When one thinks about fashion, words like glamour, style, trend, etc. immediately strike the mind rather than words like sustainable, eco-friendly or ethical. However, in the coming ten to fifty years the most important question the fashion industry needs to ask is how sustainable it is? Ethical and sustainable fashion has been gathering momentum globally in the past decade.
Ethical and sustainable fashion is an approach towards sourcing, manufacturing and designing clothes which maximizes the benefits to the industry and society at large, at the same time minimizes the impacts on the environment. Ethical means something that is morally right and acceptable. Therefore, ethical and sustainable fashion does not start from manufacturing clothes. It starts from the cotton fields and ends in consumer's wardrobe. Therefore, conventional cotton farming cannot be termed as ethical and sustainable as harmful pesticides are used.
Today, sustainability is a way of doing business rather than just a concept. Brands like Stella McCartney and NOIR are the pioneers of ethical and sustainable fashion. Now many companies have embraced the concept of sustainability and have implemented it in the business. These companies have understood that integrating social and environmental issues with business will yield long term benefits to the company.
Nowadays, fashion exhibitions, Ethical fashion forum and blogs all focus on the concept of sustainable fashion. Going green is also about business and profits. It is important that brands which practice ethical and sustainable fashion must stay true to their commitment. This way they can win the trust of the consumers and uphold the company's ethical values.
There should be transparency in sourcing, manufacturing, designing and other processes, so that the consumers can know whether the brands are delivering what they have promised. To make sustainability saleable in fashion industry it must have desirability. Consumers are attracted to good designs, colors and fabrics. When a consumer spends on fashionable apparels, he first considers the above mentioned aspects. Environmental or ethical concerns come later.
The brands which respond to the consumers unending demands can combine sustainable principles with fashion and flourish in this green business. The time has come when the relationship of consumer and clothing has to be changed. Sustainability is not limited to environment but the entire fashion business, from production to the retail stores.
When the fashion industry ensures fair wages, no forced or child labor, workers get their basic human rights, health and safety measures are followed in the workplace, biodiversity, organic cultivation, clothes are manufactured in eco-friendly ways, etc. all these steps will make the fashion industry ethical and sustainable in true sense.
The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) is a non-profit organization established to promote sustainable practices, raise awareness among people, provide resources to reduce poverty and environmental damage, and raise standards in the fashion industry. The EFF has more than 6000 members in over 100 countries supporting sustainable fashion. Moreover, it has set up criteria for ethical fashion which needs to be followed.
The EFF has framed policies in collaboration with the top ethical sourcing and certification bodies made by The International Fair Trade Association, The Fairtrade Foundation and others. This helps the EFF to work in an organized manner with the members in the fashion industry and develop ethical and sustainable practices. Ethical companies will manufacture clothes giving importance to the above mentioned sustainable and ethical ideas, which in return will benefit the society and earth.
Additionally, there are many instances of 'greenwashing' in the fashion industry. Greenwashing refers to deceptive use of green marketing and misleading the consumers in believing that company's products and policies are earth friendly. Greenwashing is perilous to the sustainability endeavor as it takes away consumers trust, which is very difficult to restore.
The fashion industry would advice people of what one should wear. However, it remains silent about sustainable fashion. People are aware that green clothing is better than traditional fabrics. Every time consumers spend money on fashionable clothes, indirectly people are telling the fashion industry about what they should be doing. Hence, the consumers should use this right wisely. There are many benefits of ethical and sustainable fashion.
Firstly, it is good for the planet. Fashion industry uses harmful pesticides for growing cotton and toxic chemicals to dye fabrics which in return have huge impact on the environment. Cotton alone requires a lot of chemicals to make one shirt. Opting for organic and sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, bamboo or hemp, one can reduce the amount of carbon and chemicals discarded in the environment which is certainly a good practice.
Secondly, it supports the workers. One should buy clothes labeled under the Fair Trade Act as it is sustainable on many grounds. One can be sure that the clothing purchased has been produced under proper working condition and the worker has earned fair wages. Moreover, it also benefits animals. By making sure that one's closet is not stocked with leather or fur products means stopping cruelty towards animals.
Buying organic and renewable fibers are the best way to support sustainability. In addition, buying durable green clothing that one can wear for many years would be another step to reduce waste coming from throwing away old unnecessary clothing. Invest in clothes that are classic, chic and can be used in future rather than buying a trendy item and discarding it, once the fashion is outdated.
For a consumer buying sustainable clothing is the first step towards sustainability. However, they can further contribute towards sustainability by taking care of small things like washing the clothes in cold water than using hot water and reduce energy consumption, using biodegradable detergent to prevent pollution on the environment, drying clothes in sunlight rather than using dryer which saves time, money and resources.
Sustainability will mean different to different companies in the fashion industry. Nevertheless, leading companies must practice and encourage others to follow sustainability and embed this concept into the main objectives of business. Big brands must be more responsible for sustainable fashion, as they have a global reach and the financial capability to research and develop greener alternatives. Ethical and sustainable fashion will eventually become a norm to be practiced by everyone in the fashion industry.