What does ‘ethical fashion’ really mean? How do I know if a brand is really ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’? Why ‘slowclothes’ and what is Slow Fashion?
We are here to help you feel confident that the clothes you’re buying reflect your values, and do no harm (or as little as possible) to people or the planet. The brands we partner with address aspects of human rights and environmental sustainability in a range of interesting and innovative ways. We’ve done the research so you don’t have to!
If you’d like to learn a little more, there are some more details about our ethical and sustainable values, priorities and definitions below.
If you have any other questions please get in touch any time. We adore discussing and learning more about the issues, nuances and challenges in this industry.
As a general guideline, ‘ethical fashion’ refers to clothing created in ways that minimise or eliminate harm to the people involved at all stages of its production (from growing of crops, dying of fabrics, sewing, selling, etc). (The term is also often used as an umbrella term to cover aspects of environmental sustainability as well).
Therefore, while there is no fixed definition, at a very minimum ‘ethical’ businesses adhere to local labour laws (like paying a minimum wage, allowing workers breaks, paid overtime, etc). But often ethical brands go beyond minimum standards, and use their business as a force for good and positive change. Some pay ‘living wages’ (a wage sufficient to support a worker and their family to meet their basic needs with dignity), provide excellent working conditions and extra support for workers (such as with healthcare, childcare, paid study leave, etc), and some even create their entire business model around a social-justice platform, employing particularly disadvantaged groups or putting money back into the communities they work in. Ethical fashion brands may also support artisan communities and help keep textile traditions alive. Given more than three quarters of the (approx.) 40 million garment workers globally are women, these sorts of initiatives often have a gender-equality focus.
‘Sustainable fashion’ generally refers to clothing produced in ways that minimise harm to the environment (throughout the production and consumption of clothing) – from fabric choice and production methods, dying and sewing techniques and products to sales, care and disposal/re-use. This includes the use of more sustainably farmed crops (with lower water or chemical requirements) and organic fabrics, low-tox dyes, recycled or regenerated fibres or fabrics, closed-loop systems of creating or printing fabric (minimising water and chemical waste and run-off), reducing packaging, plastic and textile waste, using bio-degradable packaging, designing more versatile pieces that will be worn for longer, creative use of deadstock and offcuts, and more.
Isn’t it crazy, that ‘ethical fashion’ is the niche - which means unethical fashion is the norm?!. How did we get here?
Fashion accounts for 2% of the entire world’s GDP, and employs more than 300 million people! Which means, this is more than a frivolous outfit conversation (although we also love to discuss outfits too!). Anyone who wears clothes is a part of the global fashion system.
It was only around half a century ago that clothing production moved offshore, from locally produced (wherever you may live) to developing countries. Before this huge global shift, clothing was made locally - It was usually tailored, expensive, and as such cherished, repaired and lovingly cared for.
As production moved offshore and became cheaper and cheaper, we got used to being able to afford more and more items of clothing. In fact, clothing is now the cheapest it has ever been in history (as a % of our income). Big fashion retailers often force prices down. This means forcing production costs down (in many cases their profits are not down, which means their workers, the environment and quality are the trade-offs). More clothes, more waste, more consumption, more profits. New styles are released weekly or even daily, and we are encouraged to buy new clothes every time a ‘fashion’ changes. This is what we call ‘fast fashion’. It’s produced and consumed quickly and cheaply. Often, it is also thrown away quickly, contributing to the mounting issue of textile waste.
‘Slow Fashion’ has emerged as an antidote to this increasingly disconnected, opaque, unethical and unsustainable system of production and consumption. Heard of ‘slow food’? Same idea!
Again, while there is no fixed definition, we consider Slow Fashion to be clothes made with greater transparency, greater attention to detail, and in ways that honour and fairly compensate their makers for their skills and labour. Slow Fashion is often made in ways that consider and minimise (or eliminate, ideally) environmental harms (through fabric and printing choices and methods, for example), is marketed and consumed more consciously, is of high quality, and encompasses an aspect of timeless and versatile design, meaning it is less ‘trend-driven’. The term can also be used to refer to clothing that is locally made or even tailored/ made-to-order, or that involves traditional artisan techniques (such as handloom fabric), hand printing or sewing/embroidery techniques. Beautiful ha?!
In our minds it encompasses thought and effort put into all stages of design and construction, as well as into how the clothing is consumed, cared for and disposed of.
Did you know, a garment is worn on average JUST 4 TIMES?!
We believe clothes are valuable, and we have a deep respect for all of the resources – from the earth and from humanity– that go into the creation of each and every piece. We believe in quality and in loving, creatively styling and caring for our clothes. We believe in recycling, regenerating and reducing waste through technological and design innovation, and by consuming less and more consciously. We are here to help you on this journey too, while ensuring you don’t have to forego style!
And while consumption itself is not the antidote to over-consumption, choosing to support ethical and sustainable labels can and does lead to global shifts and positive change in the lives of people, and the health of ecosystems, around the world. The Fashion Revolution is here! Jump on board!
“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world” - the Sustainable Fashion Forum
The wonderful, mainly female-run independent labels we work with here at Slowclothes are all tackling aspects of both human ethics and sustainability in their supply chains. They work incredibly hard to create clothes in ways that are empowering and safe for all people working in their supply chains and for the environment. It is an expensive and slow process, and we admire every step they take towards promoting a better fashion industry.
You can find more information on the key ethical and sustainable achievements of our brands in the product descriptions throughout our store.