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A few days ago we stumbled upon a paper (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2103599) about Ethicus, an ethical fashion brand that the paper’s author claims nurtured the “emergence of ethical consumerism in India”. While, the work of Ethicus and Appachi Cotton (a for-profit enterprise located inPollachi, India and the founder of Ethicus), are great case examples of brands making a positive impact in a rapid amount of time. It also claims that Ethicus was the first of its kind to take a “significant business risk to travel the uncharted path.”

Simply put, we disagree.

There are numerous examples of ethical fashion brands that have chosen to “to strive for the highest common good of all” and focus on “environmental and social sustainability” well before Ethicus (which had its launch in September 2009). So it seems a little absurd for the author to infer that this brand was the first of its kind to take a leadership role in this field. Need examples? Here are a few:

  • Beulah (Launched in 2009): An ethical fashion label focused on providing high-end clothing to help women affected by abuse in India
  • Mother Earth (Launched in May 2009): Labelled as “India’s First Green Store”, this label encompasses a variety of fashion and lifestyle products that are healthy and affordable
  • Tara Projects (Launched in 1973):  A fair trade program that enables hundreds of artisans, who create major handicraft lines in Northern India, to sell their products internationally (selling everything from jewellery to lifestyle products)
  • Indigreen (Launched in early 2009): A limited edition collection of organic cotton products inspired by iconic Bollywood figures

These are just a couple examples of the plethora of green and/or fair-trade lifestyle/fashion labels and organizations that launched around the same time or well before the example presented in the paper. Ethical fashion, particularly in India, is a slow but nevertheless a very prevalent movement that has existed for some time now.

Technically speaking, the buylocal movement has existed since the days of Gandhi, who allegedly started the Khadi (a course hand-spun cotton, wool, or silk) movement to boycott foreign goods. An interesting history lesson here: http://www.ecouterre.com/khadi-a-handspun-cloth-from-india-that-galvanized-a-movement/.

Can we still argue that Ethicus has nurtured the “emergence of ethical consumerism in India”? Just like the vast diversity of styles, genres and labels in the mainstream market. We must recognize, acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of ethical fashion labels in order to create the consumer-following that is needed to continue this momentum.

On the other hand, we can agree with the author on one point – many of these brands are in a state of incubation, which braces us with the question: can such brands be financially sustainable. Perhaps it is with this purpose that we can look at brands that are currently in the limelight to compare best practice methods for this growing industry. Thoughts?