The Hypocrisy of Ethical Fashion
Fast fashion is a troublesome industry full of hypocrisy and lies. Are you feeling ugly and unsuccessful? Buy this dress, it will make you happy. Oh, but buy a different one next week, as that happiness won't last. Do you wish you could afford designer fashion but don't have the budget? Buy these cheap shoes, but of course they won't last, so buy more, and more, until you can't afford your rent. Do you equate fashion to glamour and fame? Well, the underpaid, overworked seamstresses in Bangladesh might disagree.
Ethical fashion aims to combat these problems by creating more envirnomentally and socially friendly products. But unfortunately, as more and more ethical fashion brands are formed, this creates yet more, arguably pointless, stuff, which ultimately puts more pressure on the world's resources. I call this new kind of hypocrisy 'the buying more stuff matrix'. Read on to find out why.
My first question is, do we need yet another fashion brand? As wonderful as it is to see inspiring start-up companies creating ethical clothing, there is the issue of whether conscious consumerism is really a thing; how can consumerism truly be ethical? Maybe we just need to stop buying more stuff. Because ultimately, making more clothes can't really be the solution to having too many clothes already, sitting unworn in closets and piled up in landfill.
The clear answer to this problem is slow fashion. This means living from capsule wardrobes, buying wisely- for you and not for the brand or the trend, and generally buying less. However, if you're anything like me, a shopaholic and fashion lover, there is nothing more boring than the idea of a capsule wardrobe and wearing the same thing over and over. For me, fashion is about freedom of expression, its about fun and frivolity and its about celebrating individuality and identity.
Could consolidation and collaboration be another solution to this conundrum? Perhaps instead of creating more new brands, these like-minded individuals could club together their resources, knwledge and passion to make a big difference, rather than lots of small ones. Imagine a powerful ethical fashion council who could truly change the way every person shops for clothing. Imagine a universal set of standards for manufacturing and retailing, a universal living wage for fashion workers, a universal labelling system that makes sense for everday consumers. This worked efficiently for food; think about the ingredients and nutrition information listed on every pre-packaged food item.
One great system I've seen of simplifying the broad term of 'ethical' is used by luxury retialer Galerie LA, whose strapline is 'Fashion with Intergrity'. This brand uses 'badges' to identify different products or labels as various catagories of ethical fashion, including things like Organic, Fairtrade, Artisan and Eco-friendly. I heard about this on Conscious Chatter, a brilliant podcast about all things sustainable fashion.
The fashion industry is rife at the moment with greewashing, just to confuse matters further. The definition of greenwashing is as follows: Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is. (source)
H&M has come under a lot of fire lately for doing exactly this. Although they have a small 'conscious collection' made from organic cotton (there are also some issues with organic cotton: read my article Killer Cotton here), these clothes are still made in sweatshops, and still only account for less than 1% of all that the company produces. H&M also wildly market their clothing reclycling scheme, but in exchange for reclying old clothes, customers get money off to buy even more clothes, most likely made of plastic (polyester, nylon, acryllic etc) like most fast fashion is.
Finally, H&M coined an awareness campaign called World Recycling Week, which just 'happens' to fall on the same dates as Fashion Revolution Week, which focusses on the quality of life of the people that make our clothing. Coincidence? I think not. Distraction? I think so. If you think about what the word 'ethcial' actually means, the hypocrisy becomes very clear.