This article appears in May-June Family magazine.
“Ethical fashion” can mean many things, including clothes and accessories that are sustainably made by workers who earn a living wage, without excess pollution and with consideration for animal welfare and the environment.
The umbrella term covers a lot of territory, but at its heart it invites consumers to think about clothing more thoughtfully.
“It’s a really exciting time to care about ethical fashion right now. The topic has exploded in the public’s consciousness,” said Alden Wicker, freelance journalist and sustainable fashion expert who blogs at Ecocult.com
Google searches for “sustainable fashion brands” increased by 25 percent from 2017 to 2018, and by 61 percent since 2016, according to Rank and Style, which created an algorithm to find the best fashion and beauty products then cultivates daily “Top 10” lists.
Wicker said 2013 was a turning point for consumers and a wake-up call to the fashion industry. More than 1,134 garment workers died in an eight-story building collapse in Bangladesh. “People started asking why” and thinking about how their clothes were being made, Wicker said. Fashion companies large and small started re-evaluating how their garments were produced, and many new, more conscious brands emerged.
Having a sustainable wardrobe is achievable by following a few simple steps, Wicker said.
First, think about what you personally value. Some people are passionate about avoiding animal products; others value clothes made by an artisan who is paid a good wage and works in a safe environment. For example, Two Neighbors is a socially conscious fashion line that brings together Israeli and Palestinian women as designers, seamstresses and embroiderers, creating jobs and a pathway to collaboration.
Then, take a look at your closet. Get rid of, sell, donate — don’t just throw away — clothes that you’re not wearing.
Next, go on a “clothing fast,” Wicker said. Don’t buy any new clothes for a few months. During your fast, think about what kind of clothing makes you feel good, Wicker said. Make a collage or Pinterest board to help if needed.
The goal is to determine what your ideal wardrobe is. When you do go shopping again, “buy fewer items and really like them,” Wicker said.
Similar to binging on junk food, fashion purchases are often emotional, Wicker said. Buying something new can make a person feel better, but the solution to a problem is not buying new clothes.
Ethical fashion is often more expensive, Wicker said, especially if the person making a garment is earning a living wage. “Buy fewer things, wear them more and love them more,” Wicker said.
Shopping online, it’s easy to find ethical fashion choices, Wicker said. When shopping in store, do your research. Even jeans can be recycled at stores including Levi’s, Madewell and J. Crew.
H&M is a controversial player in fashion because it produces so much yet is one of the most sustainable brands in the business. Recycled and sustainably sourced materials accounted for 57 percent of the brand’s output in 2018, an increase of 35 percent in one year, according to the company. For cotton the number was 95 percent.
H&M’s Spring 2019 Conscious Collection includes surprising sustainable materials including citrus peel, pineapple leaves and algae biomass.