Thursday, May 7, 2009

Considerations When Shopping For Ethical Fashion

If you have made the decision to live a more sustainable lifestyle and to only buy products that are considered ethical then fashion is likely to be something that will have though about. There is plenty of evidence of practices in the fashion industry that are damaging to both the environment and people involved but what is ethical fashion and what do we need to consider when shopping for ethical fashion?

Ethical fashion is a term that can be used to describe any clothing that is produced and distributed in a way that is more ethical than conventional clothing. This can include any or all of the following:- organic or sustainable fabrics, made in an ethical factory, Fairtrade, a proportion of the companies profits donated to charity, made by co operatives, made from recycled materials. As the term ethical fashion encompasses so many different aspects, it can sometimes be difficult to work out exactly what is ethical.

1.Environmental Impact

If you want to minimise the impact that your clothing has on the environment, you can do so buy buying second hand or clothes made from organic or sustainable fibres. The cultivation of conventional cotton uses a large amount of pesticides which are both damaging to the environment and can contaminate water supplies. The growth of cotton using pesticides is also not sustainable and farmers become trapped in a cycle of using more and more pesticides to combat the resistance that the pests develop. Other environmental considerations when buying clothes are the carbon footprint or amount of CO2 emissions associated with their production and whether they are made from natural fibres and so biodegradable after their natural life. You could also look for ethical shoes as the process of tanning leather is also damaging to the environment.

2.A Fair Deal For Everyone

Buying ethical fashion is partly about ensuring that everyone in the supply chain gets fair remuneration. This is particularly important for the growers of cotton and the most well known and established scheme for ensuring this is Fairtrade. There are also a number of other schemes and co operatives that ensure that those involved in the manufacture of clothing get a fair deal.

Buying quality clothes to last is not only the most sustainable way to shop but also allows you to pay a reasonable price for a piece of clothing which can then be passed on to those in the supply chain.

3.Manufacture

The factories that clothing is manufactured in are often dirty, dangerous and uncomfortable for workers. Some employ child labour, some treat their staff very badly not allowing them basic human rights and some pay less than a living wage. In particular leather tanning uses some very toxic chemicals that can be damaging to the workers as can the glue used to make shoes. Often ethical shies are made using vegetable tanned leather or other natural materials. Some companies provide information on the standards in the factories where their clothes are produced so that you can be sure that staff are treated ethically.

Overall ethical policies of a company

Whilst some companies may sell clothing that is ethical in one way or another, for some people this is not enough. It is worth considering whether you want to buy ethical fashion from a company, which makes the majority of its money selling non ethical goods. Many companies will have strict ethical policies covering all areas of their business and may even include donating a proportion of their turnover to charity.

Watch out for green washing

Green washing is the term used to describe unsubstantiated claims about eco or ethical credentials of their products, by companies for the purpose of marketing. The only way to avoid green wash is to look for further information. Some time the labels or packaging on ethical shoes or clothing will give further information. If not the website is a good place to look. Look for standards and certifications which prove their claims and the companies overall ethical policy.

When shopping for ethical fashion, you need to decide what is important to you. The type of ethical shoes or clothing that you buy will very much depend on what you are looking to achieve. By buying Fairtrade, you can ensure that your purchase in benefiting people in another country, by buying clothes manufactured locally, you are helping the local economy and it is easier to check that staff in the factories are treated well. Which ever type of ethical clothing, you choose to buy; any small steps that you can take will have some benefit.

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