes.
- 85% of textiles are dumped every year causing heavy landfills.
- Non-renewable sources are getting depleted because of over-usage
- Animals like foxes, raccoons, and wolves are killed for fabric like Fur.
- 80% of apparel is made by young women aged between 18-24
- Forced and child labor is evident in the rapid production process.
- Only 2%-4% of the price we pay for clothes goes to the workers.
- 60-70 hours of working hours per week generates only $300.
- Female workers are paid less than their male co-workers.
- 1 in 6 people is working in the global fashion industry creating a heavy labor percentage dependent on it.
- Vast tax breaks and lenient laws & regulations are challenges for developing countries
- Working environments are unsafe with no benefits or protection
Big Brands’ Fast Fashion Practices:
- H&M: The 2nd largest world fashion retailer has failed to pay a living wage to its 850,000 garment workers. This brand is accused of neglecting the inhuman working conditions of its workers that caused more than 100 deaths.
- SHEIN: The Chinese brand adds 500 products on its website at a very cheap price causing textile-made landfills to be heavy. The cheap rate raises questions about its living wage policy.
- BOOHOO: The British brand was investigated by The Sunday Times on one of its factory workers who were making as little as £3.50 an hour. Also, COVID sick workers were compelled to go to work. BOOHOO is claimed to be one of the least sustainable fashion brands in the UK.
- FOREVER 21: This American retail brand pays $4 per hour which is less than the state’s minimum wage level. This brand is accused of body shaming when it sent diet bars to its plus-sized customers.
- URBAN OUTFITTERS: This 50-year-old American brand once asked its employees to work on the weekends for free to enhance team-building activity! In 2020, this brand was charged for stealing an Australian indigenous artist’s design.
- PRIMARK: “SOS messages” were found in this Irish brand’s clothes written by one of the Chinese workers, where it was claimed that they were forced to work 15 hours a day under inhumane labor practices.
- MISSGUIDED: Like BOOHOO, this is another UK brand named to be one of the least sustainable brands in the UK. This brand claims to be not only fast but also rapid in fashion. 1000 new styles per week are proof of the claim. But what they avoid claiming is the environmental detriment resulting from this rapid fashion.
- ZARA: Another secret message was found in Istanbul, Turkey in 2017 from the employees who work under one of the manufacturers of this Spanish brand, saying they had to work free before the manufacturer went bankrupt.
- VICTORIA’S SECRET: America’s most famous lingerie brand is producing mostly from unsustainable materials. This brand is branded for using child labor and sexual harassment of two models who were fired just after their complaint was made.
Ethical Fashion as a Solution: It is high time to say goodbye to fast fashion and embrace ethical fashion to save the planet and human rights. Below are some points explaining why.
Ethical fashion emphasizes the living wage of workers in every stage of production.
- Sustainable or environment-friendly production is another target of ethical fashion.
- This fashion aims at better working conditions and safety assurance.
- It encourages quality over quantity.
For these reasons, ethical fashion is costly indeed. But it never exceeds the cost of lives, human rights and the health of mother nature. One thing we should all care and that is, single purchase at a high cost with high quality is better than multiple purchases at low cost with low quality.
- Some Ethical Brands: The brands mentioned here practice fair trade, fair labor and many more as their branding ethics. Important details are included too.
- BODEN: This London-based, UK brand has put fair trade apparel, sustainable cotton, eco-friendly practices, ethical supply chain and giving back as their ethical practice. It has built this practice over its factories in 15 countries.
- KOTN: Certified B Corp, organic materials, safe & fair labor standards and giving back are the main features of this Toronto-based, Canadian brand. They are best for Egyptian cotton wardrobe staples. This brand has helped to change 30,000 lives by building schools and funding 700 farms in Egypt.
- PACT: This Colorado-based, US brand is Fair Trade certified. It uses GOTS certified organic cotton and depends on carbon offset shipping. It is best known for making super soft eco-friendly clothes.
- BOODY: This brand uses organic bamboo as one of its main materials. Practices fair wages, safe working conditions and giving back. It regularly donates to Goodbye Malaria and the Relate Organization.
- PATAGONIA: Based in California, USA, Patagonia is one of the earliest practitioners of environmental ethics. It is certified as B Corp and Fair Trade. Uses organic cotton, took environmental sustainability initiatives and gives back.
- TENTREE: With the motto of “Buy one, plant ten”, this brand empowers its customers by planting ten trees with every purchase. They have planted over 54 million trees by now with a vision of planting 1 billion trees by 2030. They are also certified B Corp, use organic materials, are eco-friendly and give back.
- ABLE: This brand is also a certified B Corp. Clothes are made by artisan women to end their poverty. It practices fair labor and wages to all of its makers.
- EILEEN FISHER: This is another industry leader ethically and sustainably. It is aimed at circular production and takes back old pieces of clothes to make new ones. Otherwise, they use organic cotton and linen as materials.
- TRADLANDS: This American brand is exclusively branded for ethical small-batch production, natural & deadstock materials and inclusive sizing. Producing small but the top-notch quality is assured by every single stage of processing.
There are many in ques to be called ethical fashion brands. Each of them is sincere in their fairness and transparency. All of them are praiseworthy for their efforts towards sustainability and ethical practice. It is good news for us that customers are getting aware too. From 2018, the online searches related to sustainability and ethical fashion have increased to 75%.