Vintage bag + jacket + scarf: Little Jimmy’s Girl / Jumper: Icebreaker / Sunglasses: My own / Photographer: Ben McGuire
As a writer, I take great pleasure in being alone with my thoughts, surrounded by magazines, newspapers and books (preferably paperback) and the anonymity of the written word.
So when I was asked to come out of hiding and host the Ethical Fashion Show for Moral Fairground’s Victorian Fair Trade Festival earlier this month, the daunting thought of having to stand up in front of a crowd with a microphone was reason enough to explore my unwanted feelings of vulnerability. However, being approached by a respected friend Megan O’Malley who values my input and passion helped me put things into perspective. I also thought how silly it would have been to decline an opportunity that would have helped the ethical fashion movement even further.
Drawing on my experiences in the high school debate team, university theatre club and armed with what people view as my ‘natural’ self-confidence, I hosted the runway shows (there were in fact two shows) and in the end was satisfied that I had given it my best and that the feedback was altogether positive. Guess it really does pay to know your stuff!
Some audience members approached me afterward and said they found my talk informative whilst others expressed their feelings of solidarity with what I had shared. So even though I have written prolifically about this subject, a post entitled ‘The Sustainable Fashion Industry‘ comes to mind, I thought it was a great chance to revisit the subject of ethical fashion on this blog.
What is ethical fashion?
For those of you who don’t know, ethical fashion is essentially an approach to creating clothing which prioritises people, maximises benefits to communities as well as minimising the impact on our natural environment. So when we describe something as ethical, we mean that it is morally right or morally acceptable. In other words, ethical fashion is fashion with a moral conscience.
Why purchase ethical fashion?
Here’s a statistic that may startle you. In just one year, Australians purchase about 1 billion new clothing garments. So on average, we are consuming about 43 clothing items each every year. What’s shocking is that we wear the clothes a few times and then we throw them out (or donate to an opportunity shop) and then go shopping for more. The companies churn out the clothing to meet our insatiable consumer demand and this unsustainable fashion cycle is what has now come to be known as fast fashion. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that many of these cheap clothes end up in landfills because we live in such a throw away society that we don’t place much value on cheap items because we know we can replace it with some other cheap item.
The reality of ‘fast fashion‘
Fast fashion is a vicious, materialistic, highly industrialised fashion cycle that also desensitises us to the suffering of the workers in it. The fast fashion industry exploits cheap labour because in order to keep prices low and still make a profit, companies need cheap labour.
Many of the people who make these cheap clothes are forced to work long hours of crippling labour for very little in return, in working conditions that are inhumane. It is little wonder that many of the people in underdeveloped countries are exploited for their labour. In my first year economics class my tutor asked us whether we felt that Nike was right in using cheap labour and child labour in South East Asia to manufacture their footwear and garments. Of course, the class was divided on this issue but even as an undergraduate, I expressed great concern about the exploitation of the desperate and vulnerable and even then questioned our ‘free market system’.
The subject of cheap labour in the garment industry aside, many people also don’t consider how fabrics are made or indeed how they are farmed. Denim for example is a popular fabric due to its versatility and comfort, but it relies on unsustainable farming of conventional cotton. Manufacturing denim causes widespread environmental issues such as releasing tons of wastewater; using vast amounts of dyes, bleaches and detergents that pollute our waterways, causes soil degradation and erosion due to the massive amounts of pesticides and other chemicals used to farm the cotton in which denim is made. And let’s not forget the exploitation of farm workers.
Where do you fit in?
As consumers (and humans more so!), we play a pivotal role in transforming the fashion industry. I challenge you to start asking questions about the origins of your clothing. I challenge you to get educated and get informed. To stop insisting on cheap garments that comes with a heavy human cost. And to use your spending power to create a healthier, fairer and more sustainable world.
To a certain extent we share the burden of responsibility with manufacturers and suppliers – but we can’t always rely on them to do the right thing. Essentially it is up to you and me.