I am extremely outspoken on the matters that I care deeply about. It could be because I’m the first born child or because growing up in a household with strict Asian parents made me resolute, but I have never shied away from making my opinions known.
So when I read Kirsten Philipkoski’s Independent Fashion Bloggers article ‘How Sustainable Fashion Is Ruining The Industry‘ I could already feel myself putting on those metaphorical boxing gloves (note: metaphor; in no way do I condone violence).
For those of you who haven’t read the article, it essentially focusses on how the labels eco fashion, ethical fashion and sustainable fashion are hindering the fashion industry and that ethical fashion pioneer (yes I went there, what other term am I to use?) Orsola de Castro makes “the point that labelling it as such is not doing any favors for designers who hand-make their garments, who pay attention to where their fabrics are sourced, and who use every last piece of it because they can’t afford to buy more.”
Now I have immense respect for Orsola. She is co-founder of Fashion Revolution, is a fashion designer in her own right and has 20-plus years experience advocating for a change to the industry’s obsession with fast fashion. In fact I agree with most everything she stands for. I even mentally applauded when in the article she was quoted as saying: “The reality is that the industry completely lost touch with its main values ever since it’s only been about rapid growth, mass production, fast fashion, and disposable luxury.”
However my admiration for Orsola aside, I have a slightly different take on the matter of using terms such as sustainable fashion.
While I appreciate Orsola’s points differentiating ‘fast’ ‘unethical’ fashion from ‘real’ fashion, I don’t enjoy stooping to mere name calling, because for me, that’s what this issue is about: arguing semantics; a practice which I absolutely abhor.
To use Orsola’s term, these labels may be ‘shitty’ but they are a mere fact of life. People use labels to convey ideas, concepts, categorise things and even assign meaning.
If you are against using labels such as “eco fashion” may I suggest using “environmentally friendly fashion” or “socially responsible fashion”?
But then there’s an obvious problem with doing this: you are still using labels.
WHY USE LABELS SUCH AS ‘SUSTAINABLE FASHION’?
People assign labels to things because the vaguely accepted pre-defined definition of the word summarises an idea. It could be borne out of laziness or efficiency, but using labels is our way of trying to classify complex issues.
Labels are merely starting points. They should never be used to assign complete definition. You can only do this by questioning and gathering more information.
So in the case of a brand’s claims that they produce ‘ethical fashion’ you will need to determine what that means:
– Are all garment workers being paid a living wage? Are they being paid overtime? Can the brand prove this?
– If they call themselves ‘fair-trade’ do they have a fair trade certification?
– Can the brand prove they are not using child labour or other types of human trafficking? Have they been audited by an external third party? Do they have ethical certifications?
– If they have social programs, can they provide evidence that they are ‘giving back’ to communities?
When a brand uses labels such as ‘eco’ or ‘sustainable’ fashion, you would ask similar questions of the eco-friendliness of its fabrics, overall environmental impact, carbon footprint, packaging, after-purchase garment care and waste management.
It is your role as a consumer to investigate the basis of these terms to ensure that you have all the information you need to determine why and how a fashion item is ethical and sustainable. It is the role of designers, producers, manufacturers and marketers to communicate why a garment is ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable.’
We should be looking beyond ‘labels’ in fashion and other areas of life including politics, health and even people.
Consider a label such as “leftie.” I am known as a “leftie” and while I accept its use, in no way does this term even begin to explore my personal political philosophy. To find out my complex set of beliefs, we would need to have a long discussion about my thoughts on social justice issues, economic policies, globalisation, environmental matters, public policies and other subjects to get a full appreciation of my political stance.
Labels are found in all corners of life. In fact, on Twitter you will find that people use labels (known as hash tags) as topics for discussion. Say you wanted to explore the issues of ethics and sustainability in fashion, just search #ethicalfashion #ecofashion and #sustainablefashion and you’ll find relevant conversations on these subjects.
We use words to communicate and convey often complex concepts but we know language has limitations. The words ethical fashion, sustainable fashion and eco fashion may not be perfect but they are a starting point.
While I respect Orsola’s point of view on labelling (click here to learn more about her views), what’s more important than arguing semantics is making the effort to find out what makes an item ethical and sustainable.
Now your turn: Do you have any issues using ethical labels? Do you disagree with my stance? We’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to leave a comment below.