It might come as a surprise that as someone who runs a business promoting ethical fashion, I don’t always shop ethically.
There are a few reasons for this which I will delve into shortly but first, let’s unpack what ethical fashion means.
Unfortunately, ethical fashion that has no single standard definition.
It tends to be an umbrella term used to describe human, animal, and environmental standards and also used interchangeably with slow fashion, sustainable fashion and eco-fashion.
Cover Image via Peppermynta
I have my own personal definition:
Ethical fashion is concerned with human rights. It’s fashion that has been made by people working under conditions which are clean, safe, fair and free from exploitation.
But what about environmental and animal rights?
I refer to these as sustainable fashion or cruelty-free / vegan fashion respectively. I find using ethical fashion as an umbrella term can be confusing and further muddy the already murky waters of the fashion industry.
So for the sake of simplicity and the purpose of this article, when I say ethical fashion, refer to the above explanation.
As consumers and decent human beings, you would think buying ethical is a priority but the reality is, buying 100% ethically made fashion is not always an option, even for someone deep in the movement.
There are three main reasons it comes down to.
What I need vs what’s available
Let’s talk about another term, mindful consumption. For the most part, I plan my wardrobe each season and mostly invest in clothes I need to fill a gap or an occasion.
I try my utmost to buy only what I need but there has been the occasional impulse purchase, usually when there’s a print dress involved.
Sunglasses, shoes, coats, and handbags are some of the most challenging items to find ethically made. The scope is limited and if I’m really honest, far from stylish in many cases and my humble opinion.
Oftentimes, if I can find the aforementioned products ethically made, the price point is well above what I’m willing to pay or even save up for. That’s when I will buy from a brand who’s ethics are questionable.
Which brings me to my next point.
Ethical fashion is expensive.
I know I’ve just committed the ethical fashion bloggers faux pas by actually admitting ethical fashion is not all that affordable, but it needs to be said. Having spent time with many fashion designers I wholly understand the costs involved in making a piece of clothing and why they’re priced much higher than their unethically made, fast fashion counterparts.
Manufacturing clothing ethically does cost more. A responsible designer who manufactures in clean, safe factories will involve paying workers more, which results in a higher priced garment.
For small ethical fashion brands, often the profit margin is tiny.
When every person within a fashion supply chain is being paid fairly, the price of the end garment will be higher than a fast fashion piece.
Which means some ethically made fashion is sometimes unaffordable for the average consumer. Especially when we’ve been conditioned to think that clothing should be cheap.
Everyone has different budgets and priorities when it comes to buying clothes.
I live in one of the warmest parts of Australia so I’ll happily invest money in a summer style dress I’ll wear weekly. But spending the same on a winter coat I will only wear three times a year is not an option.
Fashion is supposed to make you feel good! Buying ethically made clothing shouldn’t be an exercise in stressing about how you can afford it or blowing your rent money so you can wear your values.
If you need something and cannot find it from an ethical fashion brand within your budget, buy what you can. Use tools such as the Good On You app to find the next best thing.
Quality and fit
When it comes to purchasing new fashion my mantra is to buy the best quality you can within your budget. This means investing in clothing that will last beyond 2-3 wash and wears.
Sustainability is something we should always consider when buying clothes. There is nothing sustainable about clothing that warps or fades after a few washes so buying well-made clothing is a priority for me.
There are many ethical fashion brands who tick the ethical and sustainable boxes but there are also many ethical fashion brands whose clothes are poorly made. Don’t assume that because a brand manufactures ethically, their clothing is well made.
If you don’t like the material, it fits poorly and you don’t feel good in it, you’re less likely to actually wear it. Buying for fit and longevity is important, and sometimes that means shopping with a brand who is not ethical.
So how do I counteract my unethical purchases?
I keep them to a minimum and only go down this road when I have exhausted all other options. This includes:
Checking to see that I don’t already have what I need in my wardrobe
Buying pre-loved from eBay, Gumtree or op-shops
Borrowing from friends or rental sites
Obviously buying ethically made first
For every ‘not so ethical’ purchase I make, I contact the brand via email or social media. I let them know (politely) that I love their brand but I want them to do better. If you’re not a wordsmith or not sure what to say, Fashion Revolution have an email template you can copy and reword to suit your own style.
You should feel good about the clothes you wear and that includes knowing the person who made them is being paid and treated fairly.
But we can only do our best with what we have available to us. And for the times you can’t vote with your wallet, use your voice instead.
Kira Simpson is an environmentalist and sustainability educator. She started The Green Hub in 2015 and has since grown to become one of Australia’s largest education platforms dedicated to helping people live a more sustainable life, talking about the big environmental issues like climate change, plastic pollution, and fast fashion – showing people how they can have an impact through their own small daily actions and how to be part of the bigger environmental movement.