How to Embrace Ethical Fashion in Your Wardrobe
When I started Encircled, I knew very little about the fashion industry. Even though I spent 5 years consulting for retail brands, the 'behind the scenes' practices were out of view.
First things first, you should know that I am a recovered shopaholic.
So, you can breathe a sigh of relief that I'm writing this blog post without judgement.
In high school/university, shopping was a sport for me. I remember reading the 'Shopaholic' books and feeling like she was writing about my life.
I didn't care about the clothing - who made it, where it came from, nor why it was so cheap (or sometimes expensive, and on sale). I just wanted the latest and greatest. I wanted to be seen as a trendsetter. I used shopping also as a way to kill time, and numb emotions.
What ended up happening was I accumulated too much stuff. Closets full of stuff I rarely wore, stuff that lasted a few washes then ended up falling apart, or with tags on years after purchase and ultimately at Goodwill.
Somewhere in the past 5 years, things shifted greatly for me.
I started flying weekly for work as a management consultant and hated checking bags (not to mention my colleagues would make fun of me if I did!). So, I started traveling light.
I realized through this process that I didn't need lots of clothing. I just needed better made items that worked a variety of ways - easy to dress up, dress down and could last seasons upon seasons. Inadvertently, I'd joined a new trend, capsule wardrobes.
I also through my travels around the world started seeing first hand the environmental destruction of our planet. It was impossible for me to ignore. The more educated I became through growing Encircled on fabrics, and production, the less interested in traditional fashion I became.
For the most part, we wear 20% of our wardrobes, 80% of the time.
What I now realize as a consumer is that it's the fashion industry that's trained consumers to shop often.
Every season, fashion weeks across the world in Toronto, Paris and New York, sneak a peak of the trends for coming seasons. However, what most consumers don't know is that designers know these trends 2 years in advance. There are trend forecasting services like Promostyl that provide 'inspiration' for seasonal colours, styles and patterns.
It's no coincidence that every designer makes a plaid shirt one season. It's been in the works for years.
The industry wants us to buy more. Buy the latest trends, or else, you may be (gasp) out of style.
Largely, this translates into buying cheaper fashions as people don't love investing in trendy items. Items that will probably fall apart, or fall out of style in a few seasons.
The Secret of the $8 T-Shirt
The Fashion industry also wants you to shop cheap.
Decades ago, an $8 t-shirt would be unheard of. Think about that. In the 1970s, $8 for a t-shirt was crazy. Now, add inflation. Yep. We're going backwards.
What's allowed brands to make $8 T-Shirts is the commoditization of human beings who sew our clothing. In developing countries, where human rights are not regulated, the apparel production industry is booming. On average, the hourly wage in Bangladesh for a sewing machine operator is $0.45/hour. In the United States, it's closer to $18/hour.
Our environment too is suffering. An $8 T-shirt which is 100% cotton is rife with pesticides. Chemicals that have been proven to cause cancer in humans, and animals. Chemicals that enter the water system in the country the t-shirt is produced, and re-enter it EVERY time you wash that t-shirt.
How to Start to Shop Better and More Ethically
I now realize that as a consumer it's REALLY difficult to make better choices in fashion.
Because largely, the information we want, and should know is not available to us. Companies hide it, and as you can see from the above information - for good reason.
Smaller brands that are doing better, and embracing the principals of ethical fashion are difficult to find, though getting easier through platforms like google, Etsy, and social media.
What I believe is important when it comes to shopping better (for anything be it meat, vegetables, clothing, beauty products) is to embrace a mindset of progress over perfection.
There is NO guilt allowed in ethical shopping.
By making the choice to shop better, you are allowed to buy better things, to talk about the benefits of them, yes EVEN IF you still use Tide ColdWater detergent, drink non-organic sugar-infused Orange Juice and drive a GMC Yukon SUV.
The problem with environmentalism and human rights is that they preach that you cannot be human, you must be perfect.
There are those people who strive to be zero-waste (and I admire that) but it's not realistic for most.
The idea that you have to be ALL ETHICAL inhibits others from making incremental changes for fear of being seen as hypocritical.
So, let that stuff go.
Making the choice to switch out even one element of your wardrobe with a ethically item is HUGE. Do it. And do it without fear or judgement of yourself or others.
Firstly, What is Ethical Fashion?
As a shopper, the term 'ethical fashion' may be familiar, however it's rarely defined (and quite frankly often misused) by brands.
The Ethical Fashion Forum defines 'ethical fashion' as "represents an approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing impact on the environment."
Second, What makes a fashion brand ethical?
Ethical Fashion Forum created 10 criteria for a company to be defined as 'ethical'. Ethical fashion isn't just using fairly paid labour. It's a holistic approach to choosing better materials, training, education and awareness.
Take a minute, how do your favourite brands stack up?
- Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption
- Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
- Supporting sustainable livelihoods
- Addressing toxic pesticide and chemical use
- Using and / or developing eco- friendly fabrics and components
- Minimizing water use
- Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste
- Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion
- Resources, training and/ or awareness raising initiatives
- Animal rights
Thirdly, How do I find ethical fashion brands?
As I mentioned, the internet has made ethical fashion bigger as it's enabled smaller brands who are doing good to connect directly with customers, and share their story.
When searching on google, I recommend inputting directly into the search bar terms like 'Ethical Fashion', 'Ethically-made Fashion', 'Eco-fashion', 'Made in America Clothing', 'Made in Canada Clothing', 'Fair Trade Clothing'. As an alternative, you can search by materials that are eco-friendly/ethical such as Hemp, Tencel, Modal, and Peace Silk, Bamboo.
There are a few directories you can check out (but keep in mind some of these are paid, so unless a brand pays, they aren't in them!).
- Ethical Fashion Forum *Paid membership
- Eco Fashion World *Paid
- Style with Heart
- Fashion Takes Action *Membership
Fourth, How do I learn to build a 'better' wardrobe?
There's a 'trend' right now in the clothing industry that I absolutely LOVE. It's called Capsule Wardrobes.
A capsule wardrobe is a micro-sized wardrobe based on essentials, mix and match colours and a neutral easy to dress up/dress down silhouettes and styles. It's the culmination of doing more with less, and buying better - all in one.
Resources for Building A Capsule Wardrobe:
Embracing ethical fashion is a journey, not a goal. It's an ongoing process for myself, just as much as it is for you.
I'm proud that Encircled embraces all of the 10 principals of ethical fashion. We are making progress as shown by our growth. People WANT to buy better.
But more people need to do this.
As a consumer, we must continue to encourage each other to do better incrementally.
Keep making those small repetitive changes in buying clothing that will make the world a better place -- every day -- not just during Fashion Revolution Week or Earth Day.
Chief Fashionpreneur, encircled
Photos 1, 5 and 7 are copyright Encircled. You may use them provided you add a hyperlink back to this blog post, and do not alter the images in any way. Other photos are used copyright free from Unsplash.com