Ethical Fashion is a poster-child for the idea that buying things can solve social injustices. Buying more ethically sourced products is a noble cause, but it is not always Sustainable. Here are 5 reasons why ethical fashion is not always sustainable.
1. Ethical Fashion is a subcategory of Sustainability
Every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square. The same logic applies to Ethical Fashion and sustainability. Ethical fashion is a subgroup of sustainability that focuses heavily on social justice, workers rights, and combatting exploitation. These important issues need to be fixed, but using the word ethical in place of sustainable is simply not true.
2. The Triple Bottom Line
If a product is truly sustainable, it would have to balance three different factors: Ethics, The Environment, and the Economy. This is called the Triple Bottom Line. Ethical Fashion is definitely a step up from conventional fast fashion. By default, however, it is not automatically sustainable.
If the fashion is Ethically sourced, but pollutes at 3X the rate of current fast fashion, whether, through imports, sourcing, transportation, or disposal, it is not environmentally friendly. Therefore, it is not sustainable.
3. Ethical Fashion is not Always Affordable
If the fashion is both Ethically sourced AND Environmentally Friendly, but not affordable, it is not sustainable. Sustainable materials and supply chains are simply not always there, thus driving up costs.
We sometimes confuse affordability with extravagance when it comes to fashion because of the fast fashion culture. Comparable to modern day times, a woman in 1900 owned about thirty garments total, compared to the (generous) average of over 108 per woman today. Dresses in 1900 cost at least $300 when adjusted for inflation. Today, you can get a dress at forever 21 or H&M for less than $5.
4. We don’t Understand True Cost vs Perceived Cost in Ethical Fashion
It is very difficult to factor in the true cost of production for a product when a perceived cost is advertised. If you are told that a dress is $15, you just think that it is worth $15. That’s a bargain. You don’t see the $100’s spent on welfare for the below-living wage workers. You don’t see the child slaves making pennies per dress. We just see $15, and it’s very difficult to shell out more than that when we simply cannot calculate the damage.
Some ethical fashion may be able to take advantage of this confusion by charging the price of the true cost of the garment that is actually cutting corners. Because we don’t have a fair or easy way to quantify environmental damage, along with the lack of education or regulation on what “ethical fashion” even means, there is a distrust in the fashion community.
5. Sustainable Fashion Cannot Be Sustainable Until it is Mainstream
The idea goes back to environmental and ethical products that aren’t yet affordable, and therefore unsustainable. The sustainable fashion movement is gradually moving towards ethical-economical-environmental fashion instead of fast fashion.
Affordable products are linked to scalability. Like any business or idea, if you cannot scale the production to meet the needs of demand, company, or idea will flounder or stagnate. Sustainable fashion will not be sustainable until it is affordable. It cannot be affordable until we have enough companies sizing up profitable production of ethical-environmental products for a low cost. Companies cannot size up production until the public shows an interest in sustainable fashion, and they cannot do that until sustainable fashion is not more affordable. You see the catch 22?
Sustainable Fashion Means More Mindful Systems
So, to fix this, we need to embrace true cost production instead of perceived cost production. We need to raise awareness on the importance and inevitability of sustainable fashion. Mainstream companies need to see that charging more for sustainable products will be profitable over time than the current fast-fashion trend. We need to embrace minimalist fashion and slower style in order to stop buying so much and focus on the things that matter.
It all seems like a tall order. Though, I see a lot of potential in the industry over the next 5-30 years. Anyone who is starting a fashion company has a lot to gain in the wake of sustainable fashion. Which is why I’m putting together this e-learning course on how to start a sustainable fashion company. I can’t fix the industry alone. We can change this together.