Ethical is a big word these days. Some might say a buzz word. Some might say unaffordable since the global economic crisis. Ethical fashion, in particular. But what does ethical fashion actually mean? I can only speak for myself – it’s one of ‘those’ words; like right, wrong, and moral, everyone has an opinion, and every opinion is in all likelihood, slightly different.
As consumers, in the forefront of many minds is the cost. We want it, we want a lot of it, and we want it cheap, if you please. Some of this attitude has been fostered by the fashion industry – new collections, new trends, new ‘must have’ purchases. And some of it has come from the idealogy of the ‘American Dream’ – you can have and do anything, so long as you work for it. Status symbols – having the latest design of Ugg boots, that sort of thing. These are the principles by which many of us have lived their lives, and many still do.
We can choose to inform ourselves about the true cost of our purchases – not just the financial cost to us, but the cost in social and environmental terms, too. It may be cheap to us, but have you ever stopped to wonder who made that cheap skirt? What their lives are like?
Like so many things, ethics is about balance. By purchasing clothing we are able to provide an industry and employment in a developing nation, increasing their skills and wealth, and in turn enabling them to increase their quality of life. I don’t have an issue with this. I do have an issue with people being exploited; being kept prisoner, using children thus depriving them of the ability to get an education, however basic, or not being paid a fair wage. Several well known companies have fallen foul of uppholding their social responsibilities – the likes of Nike, and Gap. Stores that tend to charge more than average for a tee shirt. The problem is that global companies operate in areas where there is no minimum wage, no right to a safe workplace, no working time directive. They can choose to operate in an ethical way, or not. Iit is up to us, the consumers, to police them through our purchasing power. When I buy new, I ask myself what sort of life the person who made it has. If there is a chance their are being exploited, I leave it where it is. That is too high a price for me.
Then there is the environmental cost. Yawn worthy to many, I know. But many of our clothes are made in the middle and far east. It takes on average 2700 litres of water to make one tee shirt, from growing the cotton to it getting on your back. That is 1,350 bottles of coke. To make one top. Think about that for a second. While water is literally growing clothes, 40% of our wardrobes are unworn, and 54% of the African population have no access to a safe drinking water supply. While we wonder whether to buy it in pink, or blue.
So, I inject ethics into fashion through these principles: If something is worn, can I mend it first? If I want something new, can I buy it second hand from a charity or vintage store, or eBay? Can I make it myself? If I buy something new, is it British made ?- I’d quite like to support our own economy as much as I can. If not, what sort of circumstances has it been made in? Is it from a company that operates a fair trade policy? If not, do I really want to pay upwards of thirty quid for a dress than probably cost the company less than a fiver to make, including employee’s wages? And if I don’t need it anymore, can I give it to someone who does need it?
What is ethics, if not a set of principles we chose to live our lives by?
This post was written by Lady Cherry of Vintage Goddess in Training. Lady Cherry is a vintage lovin’ gal who likes to bake, quaff gin, sew, thrift, look glamourous….You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.