One of my assignments at college was to write an essay on ethical fashion. A topic that quite honestly I hadn't taken much interest in. My research however became very interesting and I discovered things that were completely wrong and unexpected.
I was graded an A for this essay, I'm so proud and would like to share it with you all:
Copyright of Jessica Clarke
The purpose of this essay is to discuss and examine the issue of ethical fashion; what it is, how it is achieved, its positives, negatives and rarity. All of my information has been sourced reliably and can be backed up with evidence (see following figures). All opinions expressed are personal unless otherwise stated. I am aiming to show two sides to the argument regarding whether fair, ethical fashion is a household necessity or is a personal choice; especially with regards to the current economic climate.
Ethical fashion is defined as: An approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which is both socially and environmentally conscious. Sustainable fashion – using more environmentally-friendly materials and methods in clothing production – is part of this larger trend.
Ethics itself is defined as: moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity.
Ethical fashion is widely known as purchasing clothes that are guilt free. In order to have a clean conscience in the sense of fashion are your garments; sourced from fair, equal and safe production lines, made up from animal free and ecological friendly fabrics.
A massive talking point of ethical fashion at the moment is the fur trade. The fur trade is a worldwide industry that deals with the sourcing and sale of animal fur.
Today the importance of the fur trade has changed. Rather than needing fur for warmth to survive, nowadays fur is demanded to make a fashion statement and is commonly recognised as a couture material. The reality however is, fur is being produced cheaper than ever and is more than easy to get hold of; which in my opinion should lesser its value.
All animal right organisations oppose the fur trade- especially the way it is carried out to the current day. More than 50 million animals are violently killed for use in fashion every year; an unimaginable number that can only be achieved through quick thoughtless methods such as gassing, electrocution, and neck breaking. Many animals are still alive while they are skinned and break limbs trying to escape.
An example of a designer that is against the fur trade is Stella McCartney who was brought up as a vegetarian on an organic farm in the English countryside. However, the decision she made not to use leather or fur is not just because she doesn’t eat animals or that that millions of animals each year. It’s because she believes in the connection between fur and leather and the environment. Stella is very ethical in her production of garments and is often seen campaigning for change in the fashion industry.
Some people argue that using the fur of animals is economical but in fact the fur is not a by-product of the meat industry. Therefore the industry produces a lot of waste; corpses are left to rot which also makes the conditions for employees unbearable.
Alternatives to achieving the fur have been suggested. Such as stunning animals before skinning them, or injecting them so they feel less pain. But ultimately, this industry aims to produce quickly and cheaply as it takes more than one animal to make a garment.
Personally, I think that killing animals for fur is no different to killing them for meat. So I believe it would be hypocritical to say that the whole industry should be abolished. Instead, the animals should be treated with more respect; raised in better conditions and killed before being skinned so they feel no pain.
Also the parts of the animals not used should be given to the employees to take home for their own consumption, seeing as many of them live below the poverty line. This way the industry is far more ethical and I also think it would boost the worth of fur.
‘According to a study unveiled today, the global fur trade has now been valued at more than $40bn worldwide – roughly the same as the global Wi-Fi industry’ (britishfur.co.uk/images/uploads/news/Economist_Press_release.pdf)
Sweatshop: is a negatively connoted term for a workplace that has socially unacceptable working conditions. The work may be difficult, dangerous or be paid a wage that is not equal. Workers in 'sweatshops' may work long hours for low pay, regardless of laws mandating overtime pay or a minimum wage; child labour laws may also be violated.
Sweatshops are also sometimes associated in human trafficking when workers have been tricked into working without informed consent, or when workers are kept at work through physically jailing them in to the workplace. Chinese sweatshops are known to have many suicidal employees, so the workshops are covered in suicide nets to stop over-worked and stressed employees leaping to their deaths.
They have existed for most of time. Many workplaces through history have been crowded, dangerous, low-paying and without job security. It was a very normal concept of work until some of the earliest sweatshop critics were found in the 19th century calling for the original slavery laws set out between 1794 and 1865 to include other forms of harsh labour, including sweatshops. In the United Kingdom the first significant law to address sweatshops (the Factory Act of 1833) was passed at the same time that the slave trade (1807) and ownership of slaves (1833) were made illegal.
Sweatshops are a difficult issue to resolve because they are based in developing countries like India, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Honduras. These countries encourage the outsourcing of work from the developed western world to times bring some form of wealth to impoverished countries where people struggle to provide for their families. So regardless of labour concerns, low wages are preferred to none at all in these areas.
The main problems with sweatshops are:
· Lack of human rights: Long hours, malnourishment, stress, lack of breaks and a dangerous environment
· Under payment: Social critics complain that sweatshop workers often do not even earn enough money to buy the products that they make.
However sweatshops not only offer better jobs then what are available in the local communities but the wages that the workers receive lead to a better standard of living for the workers and their families.
Therefore the absence of the work opportunities provided by sweatshops can quickly lead to malnourishment or starvation.
Writer Johan Norberg, a proponent of market economics, points out an irony:
“Sweatshop critics say that we shouldn't buy from countries like Vietnam because of its labor standards; they've got it all wrong. They're saying: "Look, you are too poor to trade with us. And that means that we won't trade with you. We won't buy your goods until you're as rich as we are." That's totally backwards. These countries won't get rich without being able to export goods.”
An example of a brand that does not use sweat shops is American Apparel which makes its products threat-free and with fair-compensation. American Apparel claims its employees earn on double the federal minimum wage on average. They receive a number of employee benefits including health insurance, subsidized transport and meals, and have access to an onsite medical clinic. It has been heavily featured in the company's advertisements boosting their target audience.
In my opinion it’s very easy to completely disapprove of sweat shops; ultimately they are cruel and unfair. However, they are far more beneficial than no work at all. Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan are recent examples of countries that benefited from having sweatshops. For a country to develop it must be able to globally trade and work at its own faults. Furthermore, cheap labour highly benefits the western world, making it easier for companies to compete with each other healthily and for new companies to start up. Overall, conditions that employees work in do need to be improved with facilities to help them medically and enough food to sustain the hours they work, but it would be completely pointless to abolish all of the factories.
Zero-waste fashion refers to items of clothing that generate little or no textile waste in their production.
It can be divided into two general approaches:
Pre-consumer zero-waste fashion: eliminates waste during manufacture.
Post-consumer zero-waste fashion: generates clothing such as second-hand clothing, eliminating waste at what would normally be the end of the product use life of a garment.
In zero-waste fashion design, the designer creates a garment through the pattern cutting process, working exactly within the space of the fabric width. This reduces waste of a garment from the very beginning of the manufacture cycle. Whereas standard garment production generates an average of 15% textile waste caused by the stratification or hierarchy of the garment production process.
An example of a company that practices zero waste is Sans Soucie. They specialize in the transforming pre-consumer waste hosiery and cast-offs into new textiles for garments and other sculptural forms. All the dyes and textiles they use are low-impact and metal free. All the water they use in our dyeing process is used and reused, never dumping anything into the environment. Any excess textile inks that do not adhere to the cloth during their printing process accumulate upon the surface of our print table covers and are never discarded.
The surfaces of our print cloths captures the history of our production by producing inspiring patterns and imagery that serves to inspire and educate us on what it means to work from a zero waste design philosophy.
All their offcuts are kept from the cloth reconstruction and garment production process and are often transformed into other textile constructions, accessory lines and sculptural forms/installations.
I think it is very important to recycle your clothes after use, by sending them to charity shops, those less fortunate or to fabric specific landfills. It’s free and often easy to do, it’s a small gesture that anyone can do that makes a significant impact. However, I think the prices of the designer clothes made pre-consumer are very high for an average person to stretch to and may put customers off.
For some primary research I devised a short questionnaire to hand out to friends, colleagues and family. I found that most of them did not consider themselves to be ethically fashionable but did donate to charity shops and tried to avoid shopping from brands that are known for child labour. With regards to the fur trade many people thought that it should be banned completely. I did not get many mixed responses, most people wanted to be more ethically fashionable.
Step by step more and more companies are striving to be ethical. For the planet and for profits, people are becoming more conscious of the planets wellbeing and the equality among each other and the planets animals. Small things like recycling clothes through charity shops and using ecological washing powder contribute to ethical fashion. It’s becoming easier and more important in day to day life.
In conclusion, I think everyone should strive to be more ethical in their fashion choices. If you are financially stable enough to purchase fair trade or animal friendly clothing, as a good human being there should be no second questioning. However, I think it is deeply important to consider more than just the simple factors of ethical fashion. Many aspects are controversial and in the current economic climate are almost impossible for the average person to uphold.
“I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”