Ethical Fashion; The Latest Trend Or Here To Stay?
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Ethical fashion, sustainable fashion, eco fashion; all of these are buzz words you may have heard recently, but what does it all mean? With the Slow Fashion event taking place in Exeter on Saturday 22nd September, I thought it was about time to delve in and educate myself about ethical fashion and its place within our society.
Ethical fashion is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of issues including working conditions, fair trade, sustainable production, the environment and animal welfare. Clothes that are deemed ‘ethical’ are designed, produced and sold with consideration to the above issues.
I don’t feel too guilty in admitting that I shop in high street stores like Primark because of its affordability but advocates for ethical fashion would argue that there are huge costs involved that I am not able to see on the price tag.
One issue that Ethical Fashionistas are concerned with is the growing of cotton, which provides much of the world’s fabric, but at a cost of 22.5% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s pesticides which can be harmful to both the environment and the farming communities involved. The clothes themselves are also often treated with chemicals and dyes which can be harmful to skin and to the environment when the clothes are washed.
We all know that the low cost of Primark clothes means a limited shelf-life, and this in-turn brings about another ethical problem; the disposal of around one million tonnes of clothing every year to incinerators and landfill.
These are just a few of the many problems with the high street fashion industry with more listed on the Victoria and Albert Museum website. All in all, the guilt about shopping at stores like Primark is starting to set in.
So what is the alternative?
For a relatively small city, Exeter has a surprising amount to offer in terms of ethical clothes and gifts. When I first came to Exeter around eight years ago, I can’t say ethical fashion was particularly on my radar but I did end up consuming it. No Guts No Glory of Fore Street had all these great t-shirts printed on organic cotton and they were incredibly popular with the Indie/Hipster crowd I fell in with. Since then, NGNG’s range has expanded to art, picture framing, house plants and more. Their message from their website is definitely eco-focused but not at the detriment of the product.
We hone “a lifestyle with objects that are not only beautiful to behold, but carry a message of sustainability, slow living and well being. NGNG has grown into a haven of beautifully inspired words, apparel & wares for our community and further afield, everything is designed to last for future generations whilst making minimal impact on our environment.”
No Guts No Glory isn’t alone in their ethical campaign to make fashion greener in Exeter. Leela on Magdalen Road is part of the Exeter Trails initiative and prides itself on selling clothing and gifts that are both desirable and ethical. Their clothing is made from eco-friendly, breathable fabrics such as knitted hemp, bamboo and linen. Though their clothes are at present only made for women, they are expanding into men’s wear this Autumn. The shop, previously situated in Okehampton, is a recent addition to the ethical Exeter scene, having been in its Magdalen Road home for less than two years.
Sancho’s, one of the newest additions to Exeter’s ethical scene and hosts of this Saturday’s Slow Fashion show, are keen to raise awareness of ethical fashion and change people’s attitudes towards so-called fast fashion. A recent post on their website blog aimed to explain what slow fashion is and why we should care about it.
“Slow fashion is the antidote to the fast pace that has enveloped the fashion industry; a process that has become increasingly damaging to the earth and the people on it. At Sancho’s, we aim to make people think twice before buying, about where and how an item was produced.”
In the post, Sacho’s likens slow fashion to slow food; better quality, better for the environment and more fair to both consumers and producers. They also hit upon one of the arguably greatest detriments of slow or ethical fashion: the cost. They argue that
“more expensive, well-designed and well-produced clothing […] will long outlive cheap pieces of fashion.”
Having admired the clothes in Sancho’s and been tempted into entering the shop by a mustard yellow beanie, I have to admit that I left empty-handed, driven away by the price tags attached. As a consumer, I understand where the cost has come from, just like I understand that buying a local piece of Red Ruby beef from my local butcher is going to cost me more than a generic bit of cow from Tesco. I have to admit that my attitude towards slow, ethical meat is that if I can’t afford it, I won’t buy meat full stop. Unfortunately, I can’t do the same with clothes as I may find a few objections to turning up to work in my birthday suit.
It seems there is an ethical, perhaps cheaper, and definitely more legal alternative to buying ethically designed clothes or going naked. Buying vintage clothes or clothes from charity shops is one way to reduce that guilty fast footprint. Re-designing old clothes and making your own clothes and accessories are also suggestions from Sancho’s.
Why should we care?
It is no secret that we are consuming faster than we are producing in a variety of industries from food to fashion. Mass consumption of our planet’s depleting resources is a concern that stretches far wider than Exeter. Despite this, finding ethical ways to consume remains a sticking point. Factors such as availability, and most significantly cost, are the main drawbacks. True, the money I spend on four pairs of high street jeans that wear out in a year or so could have been spent on one decent pair. The problem with that lies in the fact that the jeans are between £10 and £15 each, an amount I have readily available in my purse. A one-off, long-lasting pair is likely to set me back a fair amount more than that, and until ethical companies start doing clothes on finance, I will be holding off a while longer.
Despite all this, I am completely on board with the idea of ethical fashion, as I am sure many people in Exeter and the wider area are. Realistically however, few of us, myself included, are going to stop buying from high street stores entirely. With convenience, low cost and ultimately looking good at the forefront of most of our fashion concerns, it just isn’t likely that we’re all going to storm Sancho’s and Leela or sit at home making our own clothes. However, just as with slow or ethical food, a small change at a time can make a big difference. Maybe I won’t switch from New Look, Debenhams and Primark to Sancho’s and NGNG, but I do love to shop at the real McCoy’s vintage store, charity shops and yes, if I really feel like treating myself, I will go back and buy that yellow beanie from Sancho’s.
To find out more about the Slow Fashion event, click here.