Ethical Fashion: Sustainable Approach for the Clothing Sector
Dept. of Textile Engineering
Daffodil International University, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Today is the age of fashion. We people consume large quantity of cloths per year. We love fashion as much as the next person: fun outfits, glamorous accessories, individuality… what’s not to love?! Today’s fashion industry is worth £1.34 trillion in annual global retail sales. By 2021, this is predicted to reach $1.4 trillion, an increase of around $106 billion or 8.1% since 2016. American people’s expense for clothing more than our income for a year. Due to increasing demand and to the higher profit resulting from the sale of products with environmental benefit, a new trend is gaining ground, green marketing. In this article, I would like to express that apparel is for life but life is not for apparel.
What is ethical fashion?
When people hear the term “ethical fashion”, they are not really sure what it means. And really, there isn’t a tried-and-true definition of what ethical fashion is. My take on ethical fashion is that it means a lot of things, and it’s a concept I wanted to explore a bit today.
Ethical fashion represents an approach to the garment design, sourcing and manufacturing of clothing which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing harm the people and impact on the environment. Ethical fashion is not just concerned about who fashion could potentially harm, but who it benefits, as well.
According to Collins English Dictionary “If you describe something as ethical, you mean that it is morally right or morally acceptable.”
Again the meaning of ethical goes beyond doing no harm, representing an approach which strives to take an active role in poverty reduction, sustainable livelihood creation, minimizing and counteracting environmental concerns.
We are one of the large manufacturer of apparel in the world. But the present scenario of this is very miserable. We saw that many workers died in garments industry for violating compliance. We also pollute our environment without any thinking. So, our produced apparel isn’t ethically produced.
Few days ago, we observed an unforgettable tragedy. i.e., Rana plaza collapse.
On 24 April 2013, an eight-storied commercial building, Rana Plaza, collapsed in Savar, a sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area, the capital of Bangladesh. The search for the dead ended on 13 May with the death total of 1,129. Approximately 2,500 injured people were rescued from the building alive.
It is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history.
Alongside we observed Tajrin tragedy in 2012. It crosses the limits of humanity.
In this accident at least 120 workers have been died. In 2016, fire in garment factory at Tongi where at least 23 garment workers killed.
So, from above discussion we may realize our position in apparel production. If we want to sustain in this production section we need to improve.
We should follow the path of ethical apparel production.
It can be very powerful marketing strategy though when it’s done properly. The trend results in the change of consumer behavior and the traditional production processes. The strengthening of consumer awareness supports the protection of the environment buying more green products. But sustainability more than using environmentally friendly materials. It is a strategy to save the environment, to reduce material and energy consumption, to be cost- effective in the production process and during usage, equally considering environmental social and economic aspects. It needs a holistic approach, in which environmental, economic and social aspects are equal.
To follow this path, we should have knowledge about ethical clothing production.
Now I would like to discuss about the ethical apparel production.
There are three ways of managing the sustainable approach in the ethical production sector.
- Production design and fabric or raw material selection (choosing more eco-friendly products and process, re design, reexamining markets, re using waste and making well- designed and efficiently manufactured products)
- Selecting retailers (Choosing suppliers with a credible certificate, environmental policy)
- Informing the consumers (Seminars consumer organizations)
There is a need for opening a dialogue between the brand and retailers and their supply chain to broaden integration of sustainability as a business strategy. The demand to know more about textile ecology is increasing, more and more events and organizations offer information on topics like green textiles, sustainable textile processing, Eco-indexing, Traceability and transparency, organic fiber production, and environmental foot print are discussed worldwide at many forums and conferences. A number of seminars are offered to provide and open and neutral ground to discuss most burning environmental issues, latest innovations, challenges and the best practices on developing sustainable fashion production.
We believe that a business or initiative is not sustainable unless the triple bottom line is integrated at the core of business practices and policy, from board level to studio, shop, or factory floor.
We should also focus on following aspects:
Increasing the capacity and well being of the people and communities behind fashion. Any fashion business depends on the people behind it. In a broader context, poverty and exploitation of the human workforce behind fashion affects the stability of the industry itself.
Minimizing the environmental impact of all business operations, throughout the supply chain. Creating and acting upon opportunities to reduce environmental issues beyond the immediate operations- such as awareness raising, investment in and support of environmental initiatives.
Without a robust financial business model, none of the above can be achieved. Good intentions without an effective business structure can backfire. A sustainable approach includes quality products or services that meet market needs and demands and are fairly marketed.
The work of the Ethical Fashion Forum with businesses is built on these three pillars, and especially with smaller businesses includes elements of commercial and financial business support, in collaboration with partner organizations.
Criteria for ethical fashion:
The Ethical Fashion Forum has drawn up a set of 10 criteria for ethical fashion, to inform the fashion industry’s official ethical fashion awards, the Re-fashion awards:
- Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption
- Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
- Supporting sustainable livelihoods
- Addressing toxic pesticide and chemical use
- Using and / or developing eco- friendly fabrics and components
- Minimizing water use
- Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste
- Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion
- Resources, training and/ or awareness raising initiatives
- Animal rights.
For production of ethical apparel, we should also focus on raw material production and sourcing.
For instance, take a seemingly benign plant like cotton. Pretty harmless right? Well, cotton farming puts billions of dollars’ worth of pesticides into the air and groundwater each and every year. These chemicals have been proven to sicken and even kill farmers, especially in less-developed countries.
What about wool? Up until I became a vegetarian, I thought wool was completely fine. After all, the sheep are sheared and the hair grows back.
Well, what we don’t hear about is that most of the sheep are sheared multiple times per year (so the factory farms get more wool). The wool is the sheep’s coat. In colder regions many, many sheep die of exposure because they’re left without a coat to fend off the cold.
Using recycled wool and cotton, like we do in many of our bags, is another step. Making bags and clothing out of bamboo and hemp is yet another.
All of these tiny steps take us in the right direction towards a more ethical, sustainable future.
Here are some other ideas:
- Avoid plastics whenever you can.
- Buy organic whenever possible.
- Recycled or “up cycled” materials lesson the impact.
- Look for fair trade clothing and accessories.
- Go with sustainable fabrics like bamboo and hemp.
Again, working conditions in the garment production industry are often unpleasant. Workers are forced to spend long hours in factories, without any health and safety protection and are paid less than minimum wages for their hard efforts. Working closely with clothing companies and other sewn products, the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) strives to ensure that the entire supply chain of our clothes is produced without violating any human rights.
So, we should have thinking about all over process, if we violate any single thing of this entire process, our products won’t be ethically produced.
So, this is the best time to be compliant and try to produce ethical apparel.
From the above discussion we may finalized here that, it’s near impossible to wear 100% ethical clothing and accessories all the time.
Finally, I realized that we can only do the best, what we can.
So, that’s what we do here. We use sustainable fabrics like hemp. We use up cycled fabrics like cotton and silk. We provide our artisans with fair trade; livable wages and we plan to do more in the future.
It’s all about doing the best we can!
You may also like:
- Sustainable Fashion: Is It Really Sustaining
- Fast Fashion vs Sustainable Fashion: A Stitch in Time
- Environmental Impacts of Textile and Fashion Industry
- How Fashion Trends Affect the Environment
Founder & Editor of Textile Learner. He is a Textile Consultant, Blogger & Entrepreneur. He is working as a textile consultant in several local and international companies. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.