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What is ethical fashion and why should you care?

The world of fashion was shaken and changed forever when in 2013 the biggest garment industry catastrophe took place in Bangladesh killing over 1,000 workers..

Sadly, for a lot of people -like myself- it took a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude to realize what was really going on behind the apparently harmless world of cheap fashion.

After that, more of us started thinking about our buying decisions more thoroughly and really  questioning if we really needed all those clothes. I realized I didn’t, and changed my buying habits forever banning myself from Forever21 and anything that seems too cheap to be true. Now I make phone calls and ask about the origin of the clothes and try to get a feel for each brand’s business model before I even consider putting them on my white list. Yes, I have a list.

Caring about ethical fashion is at the core of understanding our power as consumers. The consumer is the king of the world: our current society has been built around consumers; governments, corporations, small businesses, NGO’s and many other pillars of the modern world have evolved in accordance to the consumer as their main driving force.

In a democracy, there is not a single element as powerful as our capacity to pay. Never before have consumers controlled so much about the present and future of our planet. Yes, our decisions as consumers can change the world, a conscientious credit card swipe speaks louder than a thousand blog posts. And this power is the best tool we have to keep unethical practices from costing human lives.

So, what can we do as consumers to be more ethical with our fashion purchases:

  1. Be suspicious. If it’s too cheap, it’s probably bad, made in China or Bangladesh under unknown labor policies.
  2. Research. A simple Google search about a certain brand or website would give you some information about where they are located and what are their stands on sustainability. The good old phone call is a good idea too (If you want me to do this research for you, please contact me through comments and I will do my best to give you the right answers).
  3. Make smart decisions. Do you really need that black dress to add to your 20+ collection? How is that cartoon themed clutch going to look like a year from now when the trend is over? Does this  really fit me? How long is this item going to last? Can I buy it ethically for a reasonable price? Is magenta really a flattering color for me? All these questions will help you make a better decision and improve the quality of your wardrobe while contributing to a more sustainable consumer culture.

Update: 12/07/2014. The question of what’s ethical and what’s not is a difficult one and depends  mainly on your values. I am constantly updating my definition and expanding it.  Find a more elaborate commentary on what is ethical fashion on my About page.

  • There are a ton of resources that you have to visit to get the full picture. I started putting together a list of trusted information: http://fashionhedge.com/ethical-fashion-resources/ but I need to add a lot more to it. Ethical Fashion Forum is a great place to start and there are a couple books out there that I would recommend: Overdressed, by Elizabeth Kline and
    Wear no evil, by Greta Eagan.
    I also have a personal collection of links and pdfs that could be helpful, just let me know the topic and I can direct you to the sources.

  • What do you usually read to inform yourself about ethical fashion? I would like to learn more about it!