Ethical Fashion – A Short History

In 2009 ethical fashion has started to really make waves on both sides of the Atlantic. Long gone are the days when ‘ethical’ and ‘fashion’ were two words that signified dowdy designs, clunky accessories and seriously unstylish fabrics.
So how did ethical fashion come about?

1. Globalisation is making the world a smaller place.

In the last 10-15 years, globalisation has helped bring issues like worker exploitation and environmental damage to the attention of consumers in wealthy countries. Activists like Naomi Klein, who wrote No Logo, helped to unite disparate groups of concerned citizens to sit up and take notice of how fashion supply chains were really working in the global economy.

Thanks to people like Klein, and thousands of students and activists, not to mention the power of the Internet, nowadays you can’t run a factory using child labour and expect to get away with it. To put it simply, you will get caught out, and there will be major repercussions on your business, with the risk that customers will desert you for your competitors. So it’s no surprise that fashion companies are taking into account the conditions of workers who are making their goods.

2. Concern for the environment.

The rise to prominence of the issue of climate change has turned environmentalism from a fringe concern into the mainstream. And people are increasingly asking how big the footprint of their clothes and accessories is. Fast fashion that’s here today and gone tomorrow can actually be extremely damaging to the environment, as it literally becomes ‘throwaway fashion’ that is disposed of as soon as the buyer no longer wants it.

3. Questions marks over extreme budget retailing.

Budget retailing, where prices are just too low to be true, encourages customers to disregard values that are important to them, and there’s a growing realisation among consumers that ridiculously cheap items of clothing come at a price – to the environment or to workers’ lives in poor countries. People are realising that these workers are the ones paying the true price of our cheap clothes. And in the era of globalisation, out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind.

4. Sustainable can be sexy.

Crucial to the growing success of ethical fashion is that a growing band of designers in the US and Europe are proving that sassiness, style and ethics can work in harmony together without compromising look and fashion sense. Buying ethical fashion isn’t about buying because you feel guilty, but because you like the style or the colour or the cut. The ethical bit is the cherry on the cake!

So far, so good. But how will this movement survive the credit crunch? Recession will actually be good for ethical fashion, as it will force ethical brands to focus on implementing more competitive prices. Because let’s face it, customers still equate ‘ethical’ with ‘expensive’ and although prices have been coming down in recent years, some brands still need to do more to bring pricing in line with customer expectations. This doesn’t mean competing with the bargain basement throwaway fashion brands, but creating affordable ranges of clothes and accessories. So ethical fashion will not fade. In fact, the movement is likely to influence the mainstream more and more as times goes by.

So fashion will be beautiful because it’s beautiful, and beautiful because it’s ethical.

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