What is Sustainable and Ethical Clothing?
Sustainable and ethical fashion refers to clothing, accessories, and shoes resulting from socio-economically conscious and environmentally friendly methods. In practice, it implies devoting consistent efforts to improve every stage of a product’s life cycle.
These stages include designing, raw material production, manufacturing, transportation, storage, and marketing. The sale of a product marks the mid-point of its life cycle. After this comes the use, reuse, repair, remake, and recycling of the item and its parts.
Sustainability and ethics are undoubtedly about production, but it is also about patterns of consumption and usage. If these are to don a sustainable form, shifts and changes in individual behavior and attitude are necessary.
Sustainable fashion applies to environment-related subjects. From an environmental viewpoint, the aim of the clothing industry must be to mitigate the harmful effects of the product’s life cycle. Note that 10% of the world’s carbon footprint comes from the fashion industry.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How are the textiles created? Scrutinize the usage of pesticides and chemicals.
- What are the materials used? Natural fibers are always more sustainable.
- Which standards does the company apply? Brands in alignment with GOTS or Fair Trade standards are more sustainable.
- What kind of packaging is in use? Recycled and recyclable materials are better.
- Does the company adopt energy-saving initiatives?
- How does the brand manage toxic waste?
- Are the base materials recycled or upcycled?
Ethical fashion is more about the moral sphere of the industry, including human rights and animal treatment.
From a socio-economic perspective, every stakeholder must improve the condition of workers in every aspect. Workers can be in stores, on the field, in factories, or a part of the transportation chain. They must be subject to excellent ethics, ideal practices, and fair treatment.
Here are some questions for insight:
- Where are the textiles produced?
- Is there transparency in the supply chain?
- Are the workers receiving fair wages and good treatment?
- Does the brand use animal materials? How are the animals treated?
The Importance of Sustainable Clothing
Fashion is far more complex than the simple items you find in a store. Tons of resources and labor go into the creation of a single piece of clothing. To compound this, the production of by-products and waste is shockingly high. It is a burning issue with “fast fashion.”
So, what are the problems that make sustainable clothing a necessary change? Prepare yourself for some outrageous insights into the working of the fashion industry.
The Global Apparel Industry is Rife with Human Rights Violations
One of the most visible concerns is the endless amount of human rights violations present in the fashion industry. Over 150 million lives intersect with the apparel industry each day. Most of them work in horrific conditions and receive little in terms of a living wage. Some of the most common violations are:
- Low wages
- Modern slavery
- Child labor
- Gender discrimination
- Exploitation of migrants
- Sexual, verbal, and physical abuse
- Forced overtime with no compensation
- Hazardous and life-threatening work conditions
These violations occur across the entire supply chain. From raw material production to manufacturing to post-production, the workers suffer. The issue of human rights violations gained attention only after the 2013 Rana Plaza incident. It sparked the Fashion Revolution movement.
Fashion Production Excessively Uses Chemicals
If you think of an industry that releases excessive pollution and chemicals, you may picture oil refineries or heavy industries. However, the fashion sector is equally responsible for environmental damage.
According to the WWF, 50% of all textiles use cotton. Cotton demands the world’s most significant percentage of chemicals.
Toxic chemicals go into the growth of fibers, dyeing, and processing of textiles as well. They include heavy metals, phthalates or carcinogens, and formaldehyde, all hazardous to growers, manufacturers, and wearers.
Pollution and Water Wastage is an Issue
Most clothing items have disappointing end-of-life outcomes, and fast fashion does not promote a circular economy. Textiles have the poorest rate of recycling than any reusable items, according to the EPA.
The scraps and trimmings of textiles left behind during manufacture constitute a chunk of waste materials. “Deadstock” or unsold items also play a role in this. Shockingly, most companies burn this waste instead of recycling or donating it. Even when in landfills, 64% of all fabrics contain plastic, thus being resistant to biodegrading.
Each year, the clothing industry consumes around 6 to 9 trillion liters of water. In addition to this, the resulting chemicals from clothes production go on to contaminate water bodies.
Even after production, consumers facilitate water wastage and pollution. Constant washing wastes resources more than necessary. It also releases synthetic fibers and microplastics into pipes, waterways, and ultimately the ocean, affecting marine life.
How can You Engage in Sustainable Fashion as a Consumer?
A lot of the problems with the fashion industry stem from the suppliers’ side. So, what can you do as a consumer? You can wield your buying power to create a shift.
The first step is to support only ethical brands that create sustainable products. Here are some other measures you can take:
- Do not buy excessive clothes
- Take care of your clothing and follow proper washing practices
- Borrow, swap, and rent clothing items to freshen up your style when necessary instead of buying new items
- Purchase second-hand clothing- you can check out some thrift stores
- Buy clothes that use natural fibers and compost your natural fiber fashion items
- Donate clothes you do not want or need anymore
- Avoid toxic dyes
- Pick brands that offer transparency in terms of their supply chain and size
It is best to buy clothes only when you absolutely need to. Even then, weigh in all your options and look for durable and evergreen products. Choose brands that focus on ethics as well as sustainability.
The planet suffers each day due to the effects of the apparel industry, which isn’t slowing down. Whitney Bauck is a journalist focused on fashion and sustainability.
Everyone, regardless of their backgrounds, can agree that no one should die to manufacture a T-shirt, as she correctly pointed out. Furthermore, we should not be dumping pollutants into our environment.