12/06/18 Why We Use Words Like “Sustainable” & “Ethical”

Someone recently asked us whether it was really necessary to shout about our offering by using terms like “sustainable fashion” or “ethical fashion” and does it jeopardise excluding those that would like the pieces on offer but might be put off by the labelling?

Here’s the thing though. There’s no denying that phrases like “sustainable fashion” or “ethical Fashion” are wide umbrella terms that cover a breadth of meanings but ultimately, how the user/consumer interprets these terms is entirely personal. Neither can claim to be wholly one way or the other, therefore it comes down to the individual and what they deem to be “ethical” or “sustainable’.

Nobody can agree on how to dress sustainably, anyway. There’s definitely not one way to do sustainability “right.” Some people will advocate for organic cotton and Fair Trade fashion, while others criticise how expensive those types of pieces are for many people. Then you’ve got others who are more likely to champion collaborative consumption efforts like only buying vintage or second-hand, and while this most certainly is sustainable and ethical, it just doesn’t do it for everyone. So, shouldn’t we be supporting emerging designers in their efforts to be more eco-friendly and ethical in their creative processes?

 

Why do we use these terms?

There’s two ways of looking at it. By using terms like “sustainable” or “ethical” when talking about fashion, it’s about successfully communicating clear values so your audience knows exactly what you care about. If you don’t, you risk not fully communicating the key facts shoppers are looking for when trying to find a less harmful fashion option. Sure, you might risk alienating some as a result of layers of misconceptions, but the tide is turning on that and we have confidence in the new wave of savvy consumers.

In our view, the real challenge comes from knowing how to effectively communicate the important messages in the best possible way. If it means relying on your average fashion lover to understand the hidden faults associated with fast fashion, then how do you avoid waxing lyrical about all the dirty negatives involved in fashion – such as the ubiquitous use of plastics or environmentally-harmful production processes or the poor treatment of garment workers – while still being persuasive enough of the need to switch to less harmful fashion labels that offer an interesting and desirable break from the churn of fast fashion?

 

So, how do you strike the right balance?

For us, it comes down to sending out the right message. We want to add value to consumers lives by connecting them with brands that are creating products with creative thoughtfulness and care; care for those making the pieces and care for the environment. As long as there’s no universal fashion labelling system in place, we do our own research for the consumer. With the help of existing certifications and the good word of the brands we feature, we’re able to condense the most important and inspiring brand information so as to not overwhelm.

While the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is working on a universal fashion labelling system, until it’s released we will continue to do it our way. Transparency is obviously central to all of this. It’s the first step in a long journey to building a better fashion industry. Brands and manufacturers have finally accepted that they can no longer hide behind closed doors. And for brands, transparency improves workers’ rights, builds trust and credibility and advances ethical business practices.

Yes, there’s evidence that key stakeholders including major retailers, production facilities and certification bodies are embracing transformative partnerships, strategies and initiatives to create a more open and honest global fashion industry, such as the Bangladesh Safety Accord, which was a breakthrough in holding garment companies to account for the working conditions in their supply chains and covers around 60 major international brands using 1,200 Bangladeshi factories, there’s still a long way to go in terms of ethics and sustainability.

Certainly a positive has been the launch of Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index in 2017, a benchmark tracking how much brands reveal about their social and environmental policies, practices and impacts. Yet this still relies heavily on the consumer doing a big portion of the homework and it’s just not realistic.

As we see it, it’s all about framing the ethical initiatives of fashion labels in a way that adds value to customers first, in the same way that non-toxic beauty offers reassurance from the scary chemical ingredients list on the back of most skincare products. That way it begins to makes sense to consumers in multiple ways.

While some brands focus on organic cotton or reclaimed leather, they might fall short on other values. So it’s about finding what’s important to you as a consumer and looking for brand’s that tick those boxes.

 

If you’re like us, people who care about fashion but also care about the planet, what are we supposed to do?

We see it like this. When someone is in the mood and looking to buy a new jacket, update their work out gear or generally just explore what’s out there, you can’t expect them to know everything or require an encyclopaedic knowledge in their head in order to understand all the terminologies associated or be familiar with the many certifications available. It all becomes too much.

Yes there are countless international groups and organisations out there working hard, like Greenpeace who is successfully convincing brands to phase out toxic chemicals, or Canopy who is saving endangered rainforest trees from ending up as rayon viscose fabric, as well as the NRDC, who is trying to clean up supply chains by ensuring the rights of all people to clean air, clean water, and healthy communities. But try fitting all of this on a label.

There’s no perfectly sustainable fashion brand out there. It simply doesn’t exist. What you can do however is support progressive fashion and beauty brands who are leading the way with elevated product offerings. Plus, we know that most environmental waste is produced in the post-purchase stage, namely the maintenance and disposal stages, therefore it’s about investing in pieces you’re less likely to tire of and instead want to cherish for a long while to come.

There are tons of different solutions and ways to go about tackling the issues facing the fashion industry. They’re all important and valuable, but ethics is a truly personal thing and customers will naturally be passionate about different things. It’s about digging deeper.

Short of reading their entire websites from start to finish, including the brand manifesto and everything in-between, as well as listening out for any brand/product updates, we at STATEMENTS compile the most relevant brand info for you, presented in a simple, easy-to-follow format. It’s about sharing each brand’s version of “sustainable” or “ethical” in order to connect with other people who identify with those values too. There’s so much good being done. So many unique and inspiring stories behind each and every brand and their products. We just figure it shouldn’t be hidden from you anymore. In fact, it’s about time we shout about the good.