What is ethical fashion?

Since the release of the True Cost, ethical fashion has become a bit of a buzz word with thousands of people joining in with Fashion Revolution last year.  This year, again, Fashion Revolution is on the 23rd to the 29th of April and is championing a more ethical and transparent future for the fashion industry.

But what is all this fuss about? What is ethical fashion? Why should anyone care who made their clothes? The answer lies in the evolution of the fashion industry over the past 10-20 years and the shift in how much we value clothes. Clothes used to be more expensive and a new dress was something that was purchased once a year or for a special occasion. The rise of fast fashion is the development of cheap disposable clothing, which remains in style for a short period of time. After this, we clear out our wardrobes of the thin low-quality items and buy more.

This method of constant production requires a huge amount of resources to perpetuate a system of constant supply and demand. To be able to reach such high levels of production at such low costs it's essential to have access to the cheapest labour costs possible and unlimited use of finite resources such as soil and fresh water.

This leads to unimaginable levels of exploitation not only for the people who make these clothes but also the farmers who grow the fabric and the worlds limited soil air and water. The fast fashion system has led to multiple ecological and humanitarian problems; many people, when thinking of the humanitarian issues surrounding the garment industry, think of the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. However, the crisis goes beyond the people who make the clothes in the factories. In the Punjab region of India, between 1,500 and 2000 farmers committed suicide between 2010 and 2013 with the cases steadily on the rise. The main reason for this is extortionate levels of debt, with 88% of small farmers now in 'serious' debt. Farmers go into debt buying expensive genetically modified seeds, high-cost chemicals and fertilizers and food for them and their animals. 
What does this have to do with fast fashion? Well, Punjab is one of the largest cotton producing areas of the world; high demand for cheap cotton drives farmers to go into debt buying GMO cotton seeds that are Roundup-ready to ensure they have a better harvest and can earn enough money to feed their families. This pushes them away from organic farming, to use methods that rape the land causing ecological disasters and disease. Luckily, when their children get sick from exposure to agricultural chemicals, the same companies that make the chemicals also make medicine! How fortunate, now they can borrow more money from these companies and get into more debt.

We also don't think of the environmental cost of fast fashion, the East River in Xintang, China has turned blue with the pollution runoff from the denim factories in the region, that just dump their dyes and bleaches into the river. There is known to be huge amounts of lead copper and cadmium in the river with levels 128x over what they should be. The pH of the water has also been recorded at 11.95, meaning no aquatic life can live there.One in three pairs of jeans in the world is made in this area and in 2008 produced 260 million pairs of jeans. The rivers were once lifelines in the towns where people washed, fished and swam but now they are untouchable and highly toxic.

Gurou North of Xintang produces 200 million bras a year and in 17 out of the 21 samples surrounding the town large amounts of heavy metals were found. These tests were carried out by Greenpeace and are far from exceptional cases.

In south-west China, many poor people are paying the price for the money made from selling textiles to the USA and UK. Large amounts of waste are often dumped in remote areas spreading pollution by leaching into soil and water sources. Chemicals like Chromium which are used for tanning leather are often dumped in poverty-stricken areas resulting in many villages surrounding these areas getting cancer.
This is where ethical fashion comes in; ethical fashion demands a fair price and a transparent supply chain; ethical fashion demands that we use organic and more sustainable fabrics; ethical fashion demands that we care for our water soil and air; ethical fashion says don't buy these clothes they won't make you happy.

Ethical fashion is a means by which we can use ethical consumerism and divestment to change the social, political and economic structure of the world. It is the tool we can use to help stop pollution, loss of biodiversity and the exploitation of poor subsistence farmers chemical organisations. This is why it's important when you go shopping your not just shopping for a new outfit or cute pair of shoes you can be shopping for a better world.


  1. I love this article, good research!!
    Many people myself included don't realise how much clean water is wasted to prepare many textiles, including so called sustainable bamboo.

    1. Thank you, I decided to write this after I found it hard to find information on what these fabrics really were... :)


  2. I high appreciate this post. It’s hard to find the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it! would you mind updating your blog with more information?
    ethical fashion

    1. Hello, thank you for the comment! Yes it is really hard to draw the line sometime or know where it is :) What information would you like? I have some more posts to come this year on fast fashion and some of the best places to buy ethical pieces so stay tuned :) xx