Ethical fashion is a term that is used less frequently than others in the fashion industry. While you may have heard of sustainable fashion, which addresses the environmental impact that clothes have on the world, ethical fashion addresses the social impact of making clothes.
The reality is that all clothing is hand-made. There is a person behind every single item of clothing you own, and every single one you see in a store. Unfortunately, the majority of clothing we see in shopping centres are not made ethically, meaning that whoever made them were paid far below a living wage for their work. Not only are they barely paid, but working conditions tend to be unsafe, and instructors can be verbally and physically abusive to their workers.
Over the years, clothes have become increasingly cheaper, because manufacturers have discovered that labour laws in many countries overseas are not the same as they are in North America. This gives manufacturers a loophole in which they can pay next to nothing for the creation of their product, and can sell it for a very low price in North America in return. The problem is that as consumers, we have gotten so used to seeing cheap clothing, that anything above it is seen as a "rip-off," and ethical fashion is often overlooked for being too expensive. What we don't realize is that a "rip-off" to the consumer can provide a fair wage for the garment maker, and what a consumer deems a "fair" or cheap price for an item of clothing, is most definitely a rip-off for the garment-worker.
One of the most infamous disasters in the fashion industry occurred in 2013, when the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, causing the death of over 1,000 workers. The factory building was knowingly unstable, and workers had even protested the day before about working due to hearing cracks in the ceilings, but they were forced to come to work the next day.
HOW DO WE CHANGE THIS?
In order to change the way we shop, we must change our perspective. We must choose not to see clothes as a disposable, meaningless thing that came from nowhere and will just go "away" once we decide we are done with it. Elizabeth Cline, author of several books revolving around the issue of ethical fashion, writes,
“Clothes could have more meaning and longevity if we think less about owning the latest or cheapest thing and develop more of a relationship with the things we wear.” - Elizabeth Cline
I do believe there is hope for the future of fashion, and that we are in fact on the brink of a fashion revolution. It is encouraging that ethical fashion is rising in awareness in the fashion industry. More and more new brands are emerging who are opting to produce their clothes ethically and sustainably, and more and more consumers are choosing to buy their clothes second-hand, and inviting change by asking brands "Who made my clothes?" in order to put a face to their item of clothing.
In buying ethically, we are being more selective and developing a relationship with our clothing. It gives us a reason to feel good about what we are wearing, and inspires us to keep our items longer, and away from landfills (in shopping ethically, you are also shopping sustainably!) Each item of clothing has a story behind it. Let the ones you choose be one of equality and hope.