#buyethical, Change, consumerism, developing countries, eco fashion, ethical consumerism, ethical fashion, ethically-made, fair trade, social change, Social consumerism, social impact, sustainable fashion, sustainably-made
I hate to say it – but scandals like the one that happened in the UK earlier this month are a great way to attract attention to ethical fashion.
Haven’t heard about it yet? Two shoppers in the South Wales found a ‘cry for help’ stitched into £10 Primark outfits. Primark, similar to H&M and Zara, is a British-owned fast fashion retailer that is available across Europe (and soon in the United States). This recent incident adds to a list of tragedies forcing consumers to start thinking about the ethics behind fashion. Sadly, this is what it takes for the sustainable and ethical fashion to hit media headlines.
That being said, does attention like this really make a difference? It seems that the demand for cheap, disposable clothing is higher than ever, with shoppers still expecting durability, quality, and customer service as well. Fashion forecaster Mintel conducted a survey with over 2,000 shoppers aged 16 and above, 3 months after 1,129 people were killed in the Rana plaza building collapse, to assess their opinions on ethics in fashion. The results were dismal – only 44% of women and 38% of men considered the treatment of workers as top priority.
‘When asked what was important when making a purchase, the treatment of workers was valued as “low” and environmental friendliness was “ranked even lower as a concern for clothes shoppers.”’
It is not just up to one stakeholder to fix the problem. Mintel and other experts are suggesting that fashion retailers need to start bringing ethics into their core sales platforms. Some brands have already started down this road such as H&M and their Conscious collection, and Gap, who ended up on the UK’s Most Ethical Companies of 2014 list. Additionally, government’s need to take on some of the shared responsibility by encouraging more ethical business through regulation and funding. Lastly, ethical fashion advocates and experts will argue that consumers need to start focusing on quality over quantity and values over prices.
However, one common and pervasive argument is the price point issue – many consumers believe that they cannot afford to purchase more ethically made clothing. It seems that stories such as the Primark label scandal makes us feel ashamed of our fast fashion purchases but don’t make us open up our wallets.
I think the key here is to not demonize or scold those of us who opt for the cheaper brands, especially considering job uncertainty and the current cost of living, but to focus on making ethical fashion more affordable, ensuring that ethical fashion is more wearable for the average consumer and pressuring large brands to up their game when it comes to the treatment of workers and the environment. We need to consider what consumers want to purchase and how we can tailor ethically-made products to these needs, not the other way around.
Moreover, as we grow the movement we have to look at price points (finding ways to ensure ethical fashion falls in line with retail prices) and bringing grassroots brands to the mainstream.
It’s not the garment that makes the wearer, it’s the wearer that makes the garment – we need to keep this in mind as we ensure a future where workers do not need to make desperate cries for help in that cute outfit you picked out for Friday night.