Ethical fashion WHAT?


Ethical fashion can be defined as the production of textile items with a conscience. With the concept of social responsibility gaining ground, corporates all over the world are recognizing the importance of environment protection and ethical business. Fashion houses are no exception. More and more fashion designers and textile producers are striving to produce goods that do not harm the environment and are cruelty-free. Ethical issues in fashion are emerging.


Ethical fashion WHEN?


The concept of ethical fashion is old; however, it is gaining more and more popularity in the modern times. As awareness about environment conservation, cruelty to animals and ethical issues in business is rising, fashion brands are also increasingly adopting ethical means. Customers are also becoming more and more aware of ethical fashion and the demand for ethically produced fashion products is on the rise.


Ethical fashion WHY?


Why should textile producers and customers adopt ethical fashion? Animal and human rights activists as well as environment protection activists have brought up ethical issues related to the fashion industry time and time again. Some of the major ethical issues that have come up are:


The production of cotton entails the use of a large amount of pesticides, which is harmful to the environment and to people. Figures indicate that nearly 2 billion USD worth of pesticides are used annually, of which pesticides worth about 819 million USD have been declared toxic as per the guidelines of the WHO. The health of the workers spraying pesticides in cotton fields and the people living around these fields are adversely affected. Pesticide poisoning can lead to symptoms such as headaches, tremors, nausea, depression, seizures, loss of consciousness, and, in some extreme cases, death. Empty pesticide containers are sometimes reused, which again leads to serious ill effects on the health of the people using such containers. The use of toxic pesticides leads to air, water and soil pollution. Apart from the pests, pesticides also cause the death of other small animals and birds consuming them inadvertently.


The chemical dyes that are used in the production of garments also lead to skin problems. Problems such as eczema, rashes and skin irritation have been noted among people on account of dangerous toxins in the clothes worn by them.


Another serious ethical issue that arises in the fashion industry is the issue of cruelty to animals. The cruelty to animals behind the preparation of a fur coat has been brought to light time and again by animal rights activists. One fur coat costs the life of about 55 wild mink, 40 sables, 11 lynx, 18 red foxes, 11 silver foxes, 100 chinchillas, 30 rabbits, 9 beavers, 30 muskrats, 15 bobcats, 25 skunks, 14 otters, 125 ermines, 30 possums, 100 squirrels or 27 raccoons. The pain caused to the animals while trapping them and extracting their fur is unthinkable. Similarly, a tremendous amount of suffering is caused to animals in extracting wool and leather, which goes into the preparation of fashionable shawls and boots.


Human rights activists have also pointed out the various ethical issues behind the preparation of a fashion product. Extremely low wages and long hours, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, exhaustion, sexual harassment and mental stress are some of these issues.


Ethical fashion HOW?


Fashion brands are turning increasingly to ethical fashion. Ethical fashion can be adopted by using eco-friendly, natural and cruelty-free materials. Apart from this, it also includes providing humane working conditions and fair wages to the workers.


Ethical fashion - WHO?


The concept of ethical fashion is quite popular in U.K. As per figures obtained from The Co-operative Banks Ethical Consumerism Report, the sale of ethically produced clothes increased to about 86 million pounds in the year 2004 as compared to 2003. There was a 30% rise in sales.


The U.K.-based company Dorothy Perkins introduced O Line, a collection of organic vests and T-shirts, in the year 2006. Dorothy Perkins has recently signed an agreement with the Woodland Trust, under which it plans to launch a new collection of organic clothes and accessories. 5 dollars from the sale of every organic vest, T-shirt and pair of Wellingtons as well as 1.50 dollars from the sale of every bag would be donated to the Woodland Trust. This amount would then be utilized for the purpose of planting trees in U.K. The aim behind this initiative is to plant 40000 trees in U.K. in a year. Dorothy Perkins has also launched a range of bags made from rubbish.


The London College of Fashion, one of the leading fashion colleges in the world, is also contributing its bit towards ethical fashion. It is planning to set up a Centre for Sustainable Fashion which would include experts on the subject of ethical fashion. It has also launched a campaign called Is Green the new Black?, based on the concept of organic fashion. It is also planning to develop courses on ethical and organic fashion


A number of fashion designers and organizations have come together in London to form a forum called The Ethical Fashion Forum (EEF). This forum concentrates on adopting ethical and environmentally compatible practices in the fashion industry.


In USA, this concept is still catching up. Though it is not as widespread as in U.K., the concept is gradually gaining popularity. Leading brands in USA such as Donna Karan, Levi Strauss, Nike, Reebok, and Phillips-Van Heusen have become members of Business for Social Responsibility, which is an organization that provides guidance and assistance to companies in incorporating ethical practices in their operations. The Levi Strauss Foundation is also engaged in the activity of providing grants to organizations working to improve workers' quality of life, in U.S.A. as well as in other countries. Levi Strauss has also developed a code of conduct for its suppliers, which outlines the fair trade standards that are expected of its suppliers. Levi Strauss presented green jeans, in which all the material used, including the buttons and the finish are completely organic.


Moo Shoes in New York is committed to the production of non-leather shoes, belts and other accessories. Similarly, the California-based brand Ecoganik also produces completely organic clothes and other accessories. Completely natural or eco-friendly materials are used by this brand in production. Even the dyes which are used in its clothes are such that they have no negative impact on the environment. Ecoganik is also a member of the Organic Trade Association, the OTA Fiber Council Committee and Co-op America Business Network.


The USA-based brand Fair Indigo is famous for producing stylish clothes that are produced using the concept of fair trade. The workers producing the garments are paid a fair amount of wages. Proper health and safety conditions are ensured in the factories. The clothes are produced from completely organic material. Their catalogues are made from recycled paper. The shop floors and hangers are made from bamboo. Recycled metal and glass are used in the store. Team X, Gossypium, People Tree and No Sweat Apparel are other brands which promote the concept of ethical fashion.



In India, ethical fashion is still a rather new concept and is not as popular. It is limited to a few designers, textile producers and customers. Indian designer Anita Ahuja presented her collection Conserve at Paris in September 2007. Conserve is a collection of accessories made from natural and eco-friendly products. It includes handbags made from recycled waste plastic.


The Ethical Fashion Show which is held in Paris every year showcases the organic collections of designers from all over the world. In the year 2007, the event is scheduled to be held during October 11th-14th. Designers from several countries such as France, Switzerland, U.K., Canada, U.S.A., India, the Netherlands, Australia, China, Senegal, Peru, Brazil, the Philippines, Chile, Columbia, Indonesia and Azerbaijan would be attending the show.




It is clear that producers all over the world are embracing the concept of ethical fashion. It has been widely accepted in certain countries, while it is still an emerging one in several others. However, this concept is largely limited to the use of organic materials in production. A lot yet remains to be done in the realm of fair and ethical production practices.


















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