Sustainability and Ethics in Fashion

Sustainable Jeans

Sustainability and Ethics in Fashion

I will admit that I am one that tends to form brand favorites before even checking to see how fair trade or eco-friendly they might be, even though I am quite aware and interested in the importance of those concepts. Even though awareness of the movement is growing fairly rapidly amongst mindful fashionistas everywhere, but we have yet to see all brands truly see its importance and jump on board. We’ve seen more and more companies each year abandon fur from their lines after a worldwide uproar once wasteful and cruel practices were unveiled to the masses (ugh, don’t get me started on the subject of fur. You’ll never see me dead in any of it), but although there is certainly an uproar about human rights and environmental issues when it comes to outsourcing and production, there doesn’t seem to be much of a change or acknowledgement made on the side of the brands. I ran into a good article that discusses the environmental side, from The Guardian:

“With such a strong response to animal rights in relation to fashion, why are more people not looking at the impact of the fashion industry on our living and breathing planet in the same way?” – Excerpt from “Fashion: do we care more about animal rights than the environment?” by Amy DuFault, The Guardian

To sum it up, Amy interviewed several figureheads in the world of psychology, textiles, fashion design, etc., and concluded that humans tend to easily forget the Earth as a whole as being an entity affected by our actions, while it’s much easier to feel empathy when we witness the suffering of an animal as a being much closer to us, as something with a soul and capability of feeling pain like a human being. She also mentions the benefits of social media to spread awareness, and the fact that it is making a difference, and it should continue to be used as a tool to make a change. With this method of information growth, the concept of social responsibility has also exploded…similar to the way the Occupy movement did, awareness of sweatshops and unethical outsourcing practices has taken the lead in news feeds. We all remember the shop collapse in Bangladesh, and according to CNN:

“Since 2005, almost 2,000 garment workers have been killed in factory fires and structure collapse. And all of them have been at such small, unregulated factories.” – Inside a Bangladesh garment factory that plays by the rules – CNN

This CNN article highlights what is being done to better the lives and well being of factory workers, since even though the Western world is outraged enough to boycott brands that aren’t showing a concern for human rights (and those brands are feeling a hit), there is still a hunger for cheap, affordable apparel since fair-trade or eco-friendly clothing tends to be a bit on the pricier side, and people in these third world countries still need work. I don’t believe we need to boycott them, we just need a stronger initiative to improve their conditions so they can continue to make a safe and healthy living for themselves, and I’d rather buy the occasional more expensive and possibly handmade item to support an artisan than stock up on hundreds of cheap items that will only last me one season anyway. I found an article from The Institute for Human Education titled “Thinking Critically: Who’s Responsible for What Happens in Sweatshops & What Do We Do About It?” which I found interesting. Granted, it’s from mid-2013 but the subject still stands. It’s a good read, and I suggest you check it out. The article states:

“The issue of sweatshops is often treated as an either/or black/white one. The gist of the response to concerns about sweatshops is usually that “A terrible job is better than no job.” But we can dig even deeper, looking for the solutions that do the most good and least harm for all.

For example, what if we purchased fewer clothes, but were willing to pay more for them, so that workers could earn a living wage and have safe, healthy working conditions? What if we took advantage of thrift stores and clothing swaps while also lobbying companies and governments to change their practices, and perhaps donating money to support fair trade and cooperative businesses in developing countries (as well as locally)?”

Now on to sustainability…Sustainability to many might mean simply shopping at the nearest thrift store (who doesn’t anyway…with the occasional gem of a find at a much lower cost? Score!) or donating to reduce landfill, and it has been for some time and been the primary way to recycle textiles until our political climate changed within the last few years. Now we see organizations in cities like Re-fashioNYC in New York City and Zero Waste Textile Initiative in San Francisco installing textile waste bins to keep clothing out of landfills. As of January of this year, Re-fashioNYC has collected 1.8 million pounds of textile goods since its inception in 2011.

I’ve recently discovered the amazing world of eco-friendly fibers as well. Bamboo and hemp items have such a quality to them, and I am certainly willing to pay the higher price for them! Hemp and bamboo both grow a lot faster than cotton plants do (bamboo being the fastest growing plant around) which leaves their soil in good condition by adding more topsoil than slower growing plants do (and hemp has deep roots which protects the soil from runoff), have very few natural predators so they don’t need pesticides or insecticides, and their finished products have antimicrobial, anti fungal/mold and moisture-whicking properties. Hemp clothing tends to block UV rays and bamboo fabrics are very breathable and help regulate temperature (keeping you warm when it’s cool out and vice versa). Another thing to validate their higher textile prices are that both bamboo and hemp are more durable than cotton, and will last you a very long time.

Things are definitely looking up, as an influx of awareness and sustainable and/or fair-trade fashion shops, organizations and blogs have been popping up everywhere, and of course, Celebrities have been grabbing on to the cause. A few examples: Modavanti, a sustainable style shop, posted about Kellan Lutz and Olga Kurylenko wearing sustainable outfits to the Oscars on their blog. Livia Firth, wife of Colin Firth, founded Eco-Age, a consultancy company specializing in helping businesses reach their true potential through sustainability, which includes the Green Carpet Challenge which works with high fashion brands at high-profile events to bring more sustainable fashion to the red carpet. Emma Watson has also been involved with her own initiatives, modeling green apparel from five different British designers last September for Net-A-Porter‘s digital magazine The Edit as well as creating eco-friendly fashion collaboration lines for People Tree in 2010 and Alberta Ferreti, called Pure Threads, in 2011. (Source: “Emma Watson For Net-A-Porter: “Harry Potter” Star Goes Green” – Stylelist)

An article came out two days ago on The Guardian, titled “Can barcodes make fashion more transparent – and will consumers care?” which talks about an idea by The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) to have manufacturers include QR codes on their clothing labels in retail environments so consumers can be more informed about the environmental footprint of the clothing they are shopping for. Nestlé has already implemented this last year to give people instant information about both nutritional value and environmental/social impact. According to the article, more than 26,000 people have tuned in. The question though is, do apparel shoppers care enough for this to take off in the retail apparel market?

I’ve been subscribed to several of sustainable/ethical fashion blogs and shops! Here are some of my favorites.



An outdoor/yoga apparel brand that believes “a brand should give much more than it takes from the world” and bases their motives “on an increasingly mindful use of natural resources, but also on our ability to motivate our community of customers and peer businesses.”


A collection of “fashion-forward companies that are making a positive impact in their community, environment, with their employees, or with humanity as a whole.” Roozt gives an interactive side to shopping sustainably by allowing you to create your own collections, or “movements” for a chosen cause with your favorite items or browse and shop from existing ones.


Modavanti provides a large collection of independent sustainable brands for you to shop from with a “three-pronged framework for sustainability: environmentally friendly, ethical sourcing and social good.” If you have a booming eco-friendly apparel company, you can apply to sell your apparel on Modavanti’s storefront.


A large selection of high-end sustainable apparel from brands who are responsible with “sourcing ecologically responsible materials, developing sustainable production processes, treating their workers well, and giving to charity.”

Pura Vida Bracelets

Created by friends Griffin Thall and Paul Goodman when they were on a college graduation trip to Costa Rica, and discovered two artisans selling their handmade bracelets on the street. Thall and Goodman helped the men extend their work into the United States and become successful through creating these bracelets for various charities and to support other artisans in Costa Rica. Pura Vida is also a member of One Percent for the Planet and donates a portion of its proceeds to the Surfrider Foundation.

There truly are so many more, but I can’t spend forever on one blog post 🙂 I also love etsy for independent sustainable apparel shops! Feel free to comment with your own input, as I’m always interested in learning more!

This is also a great link: The Ethical Fashion Forum.

Also check out this great story…Fashion designers benefit communities in Philippines with indigenous textiles – The Guardian 3/4/14

Other sources:
Earth Friendly Goods
Kynd Clothing

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