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In October, fashion designer and ethical fashion champion, Vivienne Westwood, announced that clothes cost too little. In an attack against budget conscious clothing and food, Westwood said that “Clothes should cost more – they are so subsidised.”
In the aftermath of financial crisis (and current turmoil in many European countries), unemployment has led individuals to food banks and homelessness, these statements do not hold well. If ethical fashion means that clothes should cost more, caring might just cost way too much for the ordinary shopper.
Last year, Westwood made a similar statement, stating that poor people should buy fewer clothes, a fact that might make you scratch your head (people with no money tend to buy less). However, there was some truth to this statement. Ethical shopping requires focusing on quality as opposed to quantity. Instead of buying 5 necklaces, consider buying 1 statement piece. However, this statement ignores the fact that the onus isn’t just on the shopper, but is also on brands. We can’t just charge higher prices and expect shoppers to transform their values, instead we need to offer a value add and reason for a shopper to want to purchase those clothes. This could be quality, a story or a competitive price.
There is no clear solution on how to make this happen. Strategies brands are trying include cutting prices, keeping pieces unique and ensuring that the impact people are making is shown through the purchases they make. The point is, it’s easy for high-end designers to make grand statements about how clothes should cost more in order to be ethical, it’s a lot harder to implement these ideas in a world of food stamps, welfare and unemployment. The fashion industry needs to provide affordable ethical alternatives in order to survive and truly transform the way we consume. Caring should not have to be a luxury.
Living ethically doesn’t have to be expensive, living moderately doesn’t have to be cheap – it’s about businesses finding balance between profits and social good, and consumers finding balance between want and need. One cannot exist without the other.