How can fashion be “ethical” and why should you care?
When I started my career in fashion, the concept of “ethical fashion” was peripheral. We didn’t talk about it and it wasn’t really a concern. According to Euromonitor and the World Bank, between 2000 and 2015, clothing sales have doubled and clothing usage (the number of times clothing is worn before it is discarded) has plummeted. Basically, humans have been producing 5% more clothing year over year since 2000 but have barely made any progress in decreasing the environmental impact. When we factor in population and consumption growth in developing economies, the environmental disaster we’re creating is within sight. Looking back at my career, I regret having contributed to the issue.
The concept of “ethical fashion” is finally gaining traction but I worry it’s not doing so fast enough. Here are some stats from an article published by the World Economic Forum:
- Over 97% of raw fashion input (think cotton, plastic) used every year is virgin (freshly made / not recycled),
- 53 million tons of fibers are used every year and that continues to increase
- 0.5 million tons leak into our water systems
- A whopping 73% (~38.7 million tons) are burnt or buried in landfills or incinerated
- Only 2% is recycled and mostly downcycled
Now, what does “ethical fashion” really mean and why is it important?
Ethical fashion is clothing generated using materials and methods with a drastically lower environmental and human impact compared to the status quo. These methods encompass the design, sourcing, manufacturing, and distribution of products as well as the fair compensation and safe working conditions of the workers involved along the value chain.
Ethical fashion is important because it decreases our environmental footprint and because it respects workers’ rights to safety and fair compensation. In the US we expect nothing less from our employers - we should then not expect that others suffer so we can have access to cheaply made fast fashion.
How is our clothing ethical at Santicler?
We use sustainably sourced materials
All our materials are from renewable sources (think wool, cotton, viscose) or recycled (think elastane) and produced in mills that run on renewable energy, recycle water, observe strict anti-dumping policies, and use dyes free of heavy chemicals. This is important because 20% of industrial water pollution is attributable to the dyeing and treatment of textiles.
We employ a lower emissions distribution model
All our clothing is made to order. This is more expensive but it means we will never have unsold inventory. Furthermore, we use only biodegradable or recycled materials in our shipping supplies and ship via DHL Green, which means our carbon footprint is offset through carbon credits and green initiatives.
We fairly compensate our workers
Our factories are in Romania, a member of the European Community. Our manufacturers are regularly monitored for compliance, pay fair wages and provide
medical and retirement benefits to all their workers.
The days when you had to struggle to find ethically manufactured clothing are long gone. While there is no such thing as the perfectly sustainable fashion brand, strides are being made by small start-ups (such as Santicler) and large brands to address the wastefulness and negative environmental impact in the industry. Keep in mind though that any business has to be profitable. For ethical fashion to catch on and sustainable practices to become widespread, you as consumers must “vote” with your dollars. I urge you to invest in quality, ethical clothing at the expense of fast fashion.