Book Review: Fashion Ethics by Sue Thomas
The latest and most exciting breakthrough in ethical fashion research and theory comes from a professor at my university, Dr Sue Thomas, who incidentally runs Scotland's first and only fashion ethics course.
Her new book, Fashion Ethics, is a deep dive into the world of ethics in the fashion industry, exploring everything from animal and human rights to racism and sexism, from carbon emissions and landfill waste to cultural appropriation and child sexualisation. Having just finished the book, I am astounded by how much I've learned and just how refreshing Sue's approach and attitude to the multitude of ethical issues within the fashion world really is.
If you're thinking, well aren't there already plenty of books on this topic? Well, Fashion Ethics is like no other out there, focusing on a completely holistic approach with an equal exploration into every possible ethical dilemma in every single stage of the fashion life cycle. From design to disposal, here is a quick overview of just some of the issues Sue explores in each phase.
- Intellectual Property and Copyright - Why do designers steal or copy, and how can designers prevent their designs from being stolen or copied?
- Environmental Impact - Zero waste pattern cutting, sustainable fabric selection
- Animal Rights/ Speciesism - The use of fur, leather, wool, cashmere, silk, exotic skins, etc.
- Sizeism - Sample sizes, fitting models, size range planning, shape and silhouette, fashion drawings etc.
- Unions and worker rights - Do garment workers have the right to freedom of association?
- Child labour - Illegal and unregulated underage workers in garment factories, cotton fields, mills etc.
- Forced labour - Bonded labour in South Asia
- Trafficking - Human trafficking across borders within the industry, sexual exploitation
- Health and safety- Food, rest and toilet breaks, heat and ventilation, enforced contraception, fire escapes and prevention
- Bribery and Corruption - Blackmailing, fast-tracked orders, over and underpaying, gifting.
- Environmental impact - Speed of fast fashion, quality control, non-renewable energy, dyeing processes.
- Manufacturing waste - toxic dyes and finishing chemicals, fabric waste, microfibres.
- Compliance - Problems with a compliance-based approach to production ethics
- Ageism - Exclusion of older models, sexualisation/adultification of child models and childrenswear, infantilisation of adult models and adult clothing.
- Sizeism - Exclusion of larger sized/plus size models, lack of fashionable larger sized clothing, height and shape exclusion, differently abled models
- Racism - Lack of racial diversity in marketing campaigns, fashion shows, impact of representation on society, attitudes, profit
- Sexism - Objectification of women, unrealistic standards of beauty, gender discrimination etc
- Influence of pornography - Raunch culture and sexually provocative marketing
- Modesty and cultural standards - Modest fashion, religion and culture of the country of production vs design vs retail.
- Environmental impact - Marketing materials, packing and wrapping.
- Mending and repair - Mender's manifesto, repairing vs throwing away, caring properly for clothing to make it last longer
- Laundering - The huge environmental impact of washing, drying and pressing, and how to reduce this footprint as a consumer
Disposal and Reincarnation
- Waste & Landfill - Synthetics, non-decomposable textiles, problems of mixed fibres, how to dispose of clothing properly
- Clothing donation - Pros and cons of donating clothing to charity after use
- Recycling/upcycling/downcycling - The huge breadth of recycling techniques and practises.
- Solutions - Cradle to Cradle design, Design for disassembly/deconstruction, collaboration, designing services with value.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who works within or is interested or engaged in the fashion industry. In fact, I reckon it should be required reading for all fashion students, as they (we) are the future of the industry and we need the moral backbone to back up our decisions and their impacts.