Ethical is the New Black

Consumers in growing numbers are demanding that the clothes they wear are ethically-sourced. Kate Wakerley reports on the big waves of change rippling through the fashion industry.

There is a revolution starting in the fashion industry. A recent trend is changing the way we see and buy our clothes. But this time it’s not the leading brands and high-profile designers that are paving the way. Instead, it is a collection of fashion start-ups and independent clothing designers with ideals of providing quality clothes through sustainable and ethical manufacturing.

Fashion Revolution Day, which started last year, is part of a movement that calls for education and reform on the manufacturing conditions involved in the fashion supply chain.

Last year, fashion designers Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro started the movement by encouraging their eco-conscious followers on social media to post a photo of themselves wearing their clothes inside out and ask the simple question: Who made my clothes?

 Since then, the #FashRev campaign has spread to over 60 countries, with tens of thousands of conscious consumers participating in the first Fashion Revolution Day. Many designers, writers, business leaders, and politicians are now involved in the global conversation.

But the Fashion Revolution is much more than just a catchy hashtag. The movement was started to honour the one-year anniversary of Rana Factory collapse in Bangladesh. The April 2013 collapse killed 1,133 people and left more than 2,500 people injured. It has since been recorded as one of the worst manufacturing incidents in history.

Big brands were also impacted by the catastrophe, as the Rana Plaza workers were responsible for the production of clothing brands such as Zara, JC Penney, and Mango.

However, because so many of those big brands use a wide range of supply chains to source their materials, they are not always aware of where those materials come from. The Fashion Revolution hopes to change that and create a fashion industry that is more transparent.

This conversation is particularly important as Australian consumers have embraced the introduction of international fast fashion chains such as H&M, Zara, and Forever 21. The opening of Swedish retail giant H&M in Melbourne last year saw thousands of people lining up to enter the first Australian store.

While we love the experience of buying stylish clothing at affordable prices, we need to understand that there is much more behind a $4 t-shirt. The piece of clothing is produced by numerous workers who produce the raw materials and then to cut and sew the garment in factories. It’s not always safe, and it’s not always ethical. The current fast fashion market is designed to make us think about the price tag and ignore the production process.

Events such as Fashion Revolution Day help consumers all over the world understand what is involved with the production of their clothes and let them know what they can do to make a real difference.

Sadly, ‘fast fashion’ brands like H&M and Zara remain widely successful despite the attention to their questionable supply chains through social campaigns. On the other hand, there are a growing number of ethically conscious fashion consumers who are starting to look elsewhere. They shop exclusively from designers or brands that are committed to providing ethically produced clothing and giving back to the community.

In the last few years we have seen a growing number of fashion social enterprises become popular. These brands market themselves as an ethical alternative to mass-produced fashion big brands. They seem to be driven by the widespread public outrage of at brands that produce clothing in exploitative and unethical conditions.

TOMS sell their shoes by marketing themselves as a social enterprise. They have created the buy-one-give one concept, where for every pair of TOMS shoes you purchase, one will be donated to someone in need. This approach has been very successful for the brand – TOMS shoes are now stocked in major stores worldwide.

At the end of the day it is the retailers that make the ultimate decision – they decide whether or not to commit to ethical fashion. As consumers we have a responsibility as well. We have the freedom to decide which clothes we wear and where we shop. By choosing to shop with a conscious we can show retailers that we care about how our clothes are being made and the conditions they are made in.

The number of people around the world who have committed to the Fashion Revolution is encouraging. You can make a difference by joining the conversation online, supporting ethical brands, and asking, “Who made my clothes?”

Words by Kate Wakerley

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